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 the 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 at a myth, transitioned into a play (Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound), reimagined into Mary Shelley’s gothic novel The Modern Prometheus and reaching the silver screen in several renditions 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 the 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 having their beginnings in books, plays, poetry, folklore and 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. 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 (RIP), Sherlock and Scream are 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 being 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.
What makes a reboot bad?
Film makers always run the risk of upsetting the fans. That comes with the territory and the decision to remake a beloved film. Some fans may even like some changes that a director or scriptwriter decides to make, viewing that these alterations are revolutionary or adding something new to their beloved tale (Mad Max: Fury Road); while yet others will deem these changes a disgrace and the film an abomination.
Often, bad casting can result in a rebooted or remade film flopping at the box office. This happens when an actor is chosen but the fan base for the film hates 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.
A commenter on a geektyrant.com had this to say about the new Fantastic Four movie:
“…we’re not looking for someone to interpret the IP. we’re looking for someone to deliver the IP and not take liberties with it or make unnecessary changes to it. we’re not looking for someone to make it their own.”
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 fuck 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 shit 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 fuck is he grunting? Michael Myers is always quiet you piece of shit! 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 vehement 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 be the bases of 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 the foundation of 4 separate myths
- The removal of the gods entirely from the narrative is impossible. For the story of the Trojan War to work in the mythologies, 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 historical 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 film maker disrespects an entire culture beliefs and history.
Considering the two very different films in the rants above, it is apparent that loving or hating a remake, reboot or reimagining 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 sparked to find out more about the history than for history to decay and disappear in 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 the special effects through modern technology and makeup skill. 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 motherfucking money!”