We once again reached the end of the cinematic world today, as word spread of the all-female cast of the new Ghostbusters movie. This followed yesterday’s end of the cinematic world when reports circulated that Chris Pratt was being eyed as the new Indiana Jones for the continuation of that series. Pearls were clutched, childhoods were raped, and somehow the world kept on turning on its axis in the five trillionth or so installment of the longest franchise ever.
Some talking heads used this apocalyptic double-header to declare the death of originality, that Hollywood is now officially overrun by sequels and reboots and adaptations. Pack it in folks, nothing more to see here except Marvel and Star Wars and Disney re-hashing its animated films into musicals into live action films and probably back into animated films again without anyone noticing. But here’s the dirty little secret a lot of those people forget: Hollywood hasn’t been all that original for a long, long time.
Think sequels and franchises are a new thing? What would you call Laurel and Hardy? Abbott and Costello? The Thin Man? The Universal monster films? Godzilla? Hell, they made seven films in six years about a talking mule. Tired of remakes? Sergio Leone practically owes his career to remaking Kurosawa films. Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments was a remake. So was the Judy Garland A Star is Born. And His Gal Friday. And State Fair. Meet Me in St. Louis was made three different times in 22 years; that’s a rendezvous nearly every seven years. We got flooded with war movies during and after World War II, musicals during the Great Depression, westerns and monsters during the ’50s. Hollywood has always tried to copy what worked before and to latch on to what’s popular. Because they’re in the business of making money. And they’re not completely stupid.
So why does today seem so much more cluttered and derivative than the golden age? Because even the bad movies have a sort of permanence now. The junk from the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s didn’t stick around, didn’t get re-released, didn’t make it to television. It was seen, hated, and forgotten. But even the biggest bombs from last year are probably sitting on a shelf somewhere at your local Walmart, or running at 2:45 in the morning on HBO. There are more avenues of entertainment now, and those avenues have to be filled with something. Even if it is live-action Chipmunks movies.
As for these two recent announcements — it’s fine. Neither is going to make the copies of their predecessors I own disappear from my shelf, or black out my fond memories of them. If the new versions turn out to be good, it’ll be a testament to the enduring power of the originals. If they fail, it will only further enhance the reputations of what came first. The absolute worst that will happen is that some talented people might waste a few months of their lives on a bad film, and we might waste a few hours watching it. And we’ll still get incredible movies worth watching, even though every year people swear we won’t because of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy. And those people will be wrong again.
If you’re tired of this franchise or that performer, just don’t go see their movies. Maybe shrug a little if they prove to be popular, then go seek out something you really want to see. Because in the long run, putting your eyes — and money — on something you want to support is a lot better than raising your voice against something you don’t.