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But The Original Was A Classic! Remakes and the Anatomy of Film Obsession

How do you feel about remakes?  Do you love them?  Hate them?  Are you indifferent?

Some movie-goers detest remakes.  After seeing yet another “new” trailer with an old premise, these frustrated souls become consumed with rage; they run out of their homes, screaming “Damn you!” while vigorously shaking their clenched fist at the sky.  Over the last few years, I’ve found that these disgruntled souls typically fall into one of two categories: the first consists of people who simply want to see something new, while the second category is populated by those who are extremely upset that a specific film or series is being made—one they hold incredibly dear to their hearts.

The folks in the first group are only mildly annoyed (and, quite possibly, bored with movies in general).  The poor souls in the second group, however, suffer devastating assaults to their identities.  The idea of someone tinkering with a story so precious to them, something that served as an integral part of their personal development, makes these hardcore-fans squirm.  It hurts when a film that helped define their youth no longer feels like it exclusively belongs to them, especially since it occupied so much of their lives.

From the moment the dreaded remake is formally announced, all the way up to it’s official release date, these unfortunate beings live on tenterhooks.  Since all creative decisions are entirely out of their control, they’re frustrated by their own powerlessness. All the adjustments they would’ve made, all the embellishments they’ve carefully considered for years, will sadly never come to fruition now.  Even worse, they bristle at knowing younger audience members will most likely believe the remake is superior to the original, that its more relevant than it’s predecessor.

Being a huge fan of certain movies myself, I can certainly sympathize with why people feel possessive of the original while being concerned with the integrity of an updated version.  I, too, was among the disgruntled groaners and nay-sayers when news spread that George Lucas was giving the original Star Wars trilogy a digital overhaul.  And, hell—that wasn’t even a re-boot!  (Thank God.)  But at what point does attachment to a movie become a detriment to one’s health?

If psychologists are correct, a person watching film or television is unwittingly exposing their brain to images and words that will leave an imprint on their subconscious mind—some of which, they argue, could be hazardous to one’s psychological well-being.  If this is true, what happens if a person watches a particularly dark film… repetitiously?  Is it possible their psyche could get re-programmed?  (I’m not certain either way, but I think it might be interesting to see how many times John Hinckley, Jr. watched Taxi Driver before he decided that shooting Ronald Reagan would win him the affections of Jodie Foster.  I mean, I’ve seen the 1976 Scorsese classic several times, but I usually just want to get myself “organizized,” seek some bad advice from Peter Boyle, then take Cybil Shepherd out to a porno flick… )

While it’s true that the average person won’t shoot a politician after watching a film, it’s also true that obsessed fans aren’t necessarily average viewers, either.  Their repeated viewings, and subsequent fixation, compel them to attenuate to things in their environment connected to the movie.  When something’s found that fits, tacitly or directly, it feeds the obsession, helping it to grow bigger.  If nothing’s in their immediate environment that relates to the movie, however, the super-fan’s mind will create, and ultimately insist upon, a connection, trying to justify its one-track focus…  things can get pretty ugly when this happens.

Personally, I know that any time I re-watch Videodrome, I find myself wondering if constant exposure beyond the point of mental re-alignment could alter your physiology as well.  Can a film’s content seep into your being and activate a weird, symbiotic absorption of the movie’s essence into your body, like it did to James Woods?  Could it mutate a viewer’s DNA forever?  Will I transmogrify, on a cellular level, into a mutant of some kind—just like Woods did?!  Well… if that’s the case: “Death to Videodrome!!  Long Live the New Flesh!!!”

Uh, sorry… where was I?  Ah, yes—obsession…

Measuring the duration and frequency of a victim’s ruminations play a major role in determining the depth of an obsession; unfortunately, this also helps to re-enforce an aging super-fan’s steadfast devotion.  At a certain point in nearly everyone’s life, a realization hits:  I’ve lived on this planet in the throes of an irrational passion for far longer than I’ve lived without it.   And, while this type of self-examination would be a catalyst for change and growth in the average person, the super-fan is impervious to such epiphanies or revelations.  Instead, he or she sees it as a good thing, and use the measurement of time to prove they’re more true-blue to their beloved movie than anyone else, that they’re the most loyal die-hard enthusiast you’ll ever meet.  Likewise, the intensity of their hatred for a remake, along with it’s very-often volatile and public display, give the obsessed a sense of superiority.  (If a tantrum doesn’t prove my deep allegiance, how about the possession of an original Darth Vader action-figure carrying case? One of the snaps is busted, otherwise, it’s in good shape… )

Sadly, any dismissive responses prevent the afflicted from finally admitting to themselves what friends and family have known all along: namely, that they have a pathological attachment to something that’s completely oblivious and indifferent to their existence… and always will be.  When they can admit this, then—and only then—will they be able to address the issues that’ve continually dogged their wretched and wasted lives.  (Hmm… I wonder how much the Vader case is worth, anyways?)

I’m telling you this out of concern.  If you think you may be a fan of this caliber, I fear for your well-being.  You might want to seek help.

The fact of the matter is, Hollywood isn’t going to stop the remake/reboot frenzy anytime soon.  In fact, they’ll keep churning ‘em out, over and over, until they’ve remade every last  film.  Or, at least, until they’ve re-made all the genre films that’ve managed to captivate large audiences—and, by extension, generate large revenue.  And why not?  Investors would be foolish to turn down the proposition of producing something already grafted onto the public’s collective consciousness.  Putting money into a project that comes with a proven formula for success, and a built-in audience? It’s a no-brainer.

Advertising and marketing agencies have known for years that what consumers really want is something they’re familiar with… but with newer features and a fancier package.

Furthermore, these movies can be made repeatedly, and within close proximity to each other.  Take the major comic book movies, for example.  In a relatively short period of time, David Banner was twice zapped by gamma rays, twice creating his alter-ego, the Hulk.  And these weren’t even sequels… they were the same movie, with superficial differences.

The same goes for the Batman and Spider-Man reboots.  Knowing that these two heroes are cinematic cash-cows, the studios simply hired new directors and lead-actors and started at square-one again, under the disingenuous guise of “re-imagining their origin story.”  (Seriously, is there really anyone alive in America today that has no idea Batman was a wealthy orphan? Or that Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive insect?  Their back-stories are more well-known than George Washington’s or Abraham Lincoln’s.  Hell, I’d even go so far as to say that the origins of Bats and Spidey are probably more ubiquitous than that of  Jesus Christ… even in December.)

And yet, there’s a large swath of fans who love the idea that their favorite flicks are getting a make-over.  These viewers look forward to seeing their old favorites get a face-lift, and can’t wait to see which movie Hollywood will upgrade next.

After all, it’s not hard to see why these easy-going viewers feel this way.  The modernization of a beloved film’s aesthetic qualities allows fans to once again connect with a story, and it’s characters, without the distraction caused by the fashion, technology and culture of a by-gone era.  Remakes can remove the nagging incredulity caused by glaring anachronisms captured on out-dated film-stock.  These re-imaginings can quell the acute self-awareness a viewer gets when having to actively, and intentionally, suspend their disbelief.  In this sense, remakes are a relief.

These casual fans seem to live more ordered and regular lives.  They seem content, complacent even, and their happiness doesn’t hinge on whether or not Hollywood leaves a film’s legacy intact.  Since there’s no way to stop Hollywood, why fight it any longer?  Maybe we—er, I mean, you… should follow their example.

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3 Comments

  1. Colin August 11, 2011

    I liked it Scott, Some very valid points. I think that specifically the godzilla, king kong, and planet of the apes movies could be considered public domain, so remaking them as much as they have been doesnt bother me. the hulk and spiderman remakes bother me the most because they were so quickly remade. I think with any film if you wait long enough a remake isnt a bad thing. And FYI Footloose looks awful, and teen wolf is now a TV show so anything is possible

  2. Ryan August 12, 2011

    I just find that there is a total lack of respect for what came before. A wink and a smile seems to make any violation OK. There’s no new story or ideas or attention to tone. Just the thought that they can gloss it up and bam, it’s better. Later this year a remake to The Thing is coming out. That was a perfect movie. I’m still not sure that guys head didn’t really fall off and sprout spider legs. The decision that it could in any way be improved upon with new technology is insulting not really b/c of its motivations ($$) but because it pays zero respect to a great film, a superior (if not arcane) craft and an awesome director at the top of his game.

  3. Matt August 15, 2011

    I don’t think I have any theoretical reason to dislike re-boots. It’s just that in practice they always suck!

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