An interesting development is occurring in the minds of moviegoers as Hollywood increasingly falls back upon remakes, sequels, and franchises. We’ve accepted with open arms the ability to consume content at a massive rate but are (largely) complaining that Hollywood is rarely original.
There are many factors that have contributed towards this – from the fact that Hollywood has built an idea that novels and plays receive a certain cache when a film is adapted from it, to the straight-forward idea that franchises can become secure sources of box office revenue. But considering the way we digest media at this moment in time, why would Hollywood choose now to seek a greater amount of originality?
Through digital streaming services, everyone who pays a nominal fee has an abundant library of content available in their own home. We marathon TV seasons in weekends and dedicate days to entire franchises of films.
Should Hollywood create new movies in an attempt to lure you away from this content?
No. It should create new movies that belong with this content because it opens up a more interesting relationship between the consumer and the films that they watch.
Give Us More Content…
At the forefront of online streaming services, we have Netflix. Launching in the US in 2007, and finally hitting the UK in early 2012, the impact Netflix has had is mind-boggling. Its subscribers rack up an incredible 100 million hours of content watched every day, meaning they pay an average of just 20 cents per hour for the media they watch. For around 20 cents an hour, you have access to more than 2,000 movies, and that’s if you don’t also have an Amazon Prime or Sky TV account, meaning your online library could balloon ever further.
This wealth of access weakens the sense of ownership that was brought in with the release of home video and almost entirely removes the inconvenience that physical rental services were burdened with. Why would you ever go to a store to rent a film when you can do it from the comfort of your own home instantly? And with a rolling, monthly subscription, you aren’t being charged for each movie you watch, meaning you’re more likely to forgive substandard content. Me and my friends streamed Clue, and I wasn’t a fan. But let me tell you, I was perfectly fine taking a punt on it using a subscription service considering the other option is paying almost £20 for it on DVD. That kind of investment would have left a sour taste in my mouth once the credits rolled.
Streaming services put the ease of the consumer first, bundling their content together for smoother browsing. This can be by genre, actor, director, franchise, essentially any way to syphon off some media from the rest so that you can concentrate on it. They also use this idea to make marathoning easier:
Coming towards the end of a season of Mad Men? Well, the next episode is already queued up for you and will start in ten seconds. Like that Michael Fassbender movie? We’ve got another one of his right here!
Therefore, the best way for Hollywood to get your attention is to look at the collections that consumers have available to them and make them incomplete. Make a movie that belongs in a series, but can’t be accessed at the same time and people have to go to the theatre to complete their experience. In the build-up to new instalments, you’re even compelled to revisit previous films to build your anticipation better than any trailer can. The more familiar you are with the readily available content, the more exciting it is when you experience the new.
It’s no secret that sequels and reboots are often met with a certain level of backlash and this is because everyone places a certain layer of protection on the films that they enjoy most. This is why the better examples from Hollywood have been those that acknowledge and accept the previous material while providing new content. The X-Men series (in an occasionally mind-bending way) has altered timelines and revamped characters far more successfully that The Terminator franchise and the top prize for textbook rebooting perhaps goes to JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (2009). All those years of the original TV series and ten feature films still count, yet the film is able to start new adventures that are enjoyed by fans with no prior knowledge of the franchise.
It’s a difficult balance, but it’s essential to create a franchise that people, in the long-term, will enjoy. We don’t want one movie. We want five. We want a series. We want ups and downs, director changes, call-back jokes, and cameos because we’ve become more adept at experiencing films in large collections, comparing them to one another, and deciding for ourselves which ones are ‘accepted’.
And what do I mean by that?
…And We’ll Decide If It Counts
How many Rocky movies are there?
How many Matrix movies?
How many Alien movies?
There are factual answers to these questions, but you’ll rarely find them matching up with your individual answers. The Rocky series is one of the most recognisable in modern cinema, though some people disregard Rocky V. Alien and Aliens are science fiction classics. So much so that news of Neil Blomkamp’s upcoming film set to overwriting the canon provided by Alien 3 was met with cries of approval. And you don’t have to look very hard to find someone who will maintain that there is only one Matrix movie, with its sequels being green-hazed fever dreams that couldn’t possibly have happened.
We’ve become more selective in our intertextual reading of movies and sometimes that means editing out of our minds what we don’t enjoy. We consume everything and spit back what we don’t like. We have to, or else everything we watch will make a dozen reference-filled lightbulbs go off in our heads.
The best aspect of this is that everyone draws their own lines, and this encourages discussion. The internet has a strange way of tearing down or appropriating just about everything under the sun, with movies being a prime target. The Star Wars prequels are the source of absolute ridicule, although the Darth Jar Jar theory took a great shot at trying to legitimise perhaps the biggest blight on the franchise.
The Halloween films are a prime example of texts that have a range of relationships to one-another and no core story that is followed throughout. You can choose to see that fact as a disaster, or evidence that franchises can be squeezed for all the money they’re worth, or (more optimistically) you can view it as a jigsaw puzzle. Empire magazine writer Owen Williams, in his suggestions for Halloween movie marathons, offers up Halloween (1979), Halloween II (2009) and then Halloween H20 (1998) to create his personally recommend way to approach the series.
Franchises help build lasting communities which, coupled with more accessible technology such as HD cameras and editing software, are finding new ways to re-contextualise theatrical material. You only need to look to the Tolkien Edit of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies or any of the edits of the Star Wars prequels to see how meaningful texts can be created through a little bit of patience, a willingness to learn, and an ambition to make all of a franchise’s material as enjoyable as possible.
This mass of analysis and transformation means you search for numerous ways for a film to be appropriated (or damned), and then you decide if it’s worth accepting or not. In the process, sometimes even bad movies end up finding a place to belong. The truth of the matter is that we’ll disregard any qualms we have about a movie being remade, recast, or rebooted so long as the film is actually good. We’ll, rightly, take anything that’s good. Our relationship with sequels, reboots, and franchises is best explored in the average movies and even the bad ones. Because, for the most part, bad sequels live on through conversation, manipulation, and even ridicule, but bad original movies are left by the wayside.
So let’s not get too bitter when news of a sequel or remake comes along. The social media landscape will have its share of gut-reactions but let’s not forget where this appetite came from. It came from people watching more, wanting more, and, for better or worse, engaging more. While there’s definitely some mistakes along the way, you can’t blame Hollywood for trying to cater to it.