By Sophie Gold
My brother is a movie nut. On his recent birthday, we went to see the newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to you. It has a great twist of an ending on par with The Usual Suspects which I won’t spoil for you. In prep for writing this review, I had a look at what other critics thought of the film. I was surprised that many panned the movie because I liked it. However, there emerged a theme among the most critical critics: the remake (as they called it) was unnecessary and didn’t measure up to previous films based on the same book. It is true that there have been other film adaptations of the book as is the case with lots of movies being made these days. There seem to be lots of redo’s and their near cousin the franchise extension these days. So why does Hollywood tend toward redos and franchise extensions? Is there a lack of creativity among today’s movie makers and story-tellers or is there something else at play? Are today’s film studios so risk averse that they are too afraid to step out of their comfort zones? Or are we as movie-goers the ones who are risk averse and crave the comfort of nostalgia and happy (or at least known) endings?
Save for low budget indies, it has become prohibitively expensive to make and market new movies; it’s risky business indeed. Remaking old movies provides film studios with a critical success factor or crutch depending on your perspective: bankability. If you think of a movie on a theatre screen like a consumer product on the shelf at Shoppers or Loblaws, there’s lots of competition. And there are too many movies for the available prime “shelf space” or movie screens. The independent and newbie studios and movies just don’t have a level playing field because the resources required to get on screen are huge and getting huger by the day. So only tried and proven movies made by tried and true makers get made again and again. If that is the case, going to the movies may soon become similar to tuning into another episode of that TV show you watch every week or binge watch on Netflix over the holidays. Film studios remake old movies and extend franchises because they are less risky to make and market. Remakes and extensions practically market and sell themselves, whereas upstarts have to fight for the scarce real estate that is the theatre screen. Remakes and extensions are also more readily translated and sold globally and often spin off a heap of merchandising opportunities to boot. But it’s not just the movie makers who are responsible for this trend.
We the viewers to like our comfort food. We like what we know and like knowing how we will feel at the end and that we got what we paid for. There’s a reason why McDonald’s keeps cranking out Big Macs: people love the special sauce that they are familiar with (truth be told, I’ve never eaten at a McDonald’s but have heard stories about McFood).
Then again, there’s a case to be made for remakes. First off, they’ve been made for generations. Romeo and Juliet became West Side Story and has been retold to new generations for decades. New technology and well-known actors introduce old stories to new audiences who might never otherwise see them. My brother never would have taken us to see Murder on the Orient Express but for the modern cast including some of his favourite actors. I would never have been introduced to the great story and awesome plot twist and not have written this article. We like our comfort foods and film studios will continue to oblige us for good reason: we call it comfort food for a reason and there’s no place like home and a bowl of mac and cheese on a cold night.
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