Rolling out a re-tread of a tried and tested idea is (ironically) far from a new concept – in fact it has delivered some of the best films, games and even songs out there – but it also has a lot to answer for.
Tried and tested?
At present, only one or two films in IMDB’s top 250 are full remakes (though many are adapted from other sources such as books), so what is that makes Hollywood in particular so fond of taking a story for another spin?
The box office tells a different story however, with far more remakes getting a look in. Most recent of these is Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield, which controversially re-introduced the character last year, just 10 years after Tobey Maguire became the web-slinger in 2002. Of course, this case is technically a ‘re-boot’, which the viewing public seem to be more receptive to and forgiving of.
Sometimes, the remake is more successful than the original, such as Scarface (above) or The Man Who Knew Too Much, and can even go own to spawn a franchise of its own. With such inconsistency, it can be difficult to pick out whether the film has been judged on its own merits, or compared to its predecessor, something which often happens with a franchise.
The power of the franchise
In film in particular, there is a big emphasis on the strength of franchises. For the studio big-wigs, the box office numbers are king, so films can carry on for near-countless iterations before dying out, just because viewers are bought into the franchise. Often the subsequent films don’t even have the same characters, or actors, such as in later instalments of Home Alone or The Bourne Legacy.
In numbers terms, film series like Harry Potter or Twilight make great sense to studios, and so they continue to be churned out year after year, but will their massive commercial success mean they will never fall victim to being remade? (Well, it would give someone else a chance to play a slightly more emotive Bella).
It’s in the game
For games there are a variety of different types of remake. Popular with publishers at the moment is the ‘HD re-release’ (see Metal Gear Solid HD Collection). Not a remake per se, this allows games-makers to slap some hi-def polish on a game from 10 years ago and release it as a collection, which often serves to bring the younger gaming audience up to date in time for a new release in the franchise.
Another option, which is more costly and time-consuming, is the full remake, which often takes the game back to basics and gives it a full visual re-working, even adding in new content, such as Halo Anniversary or the Resident Evil Gamecube edition.
Play it again, Sam
The music industry re-releases songs like they are going out of fashion (in fact, a lot of the time, because they are going out of fashion), with a new Rolling Stones or Beatles ‘definitive’ Greatest Hits collection out every few years.
Music gets away with it somehow, perhaps due to it’s ‘timeless’ nature, but where it does drop the ball is the cover song. The lowest of all remakes, this takes a song we know and love and often minces it into a slurry which is poison to our ears. Case in point is anything uttered by hyperactive hair enthusiasts Jedward in the past few years.
On the other hand, a re-imagining can offer a new perspective to a song, such as Gary Jules’ more sombre and more thoughtful rendition of ‘Mad World’, or Gabrielle Aplin’s thoughtful and more sombre rendition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’. It just goes to show that the whole concept of recycling isn’t a massive waste of time as many have speculated.
So, what’s the point?
As consumers we have a duty to demand the best. If we settle for less, that’s what we will end up with.
That said, there is value in the remake. Ocean’s Eleven and The Departed (to name just two) are way up our all-time top film lists, and the recent Devil May Cry reboot – DmC: Devil May Cry – proved to be far more engaging, stylish and entertaining than at least its immediate predecessor, but there is a danger in not taking a risk once in a while with a new IP.
The lesson is that just because a film, game or single might be from an established name, a long-running franchise, or based on a well-loved and well-used concept doesn’t guarantee its quality – good or bad.
So next time you splash your cash, think carefully whether you are investing because you like what you’ve already heard about it or just because you think you know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it can be a foregone conclusion of course, if you don’t like superheroes then probably the next Thor or X-Men isn’t for you, but sometimes if you take a risk and go in with no preconceptions, you might surprise yourself.
James Michael Parry