In Defense of Sequels, Remakes, Reboots and “Re-imaginings”
I love Andrew Davis’ remake of “The Fugitive.” I can watch it a hundred times and never grow tired of Tommy Lee Jones’ intense, yet sly turn as the obsessed lawman. I love Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies, and they make the Dark Knight almost believable in a real-world sense. I love Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Addams Family” movies, every silly frame of them (and oh, how I miss Raul Julia); I love how J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” put the lifeblood back into Kirk and Spock and McCoy; and I even enjoy the Kevin Reynolds version of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” though mostly for Guy Pearce’s and Luis Guzman’s earnest but campy performances. I had to work a bit for that one, because Jim Caviezel gives me the squinks.
It’s important for me to remember that these films are out there, especially in a summer like this one, in which the multiplexes are almost entirely filled with sequels, remakes, reboots and “re-imaginings.” I’m still reeling from what will become known as The Great “Karate Kid”/”A-Team” One-Two Punch of June 2010. So far this year, we’ve had to suffer a godawful remake of “Clash of the Titans,” a critically-reviled sequel to “Sex in the City” and a wholly unnecessary fourth “Shrek.” Looking through the trades, I see that Ridley Scott is making an “Alien” prequel (why?), that Disney is going to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” well a fourth time, and that a movie based on Rock-‘Em-Sock-‘Em robots is “in development,” which I imagine to be a roomful of studio executives laughing maniacally as they punch each other in the head.
But I’m not here to point fingers. I can’t, anyway; I’m going to spoil the ending of this piece for you by admitting that it contains not a single original idea. Other writers — movie critics, bloggers, Harry Knowles’ devotees — have trod this earth flat long before I got here. But I’m going to say this anyway: We need sequels. We need “re-boots.” We need to revisit certain stories and re-tell them in ways that will allow new audiences to respond to the material. And if you want to meet the party responsible for filling your local theaters and broadcast television channels with remakes and sequels, please join me in taking a look in the closest mirror.
We need to realize that remakes and sequels are like any other piece of art: they can be made well or they can be made badly, and even the least popular of them have their staunch defenders. (Somewhere on this planet, you’ll find people who love “Batman and Robin” and “Super Mario Brothers.” Somewhere.) Also, it’s important to remember that the notion of remaking a film while a generation is still young enough to remember the original is not without Hollywood precedent. L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” was made into a movie twice, in 1914 and 1925, before the beloved 1939 version was made. (The time gap between the first version of “Oz” and the Victor Fleming version is 25 years — an even shorter time than 34-year gap between Gene Wilder’s take on Willy Wonka and Johnny Depp’s.) William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” was a remake. Walt Disney’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.” All of them were old (ain’t-it-cool) news, and had the Internet existed in Victor Fleming’s day, you know that the talkbackers would’ve clowned his ass but good.
And sequels don’t necessarily mean diminishing returns. It’s easy to think of bad sequels first (I have no idea why Tommy Lee Jones would follow something as strong as “The Fugitive” with something as slight as “U.S. Marshals”), but just look at the list of sequels that bettered the films that came before them: “The Empire Strikes Back,” “The Godfather, Part II,” both “Toy Story” sequels and many others. Some stories are simply too big to be told in one pass. The characters and the world they inhabit are too ambitious to keep themselves contained, and they spread out — building other, bigger worlds, having grander adventures. Some stories tap into something larger than cinema itself, and they need to grow to fill the larger space.
Unfortunately, we need to suffer that bad sequels and remakes to get the good ones. We had to sit through those terrible “Matrix” sequels to get that hotly anticipated “Tron” sequel. Netflix has the crappy Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson “Starsky & Hutch,” but also the excellent Brian De Palma/David Mamet “Untouchables.” We may be awash in sequels and remakes now, but in ten years’ time, the good ones will be remembered, beloved — and our annoyance with bad ones will have faded.
Also, by 2020, someone will have the stones to take another pass at “The A-Team.” I wish them luck.