Wednesday 31 March 2010

We Can Remake You

I'm not exactly famous for any ability at seeing the future, but I had an awful premonition the other day that Tim Burton would remake Mary Poppins. Unsurprisingly, my ghastly vision showed Helena Bonham Carter as the eponymous nanny, silly voice and mad hair included, and Johnny Depp (who else?) as lovable chimneysweep Bert. The only thing missing was Dick Van Dyke's comedy Cockney accent.

I'm not sure what prompted such a premonition, although it's entirely possible that my brain was simply reacting badly to Burton's recent trend for rehashing the material of other artists, only to have the resultant tired mess hailed as being "visionary" or worse, "dark". (Face it, he's about as dark as Minnie Mouse). I don't know, maybe I'm just sick of the fact that the whole world appears to be engaged in imitation, as opposed to origination.

Don't get me wrong, I know why it's done. If you have a successful original, then this becomes 'pre-sold product' by the time a sequel, adaptation or remake rolls around. You can target the in-built audience, and due to humanity's love of familiarity, it's easier to appeal to their awareness of an existing text than it is to flog them something new and unknown. Less money needs to be invested in creating, developing, and promoting the product. Look at Andrew Motion - he's trying to kid himself that a sequel to Treasure Island, written by himself some 127 years after the publication of the original, will become an instant classic. He, and his publishers, no doubt hope that the fans of the original will flock to the sequel, and all will be well. Writing an original novel is far more risky, and might, you know, not make much money. After all, ladies and gentlemen, let's not kid ourselves. The creative industries are exactly that. Industries.

It's easier to sell a book or a film by saying it's "like" something else. One creative product does well, so we become inundated with a flood of similar products, all cashing in on the success of the first. Gradually the quality becomes diluted and we're left with nothing but crap. However, the key point is that somewhere along the line, something new started the trend. To say it is original is not necessarily to say it is wildly innovative, rather that it is a new idea, or an existing idea told in a new way.

My point is this. These 'wildcards' are successful, which is what prompts the trend, yet their very success implies that there is a market, and an appetite, for the new and untested. So why do filmmakers and publishers instead choose to exploit existing texts?