Hollywood remakes reflect literary tradition

Hollywood is currently cranking out a ton of remakes. The recent reboots of Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic Park and Spider Man, as well as upcoming remakes of Ben Hur, Dirty Dancing, Psycho, The Mummy and Sister Act, have led many to wonder if Hollywood has run out of new ideas.

A recent article in The Atlantic entitled “Spinoff City: Why Hollywood is Built on Unoriginal Ideas” by Amanda Ann Klein and R. Barton Palmer attempts to analyze and explain the current trend of remakes in Hollywood. Klein and Palmer focus on the historical development of the modern blockbuster and Hollywood’s box office concerns and note that, “The drive to exploit audience interests in comic strips, magic lantern shows, vaudeville, popular songs, and other films and then to replicate those successful formulas over and over until they cease to make money is foundational to the origins and success of filmmaking worldwide.”

While it’s true that Hollywood places high concern on its commercial success and box office performance, and this may provide a partial explanation for the prevalence of this trend, it is also important to recognize that the act of taking a pre-existing story and retelling it extends back even farther than Hollywood itself. Throughout most of Western history in particular, storytelling has had an emphasis on drawing from pre-existing plots and characters. Nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays are retellings of previous stories, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, John Milton’s Paradise Lost and many operas such as Gioachino Rossini’s Barber of Seville, or Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata are all based on pre-existing stories, or retellings of familiar tales. Thus, the idea of retelling or remaking a story is not uncommon and has been going on for centuries before Hollywood.

While many may criticize the seeming lack of originality in remake/reboot films, I would argue that what is most important about a story is not merely what is being told, but also how it’s being told. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been preserved and studied for centuries longer than its predecessors not only for its plot, but for how that story is told. Hamlet’s masterful language, structure, themes and character development are not a result of original content, but rather creative extensions of Shakespeare’s retelling. Just as a work such Hamlet can be loved for its


stylistic retelling, a remake or reboot of a film can also be loved for the sake of its retelling.

Rather than criticize Hollywood for lack of originality in story ideas, it’s important instead to consider why there is a current appeal for stories to be retold. Given that Hollywood’s origins in the early twentieth century were over a hundred years ago, it makes sense that many of those films are ready for a retelling. New technology, new audiences and changing social structures can all lead to possibilities for films of the last century to be retold.

New developments in special effects and CGI have led to live action retellings of Disney ani- mations. Cinderella, Maleficent and The Jungle Book are examples of films that could not as successfully have been made as live action films during the times of their original releases but can now be adapted with new styles and for- mats.

New generations provide the reboots of action films such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terminator: Genisys, Prometheus or Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation with audiences who may not have watched the originals. Audiences today are able toenjoythecharactersandstoriescelebratedby generations.

Changing social structures may also lead to reexaminations of previous cinematic social constructions and seek to remake films which portray outdated gender roles or racial stereo- types. The recent reboot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens sought to re-evaluate representation by casting Daisy Ridley and John Boyega as its leads rather than the white male heroes that had previously dominated the screen in previous installments of Star Wars. Additionally, specu- lation regarding the sexual orientation of Oscar Isaac’s character Poe Dameron have led fans to believe that The Force Awakens may also have introduced its first non-heterosexual character to the saga.

Rather than criticize Hollywood for its lack of originality, we should instead examine the new creativity and purpose for remaking older films. New technology, new audiences and new social constructs all provide important advances in the how of films being made: not just the what.

Christopher Alexander ’16 (alexandc@stolaf. edu) is from Rochester, Minn. He majors in English and music.