We forget, within a modern societal structure, that the propagation of culture is often achieved through re-enactment or retelling. When oral tradition was the dominant social form, prior to the written word, the most famous, most important and the most socially relevant stories or mythologies were the ones being retold at festivals, around campfires and as bedtime stories. These stories, mythologies and parables were created and retold to educate new members of society (often children and new comers). They were shared with allies at feasts to illustrate prowess and strength but they were also told to bring different peoples together, by highlighting similarities rather than differences.
When the printing press was invented, the first mass-printed (as opposed to hand-written) book was the Bible. Less than 400 years later, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was published, rooted firmly in antiquity. Prometheus’ tale started as a myth, was then transitioned into a play (Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound), and finally reimagined into Mary Shelley’s gothic novel The Modern Prometheus, before reaching the silver screen in a multitude of adaptations as Frankenstein. Remaking, rebooting and reimagining is part of our history and our collective culture.
Leaving a mark on History
Much like the ancients added to or embellished on the original renditions of poems, songs and tales, so too do new renditions of film differ from iteration to iteration. Often this is because of a change to a key plot point or an advancement in technology leading to vastly different visual effects. Regardless of these differences, there is always something recognisable, iconic even, something familiar and comforting to the viewer. But new directors and screenwriters have to leave their mark for history to find – no different to the festival bards singing their odes from city to city.
It can be argued that nothing is “original” and that most films are, especially unoriginal, frequently having their beginnings in books, plays, poetry, folklore or historical accounts. It is becoming increasingly difficult to make a mark with a rebooted or remade film. In recent years, we have seen a move towards media other than film, in an attempt to remake a story. Television series are currently dominating the entertainment domain. They are easy to acquire and digest, while lengthening the viewer’s enjoyment of the subject matter by stretching the story. Series like: Bates Motel, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sleepy Hollow, Hannibal, Sherlock and Scream are a testament to this.
Though remakes and reboots are not genre specific, this trend can be more readily observed in the horror, thriller and sci-fi genres. Films that are now 30 to 50 years old are being dusted off and brought back to life. Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Ghostbusters, The Craft, Carrie and Poltergeist are but a few in the reimagining machine. There are still others who are going through their second, third or even fourth reboot, such as: the Batman franchise, Fantastic 4, Frankenstein and Psycho. Some of which have been movies, series and cartoons in the past.
Film makers will always run the risk of upsetting the fans. That simply comes with the territory and the decision to remake a beloved film. Some fans may even like some changes that a director or script writer decide to make, viewing these alterations as revolutionary or adding something new to their beloved tale; while yet others will deem these changes a disgrace.
Often, bad casting can result in a rebooted or remade film flopping at the box office. This happens when an actor is chosen, only for the film’s fan base to hate the choice, or worse, when a beloved thespian butchers an iconic role. Most frequently, however, a major alteration or disregard for canon will damage a film’s chance at greatness. Changing fundamental aspects of the character, his/her background or plot will often result in a box office bomb.
In a recent discussion I had with a friend, he had this to say about Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes:
“Why in the name of all the gods in heaven would you bring up this set of bloody abominations with me? What the *@!# was Rob Zombie thinking?! The whole thing that made Michael Myers frightening in the first place was that, to all intents and purposes, he was just a normal kid from a normal family that went off the deep end. Now he’s some bloody redneck kid with s@#t hair from a white trash family with mommy issues!
And then, THEN!, in the sequel, instead of making him more menacing and determined like in the original Halloween II, we’ve got a hobo with a broken mask suffering from white trash hallucinations. And he grunts! GRUNTS! Why the *@!# is he grunting? Michael Myers is always quiet you piece of s@#t! Rob Zombie can take his hairy hobo Myers and his stripper dreg of a mother and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine!”
– The Sneaky Squirrel
I do not share his hatred of these versions of the Halloween franchise but it clearly illustrates the point I am trying to make. Personally, there are few films more infuriating to me than Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 blundering retelling of the story of Troy. There were so many things wrong with this film, but I’ll focus on the most important aspects:
- There is no such thing as the “sword of Troy”, Aeneas took the household gods (statues) from the house of Priam. This would become the basis for the start of Rome and her empire
- In Homer’s Iliad, it is vital to the mythologies that Achilles never make it into the gates of Troy
- Agamemnon does not die in battle, as depicted in the film. His survival is paramount to the foundation of three separate myths
- The removal of the gods entirely from the narrative is impossible. For the story of the Trojan War to work in accordance with Greek mythology, the gods are both the reason that the war starts and ends
These are just a few aspects, costuming and set dressing aside, that made Troy a terrible film. Changing or removing these elements did not make the story better but they did butcher the mythologies. Most people wouldn’t care about these changes as they have no interest in the original mythology or history. Many people think of mythologies as fleeting children’s stories, when in fact, to the ancients (in this case the Greek and Romans), these mythologies were both their people’s historical account of their origins, past and their religion. By changing these elements, the filmmaker disrespects an entire culture’s beliefs and history.
Considering the two very different films in the rants above, it is apparent that loving or hating a remake is entirely subjective.
Where does this leave us?
Love it or hate it, reboots and remakes are always going to happen. There is nothing we, as individuals, can do about it. Despite the issues I have with Troy, I would rather someone be able to watch it and be inspired to find out more about Greek mythology than for history to decay and disappear into the sands of time. Rebooting and remaking, not only in film, keep culture and the classics alive. Sometimes we have to contend with a particularly bad remake but at the end of the day, these stories are being passed on to a new generation.
Some remakes are highly anticipated because of our ability to improve special effects through modern technology and makeup. The remade Carrie is testament to this and hopefully the forthcoming Hellraiser, Point Break, Jumanji, and IT will be as well. Remakes and reboots will always have a willing audience which in turn means they will always make money, because in the wise words of Epic Rap Battles of History: “This game’s about m@*$%#!?&king money!”