Recently I have read my fair share of articles and blogs talking about story telling in the film industry. Many of the discussions focus on the fact that there are too many sequels, prequels and remakes coming out lately. They talk about how Hollywood is creatively bankrupt and only cares about money. One of the newest articles I read started by asking if the film industry and Hollywood was out of original ideas? The irony of the article being that writing an article about a lack of originality in Hollywood is becoming less and less original the more it happens.
People talk, at length, about how terrible the new dynamic of Hollywood is and how it destroys creativity in the industry. Now I’m not above recognizing some of the films out there have problems. There are some pretty terrible films out there. I have even been known to get critical of really popular films, and recognizing that films that I’ve previously loved don’t end up aging very well. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, even if many of the actors and actresses do. But I think it’s a mistake to think that this is a systemic thing that can’t be or doesn’t want to be fixed.
Film is not a uniform art. Heck, art is not a uniform art. There are many ways to go about it, many ways in which to tell a story. Independent or Hollywood, we in the arts all understand that, but if “new and original” ideas are the bench mark of good storytelling, then we pretty much bottomed out on original ideas three hundred years ago. And even then we were living on borrowed time. To use my previous review of The Amazing Spiderman as an example, just because a Spiderman has been done before doesn’t mean that the new film doesn’t have value, that there isn’t a story worth telling in the Spiderman character. Superheroes are the mythology of the modern age and there are so many different versions of them over the years, the films should be viewed the same.
Does that make them creatively bankrupt, or does it make the characters emotionally and creatively complex? There’s a prevailing belief within many storytellers that film peaked in the 1970s and things have been going downhill since then. But take a look at some of the films from that era and somewhat before. “West Side Story” is a musical version of “Romeo and Juliet”. ”It’s a Wonderful Life” is basically a retelling of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. “Scarface” from 1983 is a more violent remake of a 1932 film of the same name. “The Wizard of Oz” is basically the same story as “Alice in Wonderland”. The films many people in the film industry view as original ideas aren’t original at all. Yet for some reason, this time it’s different.
Many people say that the reason it’s different is because the studio system has changed. That the big time corporations that now own film studios have turned them into money making monsters who only care about profit. But is that actually the case? From what I understand the popularity of “Casablanca” prompted the studios to talk about making a sequel for it. The availability of the actors involved made it hard to do but the thought still crossed the studios minds. It would seem the only major difference between 1942 and today is that studios actually plan ahead of time for sequels and find actors who are willing to consider doing them. That isn’t really much of a change in my opinion. If anything it just means that studios are becoming better planners.
And on the subject of sequels and prequels, one needs only to look at what is often referred to as film’s redheaded step child, television, to see examples of why there are so many these days. Some stories simply can’t be contained within a 90 minute time frame. Or even a 2-3 hour time frame. Television has been known to tell a story over up to 25 hours split into individual episodes. Yet people complain that stories are being told over several films? And if it’s such a problem, why are so many major Hollywood filmmakers and actors moving into television these days?
Now I will admit there are some films that don’t need sequels. There are some films that lose something because a sequel or prequel is made of the original film. I am not big on sequels like “The Matrix Reloaded”, “The Crow: City of Angels”, and the rather extensive amount of direct-to-DVD sequels to films like “Bring It On” or “American Pie”. Not to mention all the different horror films with less than decent films. But you also have films like “The Dark Knight”, “Back to the Future: Part 2” and “Superman II”, all of which have improved on the original and did great things.
For every bad sequel or prequel out there in the film industry, there are all sorts of examples of really great ones. So when I read a blog or hear someone talk about the endless parade of sequels, prequels and remakes I can’t help but wonder where all the hate is coming from. Originality is a state of mind, not a formula. It’s not the amount of money you can put into a production. It’s about emotional honesty. Any film can be great if the filmmakers care about the material and are on the same page creatively. But I continually hear about how independent film is better than Hollywood. About how creatively bankrupt and out of originality it can be. The influx of opinions that all sound the same is so much that I just have to ask...Is the film industry being purposely ironic?