When Hollywood Recycles, It's Good For The Movies!
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is opening in theaters today. Now, where have I heard that name before? Maybe when I was a little kid? There was something about a gingerbread house, right? Haven't they done a movie on that story already? Or three?
Recycling is a relatively new concept in garbage handling. It's basically a modern way of saying what goes around, comes around. It's been around since forever in metal scrap, gold and precious stones. And now, it's in Hollywood.
I'm talking about recycled stories, characters and whole concepts. "What's so odd about that?" you say. The Ugly Duckling story is made over and over again, camouflaged with different settings, but it's always the same concept. The mistreated hero always comes out as an unexpected winner in the end.
Well, that's not what I'm talking about either. I'm interested in the making of the same story, with the same characters and/or settings, once again. We can use Frankenstein as an example. The story comes from a novel by Mary Shelley, and it was filmed for the first time in 1910 and then again in 1931,1970, 1984 and 2004, to name but a few. The latest version is Tim Burton's Frankenweenie in 2012. Before I stop writing there may be yet another one…
Normally recycling stands for something good — and maybe a little annoying… So why does "Hollywood recycling" sound bad? Is it? Just as with garbage recycling, it comes in many forms. Instead of plastic, paper and glass we have updates, sequels and "pure" remakes. And then, of course, there are the shape shifters.
Some recycled products are hard to place, and some pose as something different than what they really are. Tricky. The only really acceptable remake should be the one that is artistically different, right?
Shape shifters are just stories that go from animated to real life actors or the other way around. There is always room for this. The Narnia stories, even The Lord of the Rings, started as animated films. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been made numerous times by now, each version respectively beating the crap out of the one before. That's a good reason for recycling!
What other acceptable reasons are there for remaking a story over and over again? The most obvious is of course technical advancements. A lot has happened since 1910, both regarding to picture quality and sound. And there is a whole new dimension because of green screen and special effects.
Updating films to even better quality, from the silver screen to IMAX 3D, of course, is a big trend. Take the Hulk — a lot has happened between incredible Lou Ferrigno (1978-1982) and Edward Norton (2008).
Recently we've seen a number of more or less masked remakes of the Brothers Grimm's stories, like The Princess and the Frog (2009) set in late 19th century New Orleans this time, and Tangled (2010), a remake of Rapunzel. Alice in Wonderland first opened on the big screen in 1951, and it's been remade many times, both as live action and animated. The latest was director/producer Tim Burton's version in 2010. Gulliver's Travels, starring Jack Black in the leading role, was released again in late 2010, after airing as a TV mini series in 1996. This is all great recycling.
But has the recycling become too frequent? How many times can we see a new young skinny guy being bit by a spider and gain the ability to throw nets and swing from highrise buildings in New York? Even in 3D? How can anyone not know all too well that kryptonite is green and prevents tall, dark and handsome guys from flying peacefully across the sky?
The Hulk and Spidey have been done so many times in the few past years they seem to be having an identity crisis.
Sometimes it's surprisingly hard to spot a recycling, like with Cruel Intentions, a modern adaptation of the story in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, a French novel from 1782. And don't even get me started on Romeo and Juliet and Les Miserables!
Too many stories could actually be labeled: "I used to be a Brothers Grimm fairytale!" or "I used to be a Shakespeare story!" In the Hulk's case it would say: "I used to be the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story!"
The "sequelization" phenomenon is best described in two words: James Bond. Though loosely based on a series of books by Ian Fleming, this thing got out of hand years ago. It is the best example of concept recycling the world has ever seen. The last three movies have the ambition of being a complete tale of Agent 007's career. That is a pure remake of the previous movie series, not three new sequels. The same goes for the Batman trilogy, and this is clearly stated in the title of the first of the movies: Batman Begins.
Clearly three is not a crowd anymore, but a rule for maximizing box office revenues. Or is it artistic vision? Every other successful character-based flick is being made in threes these days. Do I have to say Lord of the Rings or Star Wars out loud? Three is clearly the limit of our attention span—unless of course there is a series of books that absolutely everyone under the age of 16 has read.
The worst case scenario of the phenomenon is The Hobbit trilogy, which is no longer a hobbit's tale. It's become — "I'm going away and bumping into every possible obstacle on the road, I'm staying away for a looong time, and then I'll experience a lot of very unexpected shit on the way back."
Lastly, there is a development that has nothing to do with the many technical advances or riding a wave of an established concept. Let's call it: "It used to be a whole lot of stories."
Like clothes at a department store, there's a lot of mixing-and-matching of stories going on. Snow White and the Huntsman and Avengers are the perfect examples of this. And perhaps Red Riding Hood (2011), which has not only the grown up red-hooded girl in it, but also a werewolf, which adds a flirty element to it.
Is this a sign of the times? We get two or more stories in one? Great. Snow White is not interesting enough anymore, so we need a buff, handsome Thor-like guy to complete her? Or is this a trick to get both girls and boys to the theaters? We add something for everyone: one hot (brooding) girl and one hot (Marvel-like) guy. Everyone is happy.
What's next? What lies ahead in those creative screenwriters' minds? Snow White and The Huntsman is a combo loosely based on both Snow White and The Twelve Huntsmen. Well, the stories have been there to use for hundreds of years now, so we might as well use them. The TV series Once Upon a Time arrived in 2011 and brings all those classic tales back to life again.
Now, in the great movie year of 2013, we wait expectantly for Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Oz – the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer. Recognize them?
Jack the Giant Slayer is really a remake combo of Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk, both written by Brothers Grimm. The film story seems very similar to the original. Of course, there was a movie as late as 2010, named Jack and the Beanstalk, but Beanstalk is definitely not as cool as Giant Slayer. The first Jack and the Beanstalk movie came out in 1952. Oz—the Great and Powerful is of course a remake of old The Wizard of Oz, filmed for the first time in 1939, with adorable Judy Garland as Dorothy. The story is different though, and there is a male main character, Oz, beside Theodora, who is replacing old Dorothy. Honestly, it looks more like a sequel to The Wizard of Oz than a remake.
What can we expect from these new versions? Without risking too much I would say: more adult material. More violence, sex and nudity. Not to mention more grown-up main characters. More guns. These films are for adults and that's the (sleeping) beauty of it all. The fairytales are reclaimed for the grown-ups. Finally!
Hollywood is making fairytales into bedtime stories for the grown-ups, or at least for teenagers. And it's pure genius. Who wouldn't want to see that bitch of a witch in Hansel and Gretel being blown into smithereens by these new, grown up, tough and fit siblings covered from top-to-toe in tight leather? And it's in 3D!
So, is recycling a bad thing? No! Is it easier to recycle? In many ways, yes! Is it fun how they are making fairytales into stories for grown-ups? Yes, it is!
I am very much looking forward to the Brothers Grimm's combo classic Cinderella's New Clothes (which will have to be rated R) and The Emperor's New Brave Tin Soldier with Sylvester Stallone and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And in light of recent remakes, why not just Jack and the Mean Stalker?
This is the way to do it! Out with young, dorky Dorothy and in with smokin' hot Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Oz (James Franco)! And let's label the fresh recycled stories with "I used to be a kid's version of this story – but now I have a gun!"
We ain't in Kansas anymore!