Tuesday 19 November 2019

Déjà view: Why are our screens filled with remakes?

Ghostbusters, The X-Files, Twin Peaks - we've seen 'em all before. Where are all the original ideas?

The era of the remake
The era of the remake
Fresh Prince of Bel Air
The cast of Ghostbusters (2016)

Doug Whelan

There is something strange going on in the world of film and television. We have moved on from the Golden Age of Cinema and even the Golden Age of TV, and ushered in a new era: the remake.

The remakes production line that, admittedly, has been part of the Hollywood treadmill for decades has gone into overdrive and the result is a veritable avalanche of announcements: overdue and unwelcome sequels, remakes, reboots of popular franchises, film adaptations of vintage TV series, TV remakes of classic films and (a newish concept) resurrections of classic TV series.

Some cases in point: in your local cineplex you can currently catch The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie's stylish update of the 60s TV series. Streaming giant Netflix recently launched its latest original series, Wet Hot American Summer, based on an obscure, star-studded 2001 comedy, while the most anticipated remake of the moment is undoubtedly Ghostbusters, hitting cinemas next summer.

Vacation, set for release this weekend, picks up the story of the disaster-prone Griswald family that began in 1983 with National Lampoon's Vacation. There are countless more in the pipeline with more being announced every day.

What is going on? Has the remake always been with us? Are we just more aware of it due to having a zillion channels and social media alerts? Or have we really reached the end of history, with no choice but to go back and start all over again? Truth be told, it's a little of both.

Remakes are nothing new. When talkies were first introduced in Hollywood in the late 1920s, many films that had already been hits were re-shot to incorporate the exciting new technology. There were several silent adaptations of The Wizard of Oz, for example, before the definitive 1939 version came along. Since then, the remake has been an important cog in the machine. But what has happened recently to catapult the concept in to overdrive? It's a combination of the changing face of nostalgia, the aforementioned Golden Age and the spiralling cost of production in the modern era.

Exactly 25 years ago, seminal high-concept TV drama Twin Peaks ended its second series with a lot of unanswered questions among its dedicated fans; questions the 1992 film adaptation didn't answer. The recent announcement that a long-overdue third season would air sometime next year - original cast and all - was therefore welcomed with open arms.

Similarly, sci-fi series The X-Files is set to return in 2016, 14 years after David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson last shared the small screen together. Two so-so standalone movies have been and gone in the meantime.

The X-Files and Twin Peaks are test balloons for the era that is following the Golden Age of TV that has defined all criticism and praise in the past number of years.

In broad terms, the Golden Age of TV began with The Sopranos (1999-2007) and ended with Breaking Bad (2008-2013). Using those two as bookends (with plenty more in between), the bar has been set impossibly high in terms of TV drama. So high, in fact, that TV bosses are now reluctant to take a punt on something that isn't a sure fire hit.

Part of the Golden Age mantra was that TV is the new cinema. So, having assimilated cinema's best traits, TV is now exhibiting Hollywood's bad habits too, namely resurrecting older ideas; either older TV series or classic films, set to be re-written in to 10-or 12-hour long series.

With vast built-in fan bases, Twin Peaks and The X-Files are just the beginning. This list gets longer every day but at last glance, the following hit films are set to (or already have) hit the small screen in the near future: Minority Report, Fatal Attraction, The Omen, The Evil Dead, Logan's Run, Twelve Monkeys, Training Day, The Notebook, Friday the 13th, The Lion King and WestWorld.

Sitcoms from past eras are getting in on the act too. 1990s sitcoms Coach, Full House and A.L.F. are currently back in production with their original casts. Admittedly, they were bigger in the USA than they were here, but everybody remembers The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Will Smith announced recently that he is developing a reboot of the sitcom that made him a household name. It will be a new show with a new cast, but that title alone is enough to get the nostalgia bell a-ringing for audiences.

The big-screen remake train is charging on as fast as ever too. Aforementioned The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is currently receiving good reviews. Widely-loved 1991 extreme sports thriller Point Break returns to cinemas later this year, and also in the pipeline are remakes of Ghostbusters (1985), WarGames (1986), The Seven Samurai (1954), Starship Troopers (1997), Drop Dead Fred (1991), Akira (1988), American Psycho (2000), Highlander (1986) and many, many more.

Too many to mention, in fact. And after decades of disappointment, there is no reason to expect any of them to be an improvement on their originals. Then there is the recent debacle surrounding the critical and commercial failure of Fantastic Four earlier this month, prompting countless digital column inches wondering how and why a presumed slam-dunk would sail so far wide of the mark.

There have been two film adaptations of the comic book series before; both were dreadful, so again, no reason to expect third time to be a charm.

A decades-late and most unwelcome sequel to Blade Runner (1982) is in production, and we would need a whole other page in today's paper to get in to the whole Star Wars thing.

Nostalgia is often the main ingredient in all these remakes, which are a genre all their own. Genre is partially defined as the fulfilment of audience expectations. That is why the endless line of remakes is often perceived as lazy film-making: promise audiences something they already know - characters, settings, music, plot etc - fill in the blanks and watch the cash roll in.

But to dismiss them as such is not always accurate or fair. Many fine remakes exist. Like with a great cover version, ownership of the song transfers to the latter performer, such is the case with the great remakes. We disregard the original as a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

Furthermore, in this new world of 10-plus part TV remakes of classic films, writers, directors and actors will have the opportunity to retell well-known and loved stories within the creative space that the Golden Age ushered in.

The Golden Age of TV is gone. The Golden Age of Hollywood is long gone. And while remaking, rebooting, rehashing and repackaging the movies and TV we love might seem like a cop-out, hang in there, because there could be some exciting times ahead.

Do you remember the first time: The remakes that  surpassed the originals:


The groovy, gritty and terrifying remake of the 1956 cold war parable has one of the greatest shock endings ever filmed.

2 THE THING (1982)

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell's partnership is (was?) one of the best in cinema, and this sci-fi horror surpasses the 1951 original in every way, not least with its ground-breaking special effects.

3 SCARFACE (1982)

Howard Hawks' 1932 original was a watershed for sex and violence in the movies, but two words make all the difference with the remake: Al Pacino.

4 THE FLY (1986)

In 1958, The Fly was a creature feature lost in a sea of similarly themed horrors. David Cronenberg's remake was a masterful hybrid of drama, horror and romance with a haunting and tragic ending.


The original, released in 1950, did have Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, but Steve Martin's easy charm made us all wish he could be OUR dad.


One of those examples few people are aware is a remake. 1974's Profumo di Donna was an Italian film that had strong performances but lacked the punch of the remake.

7 TRUE GRIT (2010)

John Wayne's 1969 original is a classic Western, but the Coens' remake has the best of the genre tempered with the distinguished American auteurs' unique sense of humour.


Twelve Monkeys started life in 1962 as a short film by experimental film-maker Chris Marker. Comprised of a long series of still photographs with moody narration; it's a fascinating piece of art, but there's no competing with Terry Gilliam's head-scratching adventure.

Irish Independent

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