Almost everything we see these days is a remake, basically – a quote which, fresh from the lips of a flatmate who overheard our debate on the subject of film remakes, is a slight exaggeration. However, it does well to epitomise the excessiveness with which Hollywood recycles old ideas for new profit.
The origins of this trend can be traced back to The Great Train Robbery. First produced in 1903, it is considered to be a masterpiece by both historians and critics alike, for its innovative editing and (at the time) sophisticated special effects. Despite this, it was re-shot only seven months after its initial creation, ushering in the first ever remake in motion picture history.
So, when we fast forward from 1904 to the present day, remakes are now big Hollywood business, but why is there such an obsession with this continual renovation? And when will they learn to leave well enough alone?
Johnny Depp’s vast following was utilised by Tim Burton to ensure success for his remakes, alongside his tapping into the fame of the original films – reviving old classics for new audiences. Not only do Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland contribute to the excessive number of old movie remakes, but the films themselves are more excessive than their original counterparts. If we compare the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with the 2005 version, it is overtly clear that the remake had a much more substantial budget. This allowed for the realisation of Burton’s larger than life vision through the use of elaborate set design, unrealistically increased saturation and intense CGI.
In some instances the remake can become merely a modern day carbon copy of its original. Take Psycho for example, Hitchcock’s renowned masterpiece first produced in 1960 was later imitated, word for word and shot for shot, by Gus Van Sant in 1998. The latter offers a prime example of how the remake can become superfluous and excessive. Yes, Van Sant wanted to pay homage to Hitchcock’s work, but doing little more than shooting in colour and replacing the actors with contemporary equivalents did nothing for the film or its legacy.
Let’s not shy away from the fact that, whilst remakes may be lazy and unimaginative, they are efficient. They are important in Hollywood because of their ease of production and the subsequent ability they have to funnel money from audiences into the pockets of studio executives. Now, that may sound cynical, but remakes do at least allow studios to use this profit to take larger risks on more original projects. And, of course, this does happen. Box-office and award season sensation, Gravity, demonstrates this with an entirely new approach to the sci-fi genre, showing that not everything you’re looking forward to seeing at the cinema is a remake. But with even beloved classics such as Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty being reimagined into the forthcoming Maleficent, and plans for a retelling of Cinderella set for 2015, the abundance of remakes doesn’t look set to subside any time soon. Looks like we’ve been there, done that, and are going to continue doing it all over again for the foreseeable future.