This Post Is Derivative (Like Hollywood Movies)

Increasingly, sequels seem to be popping up everywhere. People have been complaining about the number of remakes, reimaginings, reinventings, rehashings and straight-up sequels that Hollywood has produced, especially within the last few years. 2007 was already knighted as “the Year of the Sequel,” and 2011 is set to trump that all to hell.

Generally, when people discuss this trend, the conversation leads to how unoriginal Hollywood is. The amount of movies that are part of a franchise or brand show that Hollywood finds the idea of making money more important than the idea of making movies. It is up to independent and foreign craftsmen to keep the cinema alive as a place to see art. Occasionally Hollywood gets it right, but it takes a unique auteur like Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, or the Fargo brothers to get ‘er done.

Friends, Hollywood was birthed in 1910 when a guy named D.W. Griffith decided he wanted to see what was up the hill from a bunch of orange groves. By 1914, sequels became the bread and butter of the movie business. The 2010 movie, “The Green Hornet,” owes its very existence to the serial mentality of the entertainment business, even if it got its start on radio – along with certain soap operas, westerns and detective shows.

None of that, of course, means anything. “Oedipus Rex” was part of a trilogy, and was reimagined by a French guy. That fact does not change the face of Hollywood today, and the fact that Hollywood has become an unoriginal movie machine. Romantic comedies feel like they are written from a MadLibs style cheat sheet. Thrillers just aren’t thrilling, because you know what’s going to happen. Everything feels derivative.

Do you remember the discussion in “Swingers” about films being derivative? Go back and watch it again. Later. After you finish reading this.

In one conversation around the poker table, the boys discuss how crazy it was to shoot part of “Goodfellas” in a casino because of the cost, how awesome the walking scene from “Reservoir Dogs” was, and how Tarantino stole all of his lighting techniques from Scorsese. Immediately after, we cut to a slow-mo of the five guys walking down the alley, a la Tarantino.

“Swingers” is one of the darlings of indie cinema. It was shot on a $250k budget (even though the first third of the movie is set in a casino) and had a great cast, with a script by Jon Favreau that was pure money. Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau were lean and hungry, and it showed. Even though parts of the movie were in-your-face derivative, the movie was very well received by critics and audiences. Jon Favreau would go on to direct “Elf,” one of the most imaginative and creative holiday films in recent history. He would become a household name for directing the two Iron Man movies. This year, he’s directing “Cowboys and Aliens,” which is sure to spawn an eventual sequel if it makes as much money as the studio expects.

Another genius of the holiday movie is Tim Burton, who made me want to sing holiday songs again with the “Nightmare Before Christmas” soundtrack. He made some of the most original movies my generation had the opportunity to grow up with, including “Edward Scissorhands” and “Beetle Juice.” He also made two Batman movies, a Planet of the Apes movie (another, by a different director, is due out this year), and is currently filming “Dark Shadows,” a movie that is based on a television show from 1966. After that, he’ll work on “Frankenweenie,” a film based on a short film that was originally made by… Tim Burton.

He isn’t the first director to do this. Alfred Hitchcock released “The Man Who Knew Too Much” in 1934, then directed it again in 1956. Does this mean he ran out of ideas? Of course not, it just means he wanted to revisit his old ideas and try and do something better, or at least different. Ron Livingston hits the nail on the head when he introduces the aforementioned walk with “everybody steals from everybody, what’s the big deal?”

The word derivative is thrown around too easily, by too many people so intent on complaining about the things they don’t like they can’t take a minute to appreciate the things they do like. Was “Grifters” derivative of “Oedipus Rex” because Angelica Houston tried to get her some John Cusack at the end? Was “O Brother, Where Art Thou” pure crap because it was lifted from Greek drama? Is “Larry Crowne” going to be derivative of “American Beauty” because Tom Hanks loses his job at the beginning of the movie, just like Kevin Spacey did?

The bulk of performance art has always, and will always, be derivative. The Metropolitan Opera is performing “Faust” and “Macbeth” this year. Because nobody is original any more. The Boston Symphony Orchestra will be covering Mozart at the beginning of October. Because they can’t come up with any new ideas.

Broadway is famous for its revivals. This year is host to “Anything Goes” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying,” among others. It is also host to “Book of Mormon,” one of the most unique musicals. Ever.

Next year, Clint Eastwood will direct a movie starring Beyonce, called “A Star Is Born.” It is a remake of a 1976 film that starred Barbara Streisand. That version was the second-highest grossing film of the year, behind “Rocky,” a then-unique sports-underdog movie. Everyone loved Babs in the movie, but many purists still think she didn’t do nearly as well as Judie Garland, who starred in “A Star Is Born” in 1954. That role was credited as helping revitalize Ms. Garland’s career, even if she did seem a little out of it in a few (more than a few) of the scenes. Of course, the original film was produced in 1937 and was nominated for seven Oscars, which means none of the others should have ever been made in the first place.

A prediction: the new version will be hammered because it’s “another Hollywood remake” and “further proof that Hollywood has run out of original ideas.” 2012 will see plenty of franchise movies and sequels of its own. I count over 45. If you look close enough, though, I’m sure you’ll find something you like.

The never-ending stream of Hollywood sequels and reboots is just that – Never Ending. Hollywood turned into the movie-making mecca it is because of serials, and nothing is ever going to stop that. And nothing is ever going to stop filmmakers from creating art when they feel the urge. Perhaps it’s time for the two camps to learn how to live together.

What do you think about all of the reboots and remakes in Hollywood?


1 Comment

Filed under Art, Movies

One response to “This Post Is Derivative (Like Hollywood Movies)

  1. This is a great tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate information… Thank you for sharing this one. A must read post!

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