Hollywood's creativity problem and a (ranty) stroll through endless remakes...

Mercurius

Legend
Hollywood has a creativity problem, and one that is, I don't think it is too crazy to think, largely based on the financial bottom line. Regardless of whether or not this is a good thing or not, it is the reality of big business and, like all businesses, the goal is (always) making money, and that impacts creativity.

Of course the problem is that film is generally considered a form of art - like writing, painting, music, etc. But the vast majority (if not all) of Hollywood films are not "films made for their own sake." That is, for the love of film-making. Here we might find the difference between Hollywood and independent films which, regardless of their quality, tend to be made by people who love making films for their own sake -- at least at the beginning (which is also true of Hollywood directors...at the beginning).

In other words, the typical Hollywood big budget film is not the result of a garage band that started gigging and then made it to larger and larger stages. it is a "boy band" that was conceived of and constructed by corporate suits.

The creativity problem is illustrated by the reality of the re-make (in whatever variation, including re-boots and homages). More and more films seem like copies of copies of copies. Cynically we can call this a "cash-grab," though in some cases it may be borne out of a more noble intention; maybe, for instance, a director thought, "I really loved that film when I was growing up and would love to re-envision it." Or we can see how two Millenials wanted to embody the nostalgia they felt for a time they never lived through, and created the fresh-at-first Stranger Things (which, while still remaining good, has diminished over the seasons).

There's also an obvious socio-political element that is evinced in many cases (e.g. Walt Disney's obsession with regendering...hey Walt, here's an idea: why not create a new character? Oh, and one that is interesting and nuanced, and not just amazing at everything?). I'll leave that topic largely untouched, not only because it treads into touchy areas but is ultimately secondary to the economic causative factor. But I mention it, because it also impacts creativity by missing--or rather, not taking up--the opportunity to create and depict, for instance, new female leads that were conceived organically and holistically as female, rather than as a "re-envisioning" of a previous male character. Meaning, we get more Reys than Ripleys.

The creative problem is basically synonymous with the Law of Diminishing Returns. Or, more viscerally, trying to squeeze just a little more (and more and more) juice out of an orange. As if there aren't other fruits in the basket...

So we have....

Star Wars...The prequel trilogy displayed moments of beautiful visual imagination, but was marred to the point of ruination by poor casting and George Lucas's over-fascination with technology (meaning, he ironically became Vaderized). And then we have what is, more or less, the Abrams trilogy. Perhaps more than any other person in film-making, Abrams essentializes "Hollywood remake culture." And to compound it further, Disney+ has churned out a string of shows of varying quality.

Star Trek...This is interesting, because, at first, Gene Roddenberry did the impossible: after a magical first cast, he assembled a second great cast (TNG). How did he do that? Well, he didn't try to copy the first...he imagined new characters, new dynamics. He didn't say, "Let's do a female Kirk." Now of course ST peaked with The Wrath of Khan, but it maintained a pretty high plateau after that, even if the course has generally followed the inevitability of diminishing returns. There have been, at least, a few later peaks (e.g. Strange New Worlds). But the overall diminishment is rather stark, perhaps best exemplified by the destruction of the Federation in Discovery (but I'm sure Michael Sue will fix everything), or what I've heard (but not watched) of Picard. It is almost as if the showrunners of those two series wanted to destroy Roddenberry's Star Trek, replacing flawed-but-noble utopia with edgy-but-soulless dystopia.

In both of the cases above, Hollywood depends upon the cash-cow of name brand recognition, and leaves countless great story worlds untouched. Rather than another Star Trek series, why not explore Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space or NK Jemisin's Broken Earth?

LotR...We start with a surprisingly good film trilogy that endeared itself to even many of the most diehard Tolkienistas. But then Peter Jackson--again, presumably economically "inspired"--created a way-too-long CGI extravaganza follow-up trilogy. But then we have Rings of Power, which essentially colonized Tolkien's ideas and remade them into a distorted simulacrum, recognizable only by surface similarities like names and the occasionally swirly set-piece, but inferior to Jackson's original trilogy in nearly every way, and bordering on mockery of Tolkien himself.

But we need more Tolkien on film, right?! Why not Moorcock's Elric or Le Guin's Earthsea?

Game of Thrones...In a way, this series ruined all of us for fantasy on the screen: it upped the quality level by several degrees from most of what we'd seen before. House of the Dragon is good, but the problem is that it doesn't include the very best of what made GoT great: It lacks the endless supply of great and multi-dimensional characters, there's absolutely no humor, and it is grim to the point of why bother? But it is well-made and overall pretty good.

Willow...haven't seen it, have little interest in it, though will probably give it a shot at some point. But the original film is a great example of how our adult sense of nostalgia overrates childhood favorites. I liked the film, even enjoyed a re-watch a few years ago, but it is really only a cut above most of the 80s fantasy films. But Madmartigan was great (with the emphasis on past-tense).

I mean, there can't be any other good big epic fantasy worlds to depict in a series, nothing like Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen or Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive...

Ghostbusters...The problem started back in the 80s, with the forgettable sequel with that guy from Dragonslayer as the villain. But then we had the terrible 2016 film, which perhaps started the tendency of Hollywood to blame its lack of creativity on Ists and Isms of whatever suits the contexts, as if the many who didn't like it are all synonymous with the few who are legitimately trollish. Afterlife was better, but still rather forgettable. In a way it was The Force Awakens of the Ghostbusters universe: It revisited the greatest hits, but didn't add anything new or evocative and felt like less than the sum of its parts (wait, was JJ Abrams involved?!). More than any film that I can think of, Ghostbusters embodies the idea that some things are better as one-offs and rarities, be it making fondue or riding a roller-coaster as an adult.

Indiana Jones...Raiders remains the best, imo, but the original trilogy was all good, even the markedly inferior Temple of Doom. To be honest, I enjoyed Crystal Skulls, but it was clearly a huge step down. But now we have....Dial of Destiny? I mean, it could be good, but all things (e.g. the trailer) point to yet another creatively-deprived disaster and mockery of a formerly great franchise. I can't wait until we get 2030's Indiana Jones 6: Indy Goes to Space, in which a CGI-version of Harrison Ford - brought back through cloning tech - travels to Mars in a Bezos-built space wiener.

James Bond...it remains to be seen which direction the franchise takes, but we can hope that A) Bond will be back, as a dude, and B) We get to see more of the strong female characters--even their own feature film--from the last one, especially Ana de Armas. In other words, this is a great opportunity to display that depicting strong female leads doesn't require regendering a male character. Just make a new character and story, for Q's sake! It is possible to be inclusive and honoring of tradition.

And finally, the MCU. This was so fresh and fun, and had a well-conceived arc (the "Infinity Saga") from Iron Man in 2008 to Avengers: End Game in 2019. Sure, there were some forgettable films in there, and some of us were experiencing MCU Fatigue by the end, but it was a great ride, carried especially by Robert Downey Jr and Chris Evans. But now we have the so-called "Multiverse Saga" as the follow-up, aka "Let's plug every gap we can conceive of, but without the epic meta-story, and with a focus on all the less interesting characters." As one article put it, the focus became on quantity over quality, with the films supplemented by a barrage of tv shows, because more is more, right? It remains to be seen whether the upcoming Phase 5 will build up steam for the culminating Phase 6.

In truth, there's another missed opportunity here. Rather than just squeeze out whatever juice can be find from the secondary cast of Infinity Saga, why not do a soft reboot of Marvel with mutants front and center, and then tie it together with "MCU classic" via Secret Wars?

The very best fantasy and science fiction of the last decade or so have been fresh, new stories. Films such as Arrival, Interstellar, Annihilation, Ex Machina, and even the weirdly good Raised By Wolves all told new stories, all created new worlds, at least on film. Sure, there were classic elements, but they weren't trying to ride on the coat-tails of anything that came before. And of course we can look to the first film, or in some cases, early films, of each of the above franchises, and find something fresh. So there are new ideas being offered. But in recent years, the remake and reboot has far outweighed--and obfuscated--anything new that comes out.

Now I get it: Sturgeon's Law ("95% of everything is crap") applies. Not to mention, everyone has their own preferences, and I'm sure some reading this will disagree with a lot of what I say above, whether because they think Star Trek Discovery is edgy and cool, or everything Walt Disney excretes is golden. But it still saddens me: Both because of the "tainting" of great, original ideas that are probably best left as one-offs (e.g. Ghostbusters) or kept in the fault of film mythology (e.g. Indiana Jones), and because of the missed opportunities to create and depict actual strange new worlds, as well as new characters and archetypes of humanity that aren't just remaking, reskinning, and idealizing what came before.

There is a vast wealth of books and comics and other stories waiting to be put to film. There are many great characters of every race, color, gender, age, and demographic, that would be wonderful to see depicted as their own, holistic and original creations. Yet again and again, Hollywood takes the obviously financially incentivized and too-easy route: just remake, reboot, re-hash, as if the viewing audience isn't hungry for anything else but more of the same: just show up to our film, eat your popcorn, and watch a film that has the creative nutritional content of, well, popcorn.

I'd like to think that this will eventually back-fire, that the audience will say, "Enough is enough, we want more creative and original offerings." But I'm not so sure, and am of two minds. I do hear plenty of folks who share variations of my view, yet at the same time, the endless churning out and regurgitation continues unabated...
 

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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
You need to have some sympathy for the Hollywood machine and realise that Movies arent art, they are product and the business needs to keep pumping things through to ensure that talent and crews get paid.
Unlike Theatre where a single run can be staged for years, Cinema is structured for relatively short runs, before a new product is demanded by viewers. Thats especially so now that the trip to the big screen has been stamped out by streaming, and COVID.

people forget that Cinema is only 100 years old, and while the early years were artist creating something new, the reality is that it has now reached the mature-saturation stage of its product life cycle. The easiest way to keep talent and crews employed and profits rolling is to create long term franchises (Star Wars, Marvel) or to reduce risk by remaking a known quantity that will get some nostalgia value on top of its own ‘merits’.

taking risks on new stuff isnt always viable or lucrative but there is room for indy work provided the big businesses keep the industry operating so the crews can get paid
 
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Undrave

Hero
Ghostbusters...The problem started back in the 80s, with the forgettable sequel with that guy from Dragonslayer as the villain. But then we had the terrible 2016 film, which perhaps started the tendency of Hollywood to blame its lack of creativity on Ists and Isms of whatever suits the contexts, as if the many who didn't like it are all synonymous with the few who are legitimately trollish. Afterlife was better, but still rather forgettable. In a way it was The Force Awakens of the Ghostbusters universe: It revisited the greatest hits, but didn't add anything new or evocative and felt like less than the sum of its parts (wait, was JJ Abrams involved?!). More than any film that I can think of, Ghostbusters embodies the idea that some things are better as one-offs and rarities, be it making fondue or riding a roller-coaster as an adult.
As you say, problems began in the 80s. I think the two biggest issues with Ghostbusters is that 1) the creative team failed to understand what had managed to capture childrens’ imagination in the franchise, something the crew behind The Real Ghostbusters cartoon were much more adept at, and 2) they wasted time waiting on Bill Murray because of issue 1).

Kids who got into Ghostbusters didn’t get in because of Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd’s comedic chops or the take down of satanic panic trops. They got hooked by this premise of ordinary people using technology and research to strike back against a frightening world that you don’t normally understand. Watch the Boogeyman episode of The Real Ghostbusters and you’ll understand the appeal to a kid. Heck, THAT should have been the plot of a sequel movie! Not whatever the heck Ghostbusters II was. People created their own Ghostbusters chapter because busting makes me feel good, not because they loved middle aged comedians!

The 2016 movie was built on this mistaken framework as well, deciding to throw four comedian together and expecting magic to ignite again, but without giving the world the same sort of straight faced seriousness of the original. They could have easily built the movie around another Ghostbuster franchise in another city, but they were too obsessed with reproducing the signifiers of the original without understanding the signification.

Kids might have been disappointed in a Ghostbusters sequel without Bill Murray, but if it had been built properly they probably would have overlooked it and still enjoy the movie. It might have been popular enough to entice Murray back. We were robbed of more Egon because Murray’s kind of a dick and just left Akroyd hanging for all the 90s.
And finally, the MCU. This was so fresh and fun, and had a well-conceived arc (the "Infinity Saga") from Iron Man in 2008 to Avengers: End Game in 2019.
Most of that was through the application of clever retcons.
You need to have some sympathy for the Hollywood machine and realise that Movies arent art, they are product and the business needs to keep pumping things through to ensure that talent and crews get paid.
Unlike Theatre where a single run can be staged for years, Cinema is structure for relatively short runs, before a new product is demanded by viewers. Thats especially so now that the trip to the big screen has been stamped out by streaming, and COVID.

people forget that Cinema is only 100 years old, and while the early years were artist create something new, the reality is that it has now reached the mature-saturation stage of its life cycle. The easiest way to keep talent and crews employed and profits rolling is to create long term franchises (Star Wars, Marvel) or to reduce risk by remaking a know quantity that will get some nostalgia value on top of its own ‘merits’.

taking risks on new stuff isnt always viable or lucrative but there is room for indy work provided the big businesses keep the industry operating so the crews can get paid
I think movies have gotten too expensive. Everything has to be a billion dollar expense that needs to make back twice that much... mid-budget movies is where a lot of cult classics were made.

Also, audience need to be willing to watch movies with bad CGI again.
 

Ryujin

Legend
When a production company buys into a property, they want something that has some legs. Preferably something that has a built-in fan base. Properties like that aren't generally cheap, so they need to squeeze that lemon as hard as they can to get all the juice out of it. As a result you get an unending string of sequels, or at least a string that only ends when the well has truly run dry. They won't generally spend $100M on some unknown. These days "small movies" and "independent film" seem to start with budget of maybe $10M. The days of the sub-$5M movie are pretty much gone and returns on such films are negligible, compared to the blockbusters. Of course there's a lot of untested and novel material out there. There will continue to be because, above all, Hollywood is an economic engine and producers demand a return on their investments, while simultaneously forcing control of the end product.

What the world needs now is Bili The Axe.
 

ART!

Legend
Barabara Broccoli has said in no uncertain terms that Bond will be remain a man.

Setting aside judgements about particular movies, series of movies, tv series, etc., my only-half-joking rule of thumb would be "only remake bad movies".

But honestly, the OP isn't talking about remakes as such, but rather the continuous returning to the same well. Remakes are always dicey propositions, and returning to the same well requires new takes and fresh eyes - except a lot of people don't like the new takes and fresh visions. But that's art for you - and yes, we are talking about art. Just because it's commercial doesn't mean it's not art. Of course, anyone can like or not like any given work or artist's ouvre - but that doesn't mean it's "bad art".
 

Aeson

I learned nerd for this.
This is why we see Robin Hood and King Arthur movies over and over again. They're public domain. Production companies don't have to pay for the rights. Also in some cases like Spiderman, if the property isn't used the rights revert back to the original owners. That's why they reboot Spiderman so often Sony wants to keep the rights because it's a money maker. They make these remakes so the orginal idea stuff can get made. The money makers prop up the money losers. If that orginal idea makes money also then that's even better.

I want more Star Wars, Star Trek, and LotR. I want more in those worlds. I want them to go deeper and expand the worlds. Ghostbusters doesn't need a lot of expanding, but it's fun watching ghosts get busted and have a few laughs while it's happening.

I'm not a big fan of gender or race swapping either. I really don't like the changes to actual historical figures. I would prefer they go with new characters and new stories also.
 



Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So I am looking at the complaint, and the list, and ... I mean ...

I love this franchise. I want more of it! Just like the good stuff that they made. But better! And the same! And original! But different!

Which I get- we all like the things we like (I am a huge fan of many of those IP franchises!). But ... there are a lot of very good things out there.

I just watched Crimes of the Future (Hulu). That's Cronenberg's latest. It was certainly original, and real return to form for him, hearkening back to his 90s work. I even made it a double feature with his son's movie, Possessor.

Or Drive My Car (HBO Max). So good.

Or if you're into cars ... well, there's Titane. That was something else. Definitely original, probably not going to be a franchise. :)

If Titane is too much, then why not relax into The French Dispatch?

I could keep going on, but you get the idea. There is so very much good stuff out there. More, I think, than at any other time. You just have to choose to watch things that aren't the usual "Monetizing IP" choices. IMO.
 




So I am looking at the complaint, and the list, and ... I mean ...

I love this franchise. I want more of it! Just like the good stuff that they made. But better! And the same! And original! But different!
you know it's funny, my brother complains about Hollywood not coming out with new stuff but instead just doing remakes, I point out a new film that isn't a remark/reboot and he shrugs his shoulders. He'll also complain about sequels but will happily see the next Halloween movie. ¯\(ツ)

So, it's more "Hollywood isn't making movies that interest me"

also :
Grampa Simpson Meme GIF by MOODMAN
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
you know it's funny, my brother complains about Hollywood not coming out with new stuff but instead just doing remakes, I point out a new film that isn't a remark/reboot and he shrugs his shoulders. He'll also complain about sequels but will happily see the next Halloween movie. ¯\(ツ)

So, it's more "Hollywood isn't making movies that interest me"

also :
Grampa Simpson Meme GIF by MOODMAN

Well, in fairness, I think that there is some truth to what @Mercurius is talking about. It's the "brand extension" issue that we see so often today. Just look at the Supermarket- more often than not, we don't see new products, we see old products in new forms (like the ~3,495 different types of Oreos).

Since the advent of the blockbuster era (Jaws on), we've seen a general move toward the blockbuster/franchise/IP (and now "shared universe") model. A lot of Hollywood types complain that movies today are either "Tentpole/Franchise," "Horror," or low budget- there's no longer any room for the middle class ... the crowd-pleasing, mid-budget comedies, rom-coms, and even dramas that used to be a staple at the theater.

That said, I still think that we are seeing a lot more quality (and quantity) than ever before- it's just everywhere (theaters and streaming) and coming from multiple sources (not just Hollywood, but foreign films) and you have to seek it out. But it is there.
 

Ryujin

Legend
Well, in fairness, I think that there is some truth to what @Mercurius is talking about. It's the "brand extension" issue that we see so often today. Just look at the Supermarket- more often than not, we don't see new products, we see old products in new forms (like the ~3,495 different types of Oreos).

Since the advent of the blockbuster era (Jaws on), we've seen a general move toward the blockbuster/franchise/IP (and now "shared universe") model. A lot of Hollywood types complain that movies today are either "Tentpole/Franchise," "Horror," or low budget- there's no longer any room for the middle class ... the crowd-pleasing, mid-budget comedies, rom-coms, and even dramas that used to be a staple at the theater.

That said, I still think that we are seeing a lot more quality (and quantity) than ever before- it's just everywhere (theaters and streaming) and coming from multiple sources (not just Hollywood, but foreign films) and you have to seek it out. But it is there.
I think that "horror" generally also fits in with "low budget", where the budget is something south of $20M. Hell, at some point in the next few years I'll have a producer credit on IMDB to go with my few "special thanks" entries, if Covid is every truly over. THAT is low budget :ROFLMAO:

Maybe it could best be said that rather than not making anything new, Hollywood is reluctant to throw big money at new ideas. Hollywood tends to be risk averse. As someone previously said, that's Indie Film's thing. As a result while we're bombarded with adverts for the latest Space Samurai blockbuster, we don't hear about the psychological thriller that only cost a piddly little $50M.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Hollywood has a creativity problem, and one that is, I don't think it is too crazy to think, largely based on the financial bottom line. Regardless of whether or not this is a good thing or not, it is the reality of big business and, like all businesses, the goal is (always) making money, and that impacts creativity.

Of course the problem is that film is generally considered a form of art - like writing, painting, music, etc. But...

But, you seem to treat film as somehow different from the other forms, when it isn't. Most fiction books are built to formulae, because formulae sells. You note boy bands yourself - music is driven by what sells. Art? For those of us who don't frequent museums, art is also commercial.

If the creativity thing is an issue of being tied to the money, the root problem is that we, the consumers, are not willing to pay for that creativity. If we stopped paying for tickets to the sequels and spin offs, they'd stop making them.
 



Mercurius

Legend
You need to have some sympathy for the Hollywood machine and realise that Movies arent art, they are product and the business needs to keep pumping things through to ensure that talent and crews get paid.
Unlike Theatre where a single run can be staged for years, Cinema is structured for relatively short runs, before a new product is demanded by viewers. Thats especially so now that the trip to the big screen has been stamped out by streaming, and COVID.

people forget that Cinema is only 100 years old, and while the early years were artist creating something new, the reality is that it has now reached the mature-saturation stage of its product life cycle. The easiest way to keep talent and crews employed and profits rolling is to create long term franchises (Star Wars, Marvel) or to reduce risk by remaking a known quantity that will get some nostalgia value on top of its own ‘merits’.

taking risks on new stuff isnt always viable or lucrative but there is room for indy work provided the big businesses keep the industry operating so the crews can get paid
Yeah, I understand the economic realities of it...doesn't mean I have to like it, though ;)

But I do think movies are art - or on the "artistic scale." Like other media, it runs the gamut from highly commercial (the Hollywood "product" that you say) to very artistic, even spiritual/mystical. My issue is that Hollywood focuses 99.9% on the commercial product side of things, when (some) people actually yearn for something deeper.
 

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