The Reboot Fallacy: Why Every Film is a Remake

FrankensteinWe 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.

HalloweenWhat makes a reboot bad?

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!”

Margeaux (a.k.a. TropicalMary) finds her time taken up by movie watching, game playing, book reviewing and cat herding. There’s nothing she can’t do in a pencil skirt and a killer pair of heels, especially when the reward is a glass, or 5, of a crisp chenin blanc. Failing that, a onesie and a burger will make her happy.

17 thoughts on “The Reboot Fallacy: Why Every Film is a Remake

  1. Interesting article. Personally I think the wealth of remakes is symptomatic of too many films being made and not making enough money, so the idea is go with what’s been shown to work but add some whizzy CGI spectacle to hook the audience. I take your point about retelling of stories but it is possible to remake with some originality – Clueless as a retelling of Jane Austen is a prime example. Another point that you and your Sneaky Squirrel pal touch on is the modern tendency towards psychology. Often the bad guys are given warped psychologies/social histories as back stories so we can see where they are coming from. Hitchock didn’t feel the need to do that because he knew the unknown is more frightening than endless shock and awe. Thanks again for this thought-provoking peice.

    • And there’s “10 Things I Hate About You” and it’s retelling of “The Taming of the Shrew”, which I enjoyed as a teenager.

      I think you’re right. I also feel that the reason most modern remakes or reboots don;t really stay with the viewer after the credits roll, like older versions is because the package is too neat. All the question answered and not a plot hole in sight. If a film is left with an open ending of any kind, the cynic in me automatically assumes it was done that way to ensure the door is left open for a sequel, rather than because that was how the writer/producer/director wanted it.

      Thanks for reading, Ed. Much appreciated 🙂

  2. I’m not a huge fan of the remakes in the sense some films should really be left alone or it’s just to soon. Sometimes I wish Hollywood showed some originality in their movies, but i realize that’s not the norm right now.

    I’ve had some arguments with some Star Trek fans over the rebooted movies. Now I realize this to is a reboot or remake, but my argument has always been the traditional style Star Trek movies we got through out the 80’s and 90’s just wont work anymore with today’s movie audience.

    This is one instant where I’m okay with the remake/reboot, but other movie franchise I’ve heard rumored to be in the works over the years like the Lethal Weapon franchise being rebooted I’m not a fan of.

    Your article was very good. Enjoyed reading it!

    Reggie’s Take

    • Thanks for reading, Reggie 🙂

      I’m a huge fan of the original “Star Trek” films but I agree, they will not appeal to the current audience. The reason I like them so much, is not because the films are amazing, it’s the nostalgia associated with them. As soon as I put that aside, I found that I genuinely enjoyed the new versions.

      As for “Letha; Weapon”, I’ve never been a fan. A franchise which I also never took to was the original “Planet of the Apes” but I absolutely love the new ones. Are they over the top and ludicrous? Absolutely! Why do I like them? I get lost in the story for two or more hours and imagine my world being very different. Escapism is a powerful thing.

      I’m the a huge Batman fan. Have been since I was little and could barely read but I had the comics. I love Nolan’s universe. Do I think Batman vs Superman is too soon? Yes. Do I have any faith in the product? No (but I hope that Goyer can come through for me). Will I go and see it when it’s released? Absolutely!

  3. I have to say, I practically nodded my head in enthusiastic agreement, Margeaux, when I came to your on-point assessment of the godawful Troy, which took away all the drama of the original myths and replaced it with abominable dialogue, ludicrous plot adjustments (wasn’t there a part of the movie where something to the effect of “10 days later” appeared onscreen to suggest the ultimate passage of time … when according to the legend, the siege took 10 years?) and horrid acting (except from Peter O’Toole, who was the film’s sole saving grace). Excellent, insightful article, and I feel your cinematic pain. 😀

    • I must admit, it is a general issue I have with films based in antiquity or on Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology. They go for the grandeur but forget to add substance. And why is everything always white? Just once, I’d like to see an historically accurate depiction of the brightly coloured Parthenon, Agora or Forum…

      But, this is my field of study and perhaps I’m overly harsh. Films like Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” was equally awful and filled with inaccuracies. For no reason other than sensationalism.

      Thank you very much for the kind words and for reading 🙂

      • Completely agree with you (as usual) on the unpainted buildings/sculptures appearing in such films. I wonder if those who create Troy and the like either don’t know that these structures were painted in antiquity or remain willfully committed to creating a landscape that audiences of today will recognize … and not reject. You’re also correct about Apocalypto; what a miserable, dreary lemon of a movie that is. Oh, and offensive, too–not only because it’s historically inaccurate, but also in the way it presents indigenous peoples. Wasteful filmmaking.

        • Don’t get me started on the monochromatic Clash and Wrath of the Titans (which barely had Titans). The Original Clash wasn’t much better, mind you 😉

  4. Really well-done essay, Margeaux. And that’s coming from someone who has railed against remakes for 25 years. The Carrie reference intrigues me. Strong director, excellent actress. And as you note, improved horror effects. Still, the movie was quite bad in my opinion. It didn’t seem to have a reason to exist, a new point of view. I like the way True Grit and The Thing use their source material, and the way Ocean’s Eleven and The Fly refreshed their stories for a new generation. But too often, it seems that remakes exist solely because they can.

    • Thanks so much, Jon 🙂

      The reason I quite like “Carrie” is because the director had prefaced the release of the film by stating that it was her take on the novel and not simply a remake of the ’76 De Palma film. That said, I think it was modernised quite well, making the subject matter more relevant for a modern young audience.

      Ocean’s Eleven is one of my favourites for exactly the reason you state. The source material was well consulted and relayed. I haven’t watched The Fly in years, maybe I’ll do that tonight!


  5. Much as I’d like to see more new ideas out there, I think your point about so many stories being remakes is a good one. Fundamentally, we often want the comfort of variations on familiar themes, rather than the shock of the new – in as far as anything can be entirely new – and it seems harsh to criticise film-makers for wanting to play with their favourite toys.

    • More often than not, I have a negative knee-jerk reaction when I hear about a remake or franchise reboot. I have to force myself to think about it and consider why someone would want to remake “my” beloved classic. Most of the time, my reaction is entirely because my comfort zone is being threatened.

      I feel that new film-makers have just as much of a right to explore their favourites through their craft. Some amazing remakes have come from this in the past. Judgement, however, can be very harsh!

      Thanks for reading, Andrew 🙂

  6. “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.”

    I can assure you, Margeaux, they are not anticipated by me.

    I agree that there is little new left to explore, and since the first few films ever made, everything else has only been a version of those; sometimes better, often not. As for improvements in special effects making films better, or more desirable, that may be true for some film fans, but not for me. I cannot imagine another version of ‘Hellraiser’ being more exciting to watch, because of developments in CGI.

    But then again, I am getting on a bit…

    Best wishes, Pete.

    • I hear you 🙂

      By nature, we are curious creatures and satisfying that curiosity through technology is not new to the film industry. In order to keep some of the stories alive, we need to modernise them. This is how it can be made more appealing to new generations of viewers.

      There are certain films which I feel will never be better than their original version, and there are other that I’m curious to see how their remakes turn out. I guess, it’s all subjective…

      Thanks for always reading and the feedback, Pete 🙂

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