So John Scalzi wrote a post defending the new all-female Ghostbusters (all rights to image remain with current holder) and mentioned in passing that while he doesn’t think the endless 1980s remakes (“Robocop or Point Break or Poltergeist or Endless Love or The Karate Kid or Clash of the Titans or Footloose or Total Recall and on and on”) are necessary, “after a certain and hopefully relatively early point in your life, you realize remakes are just a thing the film industry does — the first Frankenstein film listed on imdb was made in 1910, and the most recent, 2015, and Universal (maker of the classic 1931 version) is planning yet another reboot in 2018 or 2019″
I’ve heard this argument before about the umpteen 1980s remakes — no big, Hollywood’s always remaking stuff — and I don’t think I agree. As someone who went to the movies in the 1980s a lot, I don’t believe Hollywood remade 1950s films of the 1950s as much as they’re now remaking 30-year-old material. Which puts me in mind of the argument from Retromania: Why are we so addicted to remaking and revisiting the entertainments of our past?
While it’s true Hollywood has always done remakes — as noted in comments at Scalzi’s post, Maltese Falcon was filmed three times in roughly 15 years — it was a different thing pre-1980s. People might remember the earlier films when they caught the Bogart Falcon in 1941 but they couldn’t rewatch them or wait for them to air on cable again. It was a given that films had a very limited lifespan, then they’d be consigned to oblivion. Cable and VCRs changed all that. Nobody needs a reboot to see Clash of the Titans or Ghostbusters because the originals are available effortlessly. And I don’t believe the typical 1980s remake has the marked differences in style of, say, Karloff’s Frankenstein and the Hammer Curse of Frankenstein or John Huston’s 1941 Maltese Falcon and the 1936 version, Satan Met a Lady.
And “Hollywood remakes stuff” doesn’t explain why the number of 1980s remakes (not to mention others such as turning Transformers into a big-screen film — and Terminator: Genisys amounts to a mash-up remake of the first two Terminator films) dwarfs the number of films going back earlier, such as Day The Earth Stood Still or The Women.
My usual assumption with movies is that it’s money or a CYA move: “Hey everyone loved the original Poltergeist! Green-lighting it was the right move!” But the emphasis on relatively recent films makes me wonder if movie execs are really embracing something from their own teen or twentysomething years. Lord knows I have a nostalgia for stuff from that era in my life. That would make the remakes equivalent to the comics creators who reboot characters to their Silver of Bronze Age status because that’s when said creators were young, comics-crazy nerds—oh, sorry, I mean because the characters in those eras were objectively more awesome than anything that’s been done with them since. So Joe Quesada erases Peter Parker’s marriage to restore the single Peter he remembers, DC’s Dan Didio brings Barry Allen and Hal Jordan back as Flash and Green Lantern, etc., etc.
Another factor as Vanity Fair noted a few years ago, is that culture isn’t changing as fast as it used to. The style of films in the 1950s, the way men and women were written, the issues people addressed, would all have required major changes for a 1980s audience. Eighties stuff remade today? Not so difficult, particularly if it’s genre, though Ghostbusters shows you can change things plenty if you want. I wonder if there isn’t a cycle here—as cultural change slows (if VF is right, and I think it is), stuff from the past looks more accessible to new audiences, which gives less reason to push the envelope in a new direction, which keeps making us look more like the past …
I’ll have at least one more post prompted by Retromania down the road.