Rick Dixon writes from Cambridge: It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly when Hollywood ran out of original ideas but I reckon the rot started setting in some time in the 90′s when studio executives began resurrecting old, fondly-remembered TV Shows.
It wasn’t all bad at first – big-screen adaptations of shows like The Adams Family, The Flintstones, and The Brady Bunch were actually fairly entertaining novelties and they were the exception rather than the rule. The problem is that as Hollywood gets older, it dislikes taking risks with its money – a film with an existing fan-base guarantees that it would at least make its money back, and it doesn’t even have to be good. Hollywood likes lots of money for little effort.
As the millennium came to a close, the novelty wore off and the cynicism began – films like Starsky and Hutch and Charlie’s Angels took popular shows and tried to capture not only the existing fans but bring in the younger generation, ultimately satisfying no-one. A generic and cynical formula emerged – take the original concept, but transplant it into the modern era (so ‘the kids’ can be ‘down with it’), then either make fun of the characters by leaving them as ‘period’ fish-out-of-water, or turn the dial up to ‘EXTREME!!!’. If you ever sat through any of the Charlie’s Angels films and managed to watch the execrable ‘wire-fu’ fight scenes, or the EXTREME!!! dirt-biking (dude) without considering pushing your finger through your own eyeball and swirling it around in your brain, I’d love to know how you did it. Unless you work for MI6, then I understand why you can’t tell me.
Luckily for us this tedious practice is starting to die out. Rose-tinted glasses aside for a moment, there are only so many old TV shows that can be resurrected before the well starts to run dry. Unfortunately, Hollywood execs – while not very good at coming up with original ideas – are very good at thinking of ways to earn easy money and we now enter the era of the remake, or reboot (‘rebake’?).
Films based on books aside, have a think about how many movies in the last five years have been remakes of existing films, or franchise reboots. See what I mean? Rebakes are one of the new cash-cows which studios intend to milk dry. Again, there’s a built-in audience guaranteed and all you have to do is add the obligatory modern twist to attract ‘the kids’. However, even this can’t last forever, and desperation is beginning to show – seriously, was anyone excited by a rebake of Footloose?! Even in the 80s, the idea of a story about a town that actually banned dancing was enough to make the most forgiving of us stop and say “Ummm… Seriously?”
So what’s next?
OK, this is where it starts to get really loathsome. We’ve already established the two main criteria that Hollywood looks for in a film project – a pre-existing audience, and scope to put a modern twist on the story, hopefully catching two main demographics. Well, how about this for a concept? What if there was a medium that transcended demographics – something that everyone has heard of, toddlers, teens, 20-30-40-somethings – even old people?! This would surely be The Holy Grail for the motion picture industry, if it existed? Oh, but it does exist and it’s happening already…
Fairy Tales. Yes, really. No matter how old you are, you have grown up with fairy tales (if you haven’t, then you’re too young to be reading this site – go to bed before I tell your parents). These tales are embedded so deeply into our culture that they are second nature to us – everyone knows them, both old and young. You’d be amazed at what classic stories you probably know inside-out with a little prompting and they’re coming to a cinema near you. The exec that hit on this particular avenue of exploitation probably got double his cocaine bonus this month.
Think I’m over exaggerating for comedy value? We’ve had two films based on Snow White just in the last year. This month sees the release of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. No, I didn’t just make that up. Hansel and Gretel are now grown up. They wear black leather and carry crossbows. As a result of their traumatic experience as children, they now hunt witches for money; and they swear. The ‘kids’ will love it.
Need more proof of just how artistically bankrupt mainstream Hollywood is? Jack the Giant Slayer will be assaulting all our childhood memories on 1 March this year. It’s Jack and the Beanstalk on steroids. What can we expect next? Three Little Pigs? Set 10 years after the original story, the pigs are now professional builders called into aid villagers besieged by ravaging wolves intent on destroying their houses; “It’s time to bring home the BACON!”
Whatever happens, one thing is for sure – the future’s Grimm…