The film industry seems to be having a bit of a midlife crisis. Much like a 35 year old drifter going back to the same clubs he frequented in his underage days, Hollywood seems to be putting more energy into going backwards then forwards. In the last few years a torrent of remakes has flooded the world of cinema. There are almost more remakes-of-the-greats 20 years on than there are new gems of originality in the film industry today. Nostalgia is having a heyday. Cinema has become Hollywood’s very own form of fan fiction, with remakes recreating scenarios that fans have been dreaming and blogging about, for years, except often with less original thought.
This weekend marks the release of yet another remake of a film that probably should have been left alone: Trainspotting 2. Now I am sure there will be great enjoyment to be had from this latest foray into Irvine Welsh’s mad world of heroin addicts. But I wonder; do we actually need it? Does anyone actually want to see Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie as 40 year old wasters, tired and deflated after years of drug addiction instead of young, feisty, and angry? Trainspotting is a classic, a high point in the history of cinema. It does not need a rewrite! At best it will match the success that the first instalment has already achieved; at worst it will indulge super fans but ultimately it will be a disappointing stain on the otherwise revered franchise. Part of me wants to scream at Danny Boyle, “Leave it!! Quit while you’re ahead!”
Trainspotting 2 follows a long line of remakes in recent years. Zoolander 2, Finding Dory, Ghostbusters (Kristen Wiig edit) plus the myriad of live action Disney films are some of the many reboots that have been thrust upon us. Remakes have become a way to invoke anticipation in the cinema-goer followed by a predictable plot that is just different enough from the original to pass. Take the recent Star Wars remake, The Force Awakens. It smashed the box office, becoming the highest grossing film of 2016 at a mighty $90 million. It was a good film, no doubt about it. But when it comes down to it, The Force Awakens was basically A New Hope with new characters. The plot was pretty much the same, right down to the tragic climax (no spoilers). It seems like Lucasfilm tries to erase The Prequel Trilogy from our memories, and simultaneously cash in on a new generation of Star Wars fans who would be too young to realise that the scene where Rey is surrounded by droids on Tatooine is a bit too familiar.
At the very least however, The Force Awakens is an enjoyable film. The same cannot be said of the poorly planned Zoolander 2, a film so unfunny and unoriginal that it tarnished the original brilliance of the first film. Once again I ask, what is the need? Will I better understand Finding Nemo once I’ve seen Finding Dory? Will the subtle nuances of Ben Stiller’s reboot make me see Blue Steel in a whole new light? Or do the remakes cash in on fan excitement but then ultimately ruin the films that they desperately try to emulate?
Sure, I get it, it must be frustrating for film makers that the original Ghostbusters came out before CGI Technology, but that’s not a good enough reason to meddle with a franchise that doesn’t need to be improved. So why has this age of reboots come upon us? It could be as simple as the fact that remakes are generally box office successes. But I believe that this cycle of film repetition is more than just Hollywood milking the cash ow over and over again. Let’s look at this cycle from an emotional perspective. This consistent need to hearken back to the great films of yesteryear is a continuation of the 90’s nostalgia that has swept music, fashion, and television in the last few years. We find pleasure reliving the past. Those days were better anyway. Why discover something new when you can relive the emotional rollercoasters of past films?
2016 shook the political foundations of the Western world. Is it any wonder that in a world of Trump and Brexit, where our very futures are unstable and frightening, that people prefer their entertainment to be safe and predictable? Maybe the reason for the remake trend is that people would rather see something that reminded them of better times, something that they knew would ultimately turn out OK. We are living in a time when the film industry tends towards predictability rather than originality. While this is somewhat understandable, it is still unfortunate.
After all, we deserve better. Hollywood has originality. Look at La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, or Hell or High Water, films that form only the beginning of the list. Hollywood is not out of ideas, but it is misdirecting its creativity toward rewriting old films rather than creating new ones. This generation does not need any more nostalgia. We need films we can turn into cult classics for ourselves. We need platforms through which to leave a new individual mark on the entertainment industry rather than failed attempts to repeat the past. (Have we learned nothing from The Great Gatsby?). This age of reboots is lazy. In the face of political uncertainty we fight rather than fly, paving the future with new ideas. Have faith in yourself Hollywood, this is a cycle that can — and needs to be — broken.