If you keep up with film news at all, you’ll have heard that Disney are “contemplating” a reboot of Pirates Of The Caribbean. That’s a reboot of a film that is now only 15 years old and was based on a theme park ride to begin with. But when you bear in mind that Spider-Man has been booted and rebooted three times since 2002, it’s more surprising that it took them so long to dust off those frilly shirts and cutlasses for a new batch.
We’ve been told often that TV is different. TV has never been braver or more bountiful, more willing to take risks on new, boundary-pushing ideas and idealists. But are worrying signs starting to creep into the TV landscape, too? Can suggestions be found that this brave new world will also fall into a safe zone of remakes, reboots and reimaginings? Nobody likes to be a naysayer or doom merchant, but if you find the right vantage point, you can make the argument that it’s already begun. If we find reassurance in Netflix’s overwhelming commitment to original programming, then we can also find concern in its “chuck everything at the wall and see what sticks” philosophy. The last time a creative industry tried that, it was the music business of the 90s and we all know how that panned out.
A look through the streaming hits of this year reveals that remakes and TV versions of film franchises are multiplying. Jack Ryan, Get Shorty, Fargo, Bates Motel, A Series Of Unfortunate Events, The Haunting Of Hill House, The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina… some have been great, some have been good and, in fairness, none have been anything short of watchable (although the forthcoming Watchmen could buck that trend). We’re obsessed with originality, or at least the idea that all these remakes symbolise a lack of it. But the evidence in TV land, is that the medium has proved adept at remoulding imperfect films into something closer to their true potential.
I’m not suggesting that we keep remaking things until we achieve perfection – even if that would make for a curiously Buddhist approach to filmmaking – but we need to ask ourselves if remakes are really such an abomination. After all, it’s not like the original ceases to exist. Nobody stopped watching the original Annie just because the Will Smith abomination was brought into being. There was no mass burning of copies of Psycho in order to make way for Gus van Sant’s version. The TV series of Get Shorty might not live up to the original film but it’s still a blast and that’s more than you can say about a lot of more original shows. Sometimes it’s ok to just be entertained by something familiar.
Before we throw scorn at another never-ending franchise or a filmmaker with the temerity to update something we loved the first time around, remember that the term ‘creative industry’ requires two things: creativity and industry. It’s a business. The acclaimed indie band Of Montreal were once scorned by fans for letting Outback Steakhouses use their song ‘Wraith Pinned To The Mist’ in an ad, changing the lyrics to be about the joys of steak night. But as the band rightly pointed out, artists need money to survive and if Of Montreal were going to have the funds for another album, that’s the price they needed to pay. The big, the small, the credible, the cynical, it’s all part of the same business. Sometimes you need to sell your soul to be able to afford to keep it.