No great impetus has urged me to write this edition of Redhead Temper, except for maybe the new RoboCop trailer premiere a couple of weeks ago (which I’ll write about in my most recent Preview Review as well), and the fact that I just watched the original Die Hard (1988) a few nights ago for the first time. I thought now would be a good time then for me to explore Hollywood’s tendency to remake, reboot and rehash things perhaps without reason to, and whether this is what the public really wants.
I think in an ideal world, the cause for this phenomenon would be nothing more than a benevolent hope of exposing younger generations to beloved worlds and tales they would otherwise have no interest in. But on the other hand, I know it is probably more about the profit. Then again, with something like RoboCop, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone had merely looked at the vast opportunities our film technologies have now afforded us and said “hey, you know those cheesy low budget sci-fi greats from the 80’s? We should re-do those but this time, we can really go for it and have them reach their true potential.”
That isn’t to say the originals were bad per se but simply that they could be better, depending on your definition of the word, of course; today’s audiences would see through the flimsy science fiction facades of yesteryear but that doesn’t make the shiny sheen of more modern visions any more appropriate to tell the story necessarily. Current special effects are very nearly cheesier in my opinion than the technically archaic ones that made some original versions so classic, and which make so many of their remakes seem so overdone.
For example, the new Total Recall (2012) took itself seriously because, let’s face it, it had the power to do so and I’m not arguing that it shouldn’t have tried or toyed with the technology at hand, whereas the original (1990) was so campy in this very lack of power and technology that it was deemed good somehow as a result. There is something about modern special effects in their seemingly realistic rendering of things that do not exist yet (or at all), that makes them seem so overly realistic that in a weird roundabout way ends up making them seem all the more artificial, or at the very least they seem just as artificial as those techniques and visuals we think are so medieval in comparison, but perhaps just in a different way.
I think this is what people are most worried about when it comes to the new RoboCop. Why is his outfit different? Well, because if we used the technology at our disposal only to the extent that we were recreating 100% what had already been done in 1987, we’d be wasting that potential. What is old is new again, but it isn’t enough to show people the original in the year 2013 and have them wonder how things could look more like our current idea of a distant future and less like the past’s analog prediction of that same future.
I always laugh, for instance, at moments in Blade Runner where a clearly old piece of computer technology is standing in for something even more high tech than what currently exists while watching the film retrospectively. I’m not saying they had a choice, but can we really be so upset that Hollywood is updating our classics to do justice to the fantasies presented in them when these fantasies were once so limited and now so infinite?
I don’t think it should be a concern that these re-imaginings are not doing justice to the sometimes complex meanings and campy spirit of films like RoboCop; I think we should consider them more as functioning in two different realms and with very different aims and values. The sci-fi greats of years past couldn’t possibly present to us the complexity of their worlds in the same polished way as today’s genre films attempt to, but in a way, their grappling with this limitation allowed them a sense of even greater creativity and silly fun and eliminated the pressure of focusing on these visual details at the expense then of messages and morals.
Take Die Hard as another example– drenched in blood and violence, the film is also rich with cultural anxieties and societal issues that, whether or not an average movie-goer at the time or even now looking back would catch them immediately and wish to discuss them, are undeniably there somewhere. Race, gender, masculinity, class, globalization, Americanization: take your pick, or not, but this movie is at its core a satisfying action movie with an uncharacteristically intellectual sensibility.
Yet, with the more recent sequels within the now franchise, the special effects and cliches are no longer conveyors of anything more than entertainment, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; action movies should after all entertain us above all else, but to see the evolution of symbolism from the original to the lack thereof in the most recent installments is perhaps a little disheartening. The films have become like all the rest in the genre and have lost what made the first more than an ordinary blockbuster in the first place.
Then, there’s the already semi old-news issue of Spider-Man (2002) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). Why make a reboot so soon after a trilogy had already been completed successfully? I certainly don’t have an answer to that one; was it an excuse to use 3D technology or for someone to point out certain things that Sam Raimi neglected to include, like the self-made web shooters on Parker’s wrists? Or was it actually just to refresh a franchise that somehow had grown stale in terms of nothing more than cold hard merchandising? While I myself am a fan of the original trilogy as well as Marc Webb’s take, I do agree that the latter was perhaps too similar, too soon. Yes, I appreciated Andrew Garfield’s performance and delivery of silly and sassy quips that reminded me so much of the comics themselves, not to mention the original chronology being adhered to in this revival. But on the other hand, it really isn’t enough to give us Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane and assume that we will therefore easily forget the basics of an origin story still fresh in our minds.
So, are our attention spans growing shorter or is Hollywood’s? How soon before we feel bored or unsatisfied with how we have already depicted something and feel the need to put our own spin on it, correct it, improve upon it? This question is so problematic, because people complain about remakes, reboots and sequels but still flock to them for the most part. Are we then so lazy that we actually subconsciously prefer these blockbusters over original stories of the same genres?
We already have a familiarity with the stories and characters, maybe, but this familiarity makes us more judgmental and apt to compare to those entries that came before, when comparisons may not even be possible or valid. Simultaneously, this familiarity provides us with a comfort zone at the movies that is then hard to break out of, not just for us but for Hollywood who knows we will be loyal and pay for something we’ve basically all seen before, even if we are hypercritical of it as we munch on our popcorn, one price of admission poorer.