Monday, December 21, 2015

Remake/Remix/Sequel: The Blockbusters of 2015

Geeks have always been a culture obsessed with our obsessions. In many ways, that is what makes geek culture so incredible: an over-the-top affection for the things we love. Our craving for nostalgia and willingness to pay to relive and remember have fueled the Hollywood engine for years.

I'm all for updating a story or for seeing a new take on an old idea. Artists remix and build. The original films in this article were themselves born from nostalgia for older films, radio serials, or television shows beloved by the original filmmakers. Where that love for nostalgia helped those filmmakers generate wholly new ideas, the trend (and perhaps our increasing access to the media of the past) have led to more direct remakes, sequels, and remixes on the very films themselves. This has given us unnecessary remakes like Point Break and Halloween, with even more to come (Jumanji, anyone?)  With the trend reaching films like these it feels like the remake-a-thon train is screeching toward the final station. In the wake of this has come the rise of the remix/sequel hybrid. Instead of outright remaking a property, these films are created as continuations of the old story but retread very familiar ground in the process.

Three films this year rode this new wave with varying degrees of success. In order of quality: Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Creed.

Jurassic World was the first of this set to premiere this year and is the least successful of the bunch. This film also follows another recent trend - skip the other sequels and instead pick up after the events of the first film. We waste very little time establishing that the first film existed, quickly jumping from sequel into remix/remake: before long, a key dinosaur has escaped and the young stars of the film are off on their own, avoiding the prehistoric threat while everything descends into chaos around them. The story never really clicks, instead taking us on a theme park version of the first movie. Jurassic World lacks the emotional weight of the first film, maybe because we've been to this particular rodeo before, or maybe because it makes the park open to the public, increasing the human casualties by multiples at the cost of real emotional character weight for the core cast. Bonus points here for going particularly meta on remix culture with Jake Johnson wearing a shirt depicting the logo of the first film and waxing about how great things used to be. This clone knows who the original is.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the last of the group to release this year, treads the line between remake/remix/sequel a bit more finely. Bringing in many of the characters and stars of the first films tells us this as a sequel, though the plot points and story arcs very much recall Star Wars: A New Hope. A high-level reading of the plot even sounds like the first film. We're in high-octane remix mode here. What drives The Force Awakens to greater success than Jurassic World is the introduction of fresh, exciting characters who all feel right at home in this universe. Unfortunately most of the plot feels deeply indebted and dependent on the story ideas and characters of George Lucas' original trilogy. The new characters are so great, the film could have succeeded by building on these new ideas rather than spending so much time energy rehashing. As a fan, I'm hopeful that the upcoming sequels will embrace the future and build on these concepts rather than simply revisit the past.

It is in that way that Creed succeeds so fully. This film represents the remake/remix/sequel culture at its best. Managing to embrace all three concepts at once Creed is its own film, using the springboard of the character-rich Rocky films to bring us something new and fresh. Although the settings and motivations are different, Adonis' story very closely resembles Rocky's. The film's score underlines this through its own voice with the perfect amount of literally remixed cues from Bill Conti's original music layered in at just the right moments. Creed is born from the same blood as Rocky but doesn't spend its running time reminding us of that fact. This is an all-timer film that stands on its own. The roots simply strengthen the tree.

The audiences have spoken - the list of highest grossing films is filled with remakes and sequels. While this won't change anytime soon, the overall trend seems to be moving more heavily into remix territory. Next year's Ghostbusters looks to be continuing that trend.  If films can manage to be more Creed than Jurassic World then we could wind up with some excellent new ideas built on our beloved worlds. I'm hoping for a world like this:

Jimmy Reed

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