RogerBW's Blog

Ruining My Childhood 11 March 2015

It has become fashionable to claim that a remake or reinvention of a favourite book, film or whatever from when one was young "ruined my childhood". And inevitably it has also become fashionable to dismiss such overblown nonsense. I think there is potential for a useful middle way.

Ignore the exaggerated rhetoric for a moment. Obviously a large part of my liking for things I met when I was young is nostalgia: I will never again read such-and-such a plot for the first time and find it new and surprising. I have probably retained more sense of wonder than many people (well, I haven't given up reading SF and fantasy the way quite a lot of people seem to), but I am not the child I was, even if I can manage a reasonably good internal simulation of him.

When someone says "it's that old thing, only new" my immediate reaction, before I've heard any details, tends to be negative. Either I didn't care for that old thing, in which case I have no interest in a newer version of it, or I did like it, in which case why would I want it re-done when the original is available? (And these days the original probably is available, which is something many film and TV-makers don't take into account since it wasn't true when they were growing up. These days they're competing not only with whatever else is new this season, but with everything that's available on DVD and download.)

But that's me: I'm probably not the target audience. Why should I object if those darn kids get a new version of a thing I liked? I'm told that many young people today will simply refuse to watch a film that's not in colour, because it's so alien to their experience (while I grew up with endless repeats of old films, and indeed we had only a black-and-white television set in the house for much of my childhood). Why shouldn't something be re-done for them so that they can enjoy the same stories I did?

Two reasons: I don't mind a new version of an old thing, but I do mind that people will see the new version and think that that's what the thing was always about. Doomed elf-dwarf romance? Oh, yeah, Tolkien was into that. Indiana Jones was always set in the 1950s, what do Nazis have to do with it? And so on.

And secondly I don't think that the stuff I grew up with is so amazing that it needs to be recycled. Which is more likely to be a film with interesting things to say, a Ghostbusters remake with an all-female main cast, or an original story with an all-female main cast? (Actually that's a trick question, because this is Hollywood, and "all-female main cast" usually means "chick flick".) But the attempt to bring in an audience of people who remember the original story will stretch and distort any attempt to do something interesting, because it forces in-jokes and call-outs to memorable moments in the original even when they don't fit with whatever new story someone might have wanted to tell.


  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:54pm on 11 March 2015

    Ghostbusters was near perfect as originally made, it is pointless re-making it. You can't recapture what made it work. The all female main cast is a gimmick to make it seem interesting or somehow worthy.

    I've not heard anything about young people refusing to watch black and white. Do you have any references? While we're at it, how are they on silent films, I find them rather hard work myself.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:02pm on 11 March 2015

    Here is a typical example of the complaint; I don't think it's been formally studied.

    I suspect from what I've read that black-and-white is actually considered a proxy for "old, slow, too much talk and not enough action" rather than being a problem in itself. But that's still a reason for a studio to go for a remake rather than a re-release.

  3. Posted by John Dallman at 07:19pm on 11 March 2015

    Another reason for a remake, of course, is that it costs a lot more, and a lot more people in the industry, as opposed to shareholders, get a cut.

  4. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 08:12pm on 11 March 2015

    John you're far too cynical for your own good.

    Remakes are the equivalent of staging a play. RSC does it, but you live in Middlesborough, so you go to see the local company put on their version.

    The only difference is that with film one can replay an old performance of a production, and compare and contrast Olivier performance with Branagh's portrayal of Henry the 5th.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 01:00am on 12 March 2015

    I think remakes are trying to get the best of all worlds: it's something new, so there's a reason to make a fuss about it more than just a DVD rerelease, but it's also something old, so it's a Known Marketable Property and you can hope to drag along some fans of the original who are nostalgic for it.

    This gets into the economics of filmmaking: the money men try to minimise variation in return on investment, i.e. they go for the surest thing possible, and while remakes and re-inventions are rarely stellar performers they're also rarely complete flops, The Lone Ranger being a notable exception. (The money men may also, being typically in their fifties or older, have some nostalgia for the original.)

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