Tag Archives: Blockbusters

EXPLORING UNOFFICIAL REMAKES IN HOLLYWOOD!

EXPLORING UNOFFICIAL REMAKES IN HOLLYWOOD! 

Here’s a re-blog of an article I wrote for the excellent http://www.sothetheorygoes.com website. It’s arguably a better researched article than I usually turn out and the original can be found here.

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OVERCOMING THE MONSTER

As an avid cinemagoer and fan I watch a hell of a lot of movies. I am aware that Hollywood film releases rarely contain original screenplays due to the massive flux of literary, journalistic, radio, televisual and comic-book adaptations. Moreover, there are reboots, remakes and re-imaginings of older and, in the case of the recent Spiderman releases, not-so-older films too.  I have even noticed another trend where on top of the usual remakes there are a number of films which are unofficial remakes of other films. Does this mean originality is finally dead in Hollywood and is now cannibalizing itself to produce product. Or, has it always been that way?

I want to explore the nature of storytelling, mythmaking and modes of classic Hollywood film production to consider whether there is a trend toward unofficial remakes in the current filmmaking era. I will examine cultural theory and film history to decide whether filmmakers are knowingly copying other works but hiding their intentions; or subconsciously replicating past cinema works while emulating both the historical traditions of storytelling and the classical Hollywood mode of film production. I will look at some recent film releases to further reflect on such theories.

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THE QUEST

The blockbuster or big budget spectacular has been a major business tool of Hollywood production since movies. In his book Blockbuster, Tom Shone points to the 1970s as the beginning of the blockbuster summer movie era with films such as Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977), making huge money and beginning a business convention which continues today. However, there has always been huge behemoth product coming out of Hollywood with the likes of D.W Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone With The Wind (1939), Cleopatra (1963) being examples of big-budget spectacular produced down the years. As such the blockbuster is as much a genre in its own right as opined by Shone and also Peter Biskind in his book: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock ‘N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.   

The summer blockbuster film release is clearly a huge money-making enterprise on behalf of Hollywood studios. Indeed, according to a recent Indiewire article films such as The Force Awakens (2015), Avatar (2009), Avengers: Assemble (2012) have together made over $2.5 billion dollars in at the box office. With the Marvel and Star Wars universe or franchises ever increasing their reach across galaxies far, far away it is important to note that the new Hollywood is still following the classical Hollywood system in regard to mode of production.

In their book The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960, Staiger, Thompson and Bordwell, a Hollywood film derives its’ competitiveness from a standardized norm and differentiated delivery. Film genres take place between the dialectic of standardization and differentiation which allows films to be produced along a conveyor built quickly and more profitably while some innovation generates differentiated elements to enable successful marketing of the product. For example, Ford produced and continued to produce a lot of the same model motor vehicles but change the colours and extras to differentiate the product. Likewise, Hollywood produces a hell of a lot of action, superhero and blockbuster films but in using different actors, directors, composers and source materials they are able to blind the audience to the storytelling structures and plots being used.

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But is this a mode of production considered lazy, unoriginal, uninspired or even plagiaristic? Possibly, yet it seems to make sense that Hollywood studios, while risking a hell of a lot of money on their blockbusters, standardize their product and use what has worked before to protect their investment. While some of us would like to see David Lynch given $200 million to direct a Marvel Universe movie, his idiosyncratic vision of the world would be such a leap of differentiation it would possibly – like his adaptation of Dune (1984) – create a potential box office bomb. Even a brilliant director like Edgar Wright was considered not “house style” enough for the Marvel film Ant Man (2015) and left the production due to the oft-quoted “creative differences”.

Is it fair to accuse Hollywood studios of unoriginality or even plagiarism? Are writer and filmmakers merely following the rules of the world?  I mean according to Christopher Booker’s text The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are in essence only a limited number of narratives including the: ‘Overcoming the Monster’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘The Quest’, ‘Comedy, ‘Rebirth’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Voyage and Return’. Booker echoes too the studies of mythologist Joseph Campbell who argues that the ‘Hero’s Journey’ or monomyth is the common template of most stories. Christopher Vogler followed on from Campbell’s extensive work in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writer arguing that most popular stories can be narrowed down to a series of basic structures and archetypes.

Thus, we could argue that originality is in fact impossible and Hollywood blockbusters, as well as following the classical Hollywood model of standardization and differentiation; are simply passing on the traditional and mythical structures which hark back to the cave drawings of our ancestors, Greek myths and those wonderful stories in the Bible.  Let’s have a look at some examples of recent blockbuster films which echo the theories of mythic storytelling, concentrating specifically on those that could be considered unofficial remakes of previous films.

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VOYAGE AND RETURN

The biggest box office hit of recent years is the JJ Abrams directed The Force Awakens (2015). After Disney paid an absolute fortune to Lucasfilms for the rights to own the Star Wars franchise it’s safe to say that there was no way the studio would be taking any risks on their product. Thus, in my opinion, JJ Abrams and his writing team took a safety first approach to the storyline by unofficially remaking the original Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). They standardized their product by using most of the same characters, settings, design, costumes, music and themes. Moreover, on the whole it follows the same “Hero’s Journey” and “Overcoming the Monster” models within its structure as at its core a plucky young “orphan” must rise up and defeat the dark side of the Empire. Conversely, the original Star Wars could be argued to have heavily borrowed its structure and archetypes from Akiro Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958). However, George Lucas’ epic space opera was so original in presentation and design one cannot reconcile notions of plagiarism.

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A Force Awakens was only marginally differentiated with more diverse casting as the female leading character Rey (Daisy Ridley) took the Luke Skywalker role. The only main difference is her character was arguably more passive in the narrative compared with the dynamic enthusiasm of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker. In remaking A New Hope, complete with a total-replica-ending culminating in the rebels destroying the Death Star, the filmmakers tick all the fan boxes yet with just enough difference in the details so as not to be accused of self-plagiarism. For me, however, A Force Awakens  is not as credible a story as Rogue One (2016), which, while invoking World War II “suicide-mission” genre structures such as: The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Guns of Navarone (1966), had more original characters and differentiation and thus felt a fresher product.

Unofficial remakes or the echoing of known texts are rife in the blockbuster era. James Cameron’s environmentalist Sci-Fi fantasy Avatar (2009) has exactly the same “Voyage and Return” structure as Kevin Costner’s revisionist Western Dances with Wolves (1990). In both films our hero, a soldier, finds himself at first a prisoner and then falling in love with an indigenous tribe’s more natural lifestyle; ultimately defying the patriarchal and oppressive capitalist society from where he came. Both culminate in a thrilling battle at the end where our gone-native hero overcomes the monstrous enemy.  Avatar, of course, differentiates markedly in presentation to Costner’s epic due to the incredible special effects on show but the structure and storylines are exactly the same.

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Screenwriters have not just plundered cinema’s back catalogue for narratives. The original storyline of Marvel comic books The Hulk is an unofficial adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; with a scientist splitting his personality between man and monster following an experiment gone wrong. Marvel indeed are experts at absorbing literary texts into their works as Age of Ultron (2015) echoes the story of Frankenstein as Stark’s experiment wreaks monstrous havoc on the Avengers. Moreover one of the best Marvel films Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) uses the plot of spy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) as a springboard.

Of course, these are very loose interpretations, however, with Avengers: Assemble (2012) the filmmakers have, in my mind, essentially remade Kurosawa’s Seven Samourai (1954). Of course Seven Samourai has been remade many times as The Magnificent Seven in both 1960 and 2016, respectively. Indeed, in Avengers Assemble the plot of the villagers-in-peril being protected against a vicious foe by a rag-tag bag of gunslingers is mirrored by the Earth being guarded by the Avengers against Loki and the Chitauri. Even the beats of the story are similar with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) building his team in the way Chris (Yul Brynner) did in the Western version and Kambei (Takashi Shimura) did in the original. Overall, The Avengers is a terrific film, with a very solid narrative founded on the powerful structure of works released before it.

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REBIRTH

In summary, the unofficial remake is probably not a recent trend as I am sure further investigation will reveal more examples of this occurrence in Hollywood film production. The question remains though: is there evidence of plagiarism within the modern Hollywood blockbuster and cinema examples used? I would say there probably isn’t. Filmmakers today are generally following the age-old tradition of passing on stories and myths, combined with the conscious structural safety of following genre conventions and the standardization and differentiation models Classical Hollywood cinema established decades ago. Either that or they are following Quentin Tarantino’s lead when he says,

 “I steal from every single movie ever made. If people don’t like that, then tough tills, don’t go and see it, all right? I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”

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MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: WONDER WOMAN (2017)

DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins 

WRITERS: Created by: William Moulton Marston,
Screenplay: Allan Heinberg
Story: Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs, Zach Snyder

CAST: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen

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**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The need for super women and men to rise and protect us against the foes of everyday existence has never been more requisite. Governments, politicians, military commanders, corporate greed, religious leaders and humanity’s capacity for evil and destructive behaviour means people are under threat from violence and death on a daily basis. It’s the world we live in and one we have always lived in. Life is a gift which we continue to throw away because of a difference in beliefs, thoughts, race, gender and language. It is insane but I doubt it will ever stop. So, one must except it and be grateful for all the good people and for every day one is alive. But how do you escape from this terror that lurks in the world and the fear that comes with it? Well, we have the fantasies on film and TV screens and in comic books that convince us we can be saved; that the bad people in league with the devil can be put to the sword of justice. This month we have the Amazonian powerhouse that is Wonder Woman!!

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The DC comic-book-cinema-world has taken a critical pasting and much of this can be put at the door of the attention-deficit-director Zach Snyder and of course the studios themselves who have, in my humble opinion, ignored the basics of storytelling and genre in a bombastic attempt to out-do Marvel’s slick and productive Universe. Indeed, there were great films somewhere in the over-stuffed crusts of Man of Steel (2013), Suicide Squad (2016) and the incomprehensible Batman v. Superman (2016); brilliant characters, actors, special effects, action, set-pieces, music in all of them. However, they were ultimately let down by the structure and storytelling. Not so with Wonder Woman, which goes back to basics and takes its time to establish our heroine’s origins and, unlike the other DC films, builds character and empathy prior to launching into a feast of amped-up-to-eleven fight sequences and wondrous leaps of derring-do.

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At the centre of all the action is the athletic Gal Gadot as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, who as a girl, desires to join her Aunt Antiope (scene-stealing Robin Wright) as a great warrior, but is forbidden by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen.) The first act is full of powerful mythology, imagery and characters and to be honest I could have watched a film about their lives on the beautiful secret island. Yet when their peace is unsettled by the appearance of Chris Pine’s American spy and the German Navy pursuing him we get an almighty beach battle between the modern-day Teutonic troops and the Amazonian warriors. This sets the tone of the mythological past juxtaposing with the modern era (albeit circa 1914-1918) and this theme remains one of the strengths of the film.

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With the introduction of the charismatic and handsome Steve Trevor (Pine), Diana is galvanized to fight for the Allies in World War One, and thus truly begins the heroine’s journey. The pace and turns in the narrative are handled extremely well by director Patty Jenkins. She gives as much importance to the scenes between Diana and Steve, notably the witty exchanges on the boat and during Diana’s first encounter with the big city. This ensures we are committed to their relationship and the romance had echoes of Indiana Jones and Marian Ravenwood’s from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Conversely, everyone’s favourite baddies, the Germans, provide a solid nemesis which to root against as Danny Huston’s General and his more interesting assistant, Doctor Maru (Elena Anaya), develop a heinous gas with which to defeat the Allies.

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I think I liked the film so much mainly because it was simple in structure, well directed, and yet retained much of the magical fantasy and mythology of the comic books. Moreover, it contained some kick-ass slow-motion action sequences and the sight of a warrior Princess using a mighty sword and golden rope while taking out Germans and huge tanks was nothing less than breath-taking. The cast, especially Gadot and Pine commit wonderfully to their characters and the story. Minor criticisms are the slightly over-long running time and the cardboard cut-out nature of the secondary German characters. Nonetheless, as superhero films go Wonder Woman is right up there with some of Marvel’s best movies.

Essentially a traditional origins story, Wonder Woman may follow the well-worn formula of establishing our heroine, her strengths and her commitment to peace through powerful means, but it does it with verve, heart and compassion. I cared about these characters and while it may be a simple notion that love can conquer all, it is a universal emotion that I can definitely get behind. Because there is a lot of hatred on Earth and it needs all the heroes and heroines it can find; even if they are merely fantasy.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)