The repackage, the reimagining, the reboot – never the rehash, the refried or the reheated. For every original franchise that makes it to the screens, or into print, there is an equal, if not greater number of established properties that undergo a periodic rebranding in order that the manufacturer / producer might sell more units.
Without even a remake in sight, have a look online and see how many different formats of the Terminator films are available to buy; we are programmed by the hardware to buy things again that we already owned. The way the movies are made just latches onto this. The new films that are coming have Arnie in them, and they play creatively with the time-lines of the original movies as a backdrop, so they play for the old and new audiences at the same time. Who doesn’t want to watch these movies in the hope that they recapture some of the energy and innovation of the first two movies in the franchise?
Superman has been rejigged more times than most if you include the comic books as well. The latest movie version has Henry Cavill as the titular Man Of Steel, and we are going to be seeing him alongside Ben Affleck’s Batman. Affleck’s Batman is seeking to reimagine the character as something different after Christian Bale’s iconic portrayal; which was a rethink of Michael Keaton’s Batman (Kilmer and Clooney don’t count). The New 52 from DC Comics saw Grant Morrison weighing in with a new version of the man in the red underpants too, which is funny given that he gave the world what a lot of people see as a definitive reading of the character in All Star Superman.
The movie with Affleck and Cavill is supposed to be the first stab at creating a cohesive movie world with all the DC characters in a similar vein to Marvel’s successful roster of characters, and will eventually pave the way for Justice League movies that are aimed to compete with the Avengers.
Spiderman may be joining that Marvel universe now Marvel and Sony have come to an agreement, so everyone’s favorite webslinger may be meeting up with Tony Stark and Thor, et al, in the near future.
Throw a rock in the air and you will hit something that is building on something done already. Fantastic Four waits in the wings; as does the first movie in what is reported to be a new Mad Max trilogy. How should one feel about this?
Should we be up in arms and demand brand new innovative cinema that pushes the boundaries and makes us think? Well, sure, we like something like the Matrix when it comes along, but we also want our media equivalent of the burger – something we can consume without too much thought.
It does sometimes feel like little new is on offer, and all they do is slap on some CGI and tell us they have reinvented the wheel. The advertising is amazingly coordinated – all those tie-in products saturate you, so that it becomes unavoidable, and while there is a hundred-weight of crap thrown at you, some of it is bound to appeal.
Reformats have been de rigeur it seems, since the advent of the CD. Mini-Discs came and went, MP3s tried to assassinate them, DVDs promised to kill them, Blue-Ray weighed in against the DVD. The format was the front on which the war to conquer your buck was waged, but now it is the stories themselves. Comics do it with the big events that tear narrative universes apart and give you something new wearing old clothes, and now movies are spinning along in that cycle even more rapidly as well. News of a Twilight remake so soon after the last one polluted the screens seems more than a little unnecessary, but it provides an in for those who were too young for the originals, or classics as they will probably be termed.
Create fireworks and keep putting it front and center as something all wonderful and shiny, and you will sell it. Each generation that comes along is an untapped resource, and if it was popular before, why can’t it be again? Who is going to know if the singer is singing lyrics over a tune that someone else wrote fifteen years ago, and who cares anymore? A German teenager who was found to have plagiarized two thirds of her book claimed to have merely repurposed the text and remixed it into a new story. It is a mode of communication embedded in the culture, so can one really think of it as wrong? Should it get so much traction? It isn’t like the advertising or the merchandise really bumps up against much resistance – no one’s arm is being bent back.
It could be argued that if your new art-house movie or independent comic or self published book isn’t finding it easy to swim against the current of the mainstream, then it just isn’t strong enough. You cry that you don’t have that kind of advertising power, and it is true, but is it also possible that despite all the supposed fascination with the new, that when you dig past the glitz of shiny surfaces, that we just want to be sold the same thing over and over again.