Remakes are the bane of the current Hollywood system, and with every passing year, the glut of recycled and modernized versions is slowly destroying our culture. Now I am not talking about movies that take an old tale and reforge for a new setting and audience, like for instance O Brother, Where Art Thou’s take on The Odyssey. No, I am talking exclusively about the direct remake, because let’s face it, for every Ocean’s Eleven or The Thing, there are five remakes like The Wicker Man, Alfie or Planet of the Apes.

And the onslaught of remakes is getting worse year after year, as the studios rely on these kinds of movies as safe investments. They choke out the flower of original thought from being developed by the studios much like weeds and with the power of those same studios and theatre chains behind them, for every remake that is produced, that is money that doesn’t go into original production. And it is getting to the point where even relatively recent independent films are starting to be remade as star vehicles, like 1992’s Meet the Parents, which was transformed into a Ben Stiller/Robert DeNiro blockbuster just 8 years later. And one would think that will television being less hospitable for writers because of reality programming there would have been a net increase in the breadth and quality of cinematic writing, but that has not been the case.

It is true the argument can be made that throughout the history of the arts, certain stories get told over and over again, and it is a totally valid argument. But at the same time, these stories were propagated in societies that produced a wide variety of original thought and expression, whereas the current crop of remakes are quite frankly creatively bankrupting our collective cultural experience. And it isn’t like this is a recent problem, as one only has to look back on 1976’s King Kong to understand that, or the fact that in the past 100 years, there have been 7 versions of Brewster’s Millions. Seven. Did there need to be seven version of this same story? I don’t think so. Granted, I can imagine young entertainment writers in the 1950’s and 60’s lamented about the fact that the major studios were remaking Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments with cutting edge technology, even though in many cases, the parties remaking these films were the original filmmakers themselves.

There is a certain arrogance that these filmmakers have to have, especially when they set out to remake a film that is either a classic or has a cult status, to think that they can somehow bring something new to these projects. For example, Gus Van Sant must have just been full of hubris when he took on the task of remaking Psycho shot-by-shot, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s classics, or Tim Burton believing he could somehow erase the memory of the original iconic Planet of the Apes with his own tepid effort. Yes, there are those rare occasions when a second look at material provided room for it to develop into a better story, but what usually happens is a ham-fisted production that is often devoid those elements which made the original what it was.

But my problem with this phenomenon goes further than that. When you look at the history of filmmaking, yes, there were almost always remakes, but the ratio of these kinds of films to original work was much more balanced. Think about it… if you compare how many remakes were being made even 10 years ago and the output today, it is quite startling. Using lists compiled at Wikipedia to come up with a rough estimate for remakes scheduled for this year vs. those released in the year 1997, the ratio comes out to 35:21, a 66% increase More than a few of those titles in 1997 were television productions as well, and if factored into that rough calculation, today’s remake output is nearly double that of a decade ago. At this early date, the totals for 2008 are already up to 14 in development or production, with almost 18 months left until 2009, so this trend looks likely to continue.

There are two things that happen when you see a bad remake of an earlier movie you haven’t seen. Either you want to see the source material to see what the current cast and crew were imbibing when they agreed to do the awful remake or you are forever soured to that storyline entirely. But I worry not so much about myself, because, let’s face it, I’m a big boy and I can look after myself. No… I worry about the children. I mean, if all they ever get to see are crappy remakes, how will they ever know quality cinematic entertainment? Even though a lot of the movies that are being remade now weren’t A-List material to begin with, they still collectively represent a sizable part of our shared pop cultural heritage.

So on the question of “should there be a moratorium on remakes”, there is only one way I can answer? Absolutely, because if we don’t stop them now, they will soon come after every movie we ever loved. They are already coming for Clash of the Titans, Escape from New York, Adventures in Babysitting, The Birds and Logan’s Run. How many more of the movies we loved as children and young adults must be sullied by inferior remakes?

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