Everything in theaters is the same. It has been for years. Unfortunately it isn’t going to change anytime soon. Sequels, remakes, and rehashed concepts fill the cinemas. For example, remember the trailer for that romantic comedy? You know the one I’m talking about, it had the chick from Black Swan and it’s all about f*** buddies? Now, the answer to the question can go one of three ways.
1. No Strings Attached with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.
2. Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake
3. Win a Date with Tad Hamilton?
Now, the third choice doesn’t really follow the question, but you get my point. Two movies with basically the same premise and plot come down the pipeline in a short time span. Though 2011 may be the most recent example of the “double-double rule” (I use that phrase just for this…starting now), this has been going on repeatedly every few years. Hollywood has been giving us some of the least original work it has in years. Some blame the writer’s strike (yes, its effect can be felt this far out), some blame the new credibility of cable television and its strong stories for actors looking for regular work, some blame the economy, some blame Glenn Beck (I know I do). But the truth is, the movie industry isn’t coming up with anything new.
Exhibit A: Ideas Come in Twos (AKA Double-Double rule)
In 1998, the sky was falling. Not in a literal sense, but at the movies it was. Michael Bay had unleashed his latest summer movie, after his career’s best The Rock.With Armageddon,
Die Hard...in space!
Bruce Willis and a bunch of actors from indie movies were gonna save the world from an asteroid heading straight for Earth, threatening to wipe out all of humanity. But just a month earlier, a similar movie came out starring Elijah Wood. In Deep Impact, it was a comet, NOT a asteroid (so it’s completely different).
In the case of these two films, they only shared similarities in their respective synopses. Deep Impact focused on the human element of such an event. The ensemble, including Tea Leoni and Morgan Freeman, looked at multiple lives and how impending doom would affect people. Armageddon was about blowing that son-of-a-bitch up and how a ragtag bunch of oilers could save the day.
Another example of the this is Gigli and Jersey Girl. Both starred J. Lo and Ben Affleck; both romantic comedies. When Gigli opened to near universal rejection, Jersey Girl waited in the wings for the dust to settle. Fortunately, Ms. Lopez dies in the opening scenes of Jersey Girl, so Affleck had little to blame for that film imploding as well. This sparked a huge debate in Hollywood on whether off-screen chemistry can be transformed into a hit. With these films both released in the days of Bennifer, to this day the idea isn’t a safe one. (see Proof of Life for another example. Good movie overshadowed by coupling)
Prior to the Friends with Benefits/No Strings Attacheddebacle was the battle of the Repos.
Repo! The Genetic Opera was a musical that featured a cast that no one could logically understand. An ex-Spy Kid, Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The story is about a man who repossesses organs when synthetic organ payments were not made. The film didn’t make much at the box office but grew to be quite the cult classic.
Repo Men is a violent movie about a man who repossess organs when synthetic organ payments were not made (sound familiar?). Jude Law stars as Remy, a Repo Man who finds himself on the other side of the coin when a botched repo job lands him a new heart.
When a sci-fi film has a premise this specific, it’s difficult to not cry foul when the other comes calling. To my knowledge, no legal action was taken. But to have two films so similar in such a short span of time (less than a year). You begin to think how original ideas can ever last.
See also Capote/Infamous and Hollywood’s upteen pending adaptations of Snow White and Seal Team 6.
Exhibit B: Truly Original is a Flash in the Pan
Look at the movies that have been released the past five years. The biggest hits are sequels and remakes. The biggest hit not based on a previous idea was Avatar. Or as I like to call it, Pocahontas in 3D with blue people. Avatar may have been the biggest movie in the history of cinema, but original it was not.
Original movies are often forced into indie cinema since the constraints of small budgets and no studio interference proves to yield more unique work than the studios’ multi-tiered vetting processes. The most original movies of the last five years are easily Tree of Life (a movie too original for me to handle), Inception, and District 9. These films took film to new heights; changing the way films are made. Now, there has been many inventive films over the years, but true original concepts come fewer and fewer every year. I thought Sucker Punch would be the film of the moment when it debuted, but it fell apart when it couldn’t match the concept.
Exhibit C: Superheroes and Comic Books
Summer of 2011 has seen a slew of these films. Comic books became a gold mine over a decade ago for Hollywood. Here was all these pre-existing stories just ripe for big screen adaptation. Problem is, not all of them are/were winners. Sometimes the studios milked the idea to death, while others deviated so much from the source material that the concept became parody. For every brilliant superhero movie like…
there is duds like Green Lantern, Ghost Rider, and The Incredible Hulk (Ang Lee’s Hulk is better). Outside of the obvious superheroes that translate to box office green (Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, X-Men), all other ideas are an up hill battle from go. The great comic book movies find original ways to tell a story, like the two I’ve displayed here. This year, the superheroes have been anything but super. Here’s hoping Captain America: The First Avenger is more exciting and better executed than the comic book movies that preceded it.
Also, see Super as an example of both an original indie movie and superhero movie.
Exhibit D: Everything has Already Been Said
It’s unfortunately true. Almost every good idea has already been thought of or done before. Any skilled movie snob can describe one movie by mentioning and relating it to six other movies. When something one-of-a-kind comes along, everyone tries to duplicate the previous success over and over again, hoping each time to ignore the law of diminishing returns.
It’s all been done. The golden age of film (1970-1985), when I believe the best films of all time come from, is far over and little since has been made to match the gravitas and weight of the films of that era. The films of today are all the same, nothing new and sequels to the same recycled stuff. It’s sad, but it’s what it is.
Original is a word that you can throw away for the time being. Hollywood may come back around, but then again, we may just prefer the same thing over and over again. If CSI and Law & Order can have a thousand spinoffs and be successful, maybe we don’t want new and original. I hope that isn’t the case.