Say ’em with me, one breath: Alien, Predator, Terminator, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Beetlejuice, Beverly Hills Cop, Blade Runner, Mad Max, Planet of the Apes, Die Hard, Triplets, Conan the Barbarian, Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park (ragged breath) . . . 3 versions of Sherlock Holmes, 3 versions of Robin Hood, 2 films of Hercules just last year, six (6!) upcoming new films based on King Arthur etc. etc. ex-fucking-cetera.
All of these remakes, reboots, sequels, spinoffs and adaptations are hitting silver screens at some point in the next. Three of them star Arnold Schwarzenegger (68), three of them star Harrison Ford (71), so they’re getting ’em right before the caskets.
Entire franchises like The Expendables are built on consuming the nostalgia of seeing guys who kicked ass in their 20s/30s kick ass in their 50s/60s. Limited series revivals are becoming popular, with Arrested Development, 24, Heroes, Twin Peaks, and The X-Files returning to TV after years of cancellation.
Look, the battle for originality is lost. Truth be told, it never really started. The joy of telling stories is not inventing the wheel, it’s re-inventing the wheel. Which, unlike the saying’s connotation, is where the difference between art and science lies.
On TV, we’re seeing a clamoring for comic book and franchise properties as well. Mike Epps is our generation’s Uncle Buck (Rhyming tagline: Yeah, we’re fucked), series based on the films Minority Report and Rush Hour etc. We just saw the worst version of The Odd Couple possible stumble onto the air. This season saw a glut of comic properties such as Gotham, The Flash, Constantine, Agent Carter, iZombie, and Daredevil. How much is too much?
Remember, we are in unprecedented territory; it’s not like any other period in history had the ability or technology to tell so many stories in so many different ways. There’s nothing to compare the present to, especially since the evolving online and VOD market grows and re-defines what “going to the movies” means and what a “TV show” is.
Growing in tandem is a desperate desire for franchises and universes. It’s less about ideas than about IPs. In a way, this is almost unavoidable; the constant threat against originality is a fallacy. There ain’t nothing new under the sun. That said, as the fantastic website TVTropes tells us, Tropes Are Not Bad and Tropes Are Tools.
The question becomes, when is a threshold hit? When will the superhero bubble burst? When will the audience cease to turn out for the umpteenth reboot? It’s odd; Hollywood is a flat circle, paraphrasing McConaughey’s happy-go-lucky nihilist Rust Cohle of True Detective. Spider-Man films released thus: first 2002, 2004, 2007, then 2012, 2014, 2017. Fantastic Four? First 2005, 2007, second 2015, 2017.
And its dangerous to constantly be going back to the past for content and recognition. It’s the commercialization of our history, the consumption of our very experiences regurgitated years later. But the fact is, childhood and adulthood are delineated, and people forget that simple fact. That’s why we have dissatisfied adults saying George Lucas raped their childhoods from 1999 onward, after he took the time to make more films in their beloved series.
That’s the thing: the sense of ownership fans feel over these materials. It’s especially evident the more centralized the auteur is in the creation of the work. Case in point, George R.R. Martin who flipped the bird while saying “Fuck you” to those who fret he will die before he has the chance to write the conclusion to his worldwide hit series A Song of Ice and Fire, the HBO adaptation of which Game of Thrones returns for a fifth season next month.
But what does this mean? Do these properties really adapt to the present day? Is the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford get to end their careers/lives playing the same characters they played 30 or 40 fucking years before indicative of success or failure? Ford stopped giving a shit sometime around 2000 and Schwarzenegger’s return to film has been enthusiastic but has been met at the box office with a decidedly-unenthusiastic response. It’s hard to say whether any of this is happening because these stories really resonate with audiences, or if we’re doomed to a cycle of Spider-Man origin stories.
There are glimmers of hope. Marvel’s acquisition of the creative direction on Spider-Man signals an attempt to rehabilitate that character’s image after two Spider-Man films each more unsuccessful than the last. The fans themselves are becoming the filmmakers. Abrams with Star Wars, Trevarrow and Pratt with Jurassic World, Blomkamp on the Alien franchise. These stories and their films continue to hold meaning to us. Whether that meaning can be translated to today is the challenge now and not one taken seriously enough.