“It was the best of times it was the BLURST of times?!? You stupid monkey!” – The Simpsons
The gf was recently watching some sports drama thing: The tall, basketball-playing Asian hero eschews the pretty Asian girl in favour of the nerdy, homely Asian girl and finally sits down next to her. Her Asian friends giggle. His Asian friends shake their heads knowingly, irked that he is missing the big game but also happy that he’s finally gonna get some.
“This seems familiar,” I said, “haven’t we seen this before?”
I mentally added: and even then it seemed like it was nicked from Teen Wolf.
“No,” said the gf. “That was the film. This is the TV version.”*
It’s fair to say that I am less than excited about this current trend in television remakes of successful movies; from any country. I heard on the grapevine that next in the Hollywood firing line is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This sounds totally pointless and potentially disastrous to me, especially as no one from the original movie is attached to (or, presumably, remotely interested in) the new version.
I’m quite fond of Michel Gondry’s DIY visual style** and of Charlie Kaufman’s weird blend of comedy, science-fantasy and pseudo-philosophy, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch a room full of American sitcom writers try to ape it for an extended period of seasons.
Even so, I recently put aside a little of my prejudice by watching a very different philosophical science fiction cash-in, the first season of 12 Monkeys. The opening episode did nothing to convince me that I had made the right decision. It was full of dumbass, tone deaf nods to the film: stolen lines of dialogue, a mental hospital named after the original screenwriters. It was The Walking Dead without the zombies, Heroes without the charm; a shaggy mess, lacking all of the psychological aspects, character development and visual flair that made the original film so intriguing. By the end of the season it had failed to grow a beard, but I admit that there was a small line of stubble poking through, like the ones worn by its cast of post-apocalyptic washouts.
I know it’s difficult enough to write anything, let alone something original; that there’s nothing new under the clichéd sun and all that. Maybe there’s some sour grapes on my part in that some writers are paid just to write Lego and Emoji movies, or to extend other people’s work into small screen bowel movements, while I turn up to a Chinese classroom with a mental folder of rejection letters from the likes of Amazon and the BBC.***
Modern storytelling is all about dressing up the old tales in new clothes, but if the clothes you’re using are charity shop hand-me-downs from another medium, then your script is going to look a little shabby. I enjoyed the first season of Mr. Robot more than I did 12 Monkeys, but even then I would have found the ‘plot twists’ in Elliot Alderson’s life more surprising if I’d never read Fight Club or American Psycho. Equally, 12 Monkeys would have been more suspenseful if I’d never seen Timecop or Pertwee-era Doctor Who (let alone a movie called 12 Monkeys, which it really is only distantly related to).
In the 1970s, Hollywood got an influx of Californian film students: beach bum philosophers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Francis Coppola, etc. These were guys who’s movies were styled on the films of the past. A generation later there was an influx of indie film nerds like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith, guys who were inspired by the filmmakers of the 70s. The current generation consists of blokes like Edgar Wright, Guy Ritchie and Neil Marshall, who all know how to make a decent movie, but are mostly inspired by the video-store-clerks-turned-directors of the 90s. That means we’ve got films that are inspired by films that are inspired by films that were already inspired by other films! With those films being turned into TV shows, it just becomes those old photocopies that have degraded to grey: a copy of a copy of a copy (and yes, I’m aware that’s a line from Fight Club!)
Did you know that LA executives refer to novelists and game designers as ‘content creators’ now? As if everything that’s being written is just an adaptation waiting to be greenlit? Didn’t Marshall McLuhan tell us that the medium is the message? Surely adaptation instantly dilutes or alters that message?
Hollywood long ago became a shrinking stomach so starved of nutrients that it has started devouring itself. There are few enough filmmakers that are inspired by anything other than older filmmakers, but Terry (12 Monkeys) Gilliam and Charlie (Eternal Sunshine) Kaufman are two who try very hard not to be. Maybe that’s what makes their work so appealing to the remake merchants?
I refuse to believe that attention spans are shrinking to the size of emojis. Sure, there are people who want to watch three-second cat videos and get their news in sound bites, but aren’t they the same people who binge-watch entire seasons of Sherlock or Game of Thrones?
Not everyone wants the same crappy fast food that these people are serving up every single week: live-action Disney remakes, TV remakes, Lego remakes!! There must be audiences as hungry for good quality content as I am…
*Apparently, in a seemingly unrelated coincidence, there’s also a tv version of Teen Wolf.
**(even if some of his work really is the hippest of hipster shit)
***The first one stating that my script is so fantastical that the audience wouldn’t have a frame of reference, the second that my script is too derivative of other fantasy stories.