Herald Journal Columns
Feb. 20, 2006, Herald Journal

Death of an industry


A mysterious new plague has swept the country.

It may be more sinister than mad cow disease or bird flu.

Details are sketchy, but this epidemic appears to have wiped out everyone engaged in a particular occupation.

No clear evidence is available, but it appears that all of the screenwriters in Hollywood are dead.

This tragedy has forced studio executives to dust off some tired old scripts from the archives to provide fodder for an entire industry.

One example of this is the release of the movie “Poseidon.”

A luxury liner is capsized by a giant wave, and passengers are forced to try to find a way to escape.

Imaginative thinking like this has not been seen since 1972, when the original “Poseidon Adventure” was released.

This is not an isolated example.

Other dubious remakes that have been released, or that are scheduled to be released, include “Planet of the Apes” (2001), “Rollerball” (2002), “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (2003), “Freaky Friday” (2003), “The Bad News Bears” (2005), “The Longest Yard” (2005), “Herbie: Fully Loaded” (2005), “The Blob” (2006), “Porky’s” (2006), “Revenge of the Nerds” (2006), and “The Shaggy Dog” (2006). Some might argue that we could have done without these the first time, and we certainly didn’t need to dredge them up again.

Others, such as “King Kong,” have been remade multiple times, which leads one to wonder if the perpetrators really believe the material is that good, or if they are still trying to get it right.

And, if remaking lame movies is not bad enough, the recent trend to make feature movies based on television programs must surely signal the death knell for the film industry.

Hollywood once scorned television as an inferior medium, but recent small-to-large screen conversions have included “Starsky and Hutch” (2004), “Bewitched” (2005), “The Dukes of Hazard” (2005), and a double-helping of angels, “Charlie’s Angels” (2000) and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” (2003).

Even cartoons are not safe, and some studios have been so desperate for material that they have found it necessary to make live-action features based on animated originals.

“Scooby Doo” ( 2002) was one such example. And, did audiences really need to see Jim Carey in a remake of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas?”

It is true that there have also been remakes of some classic movies. While there is at least some sense to stealing good material, the new versions rarely measure up to the originals, so it would be best to leave them alone.

What does the quality of the material being produced say about the appetite of the average moviegoer?

Have we, as a society, sunk to the level where only the worst of the worst is good enough for us?

Are we so unwilling to accept new ideas that only a recycling of tired old material is acceptable?

Have all of the new ideas been used, or are we just unwilling to explore new material?

This would be a chilling view of the future.

Maybe all of the screenwriters are not dead.

Maybe the film industry is simply not buying any new scripts.

Perhaps it is an economic decision, and the industry simply does not want to pay writers anymore (I hope this does not spread to other industries – writers, in general, are not exactly overpaid as it is).

Both theories could be supported by another sad trend, known as “reality” television.

I have successfully avoided actually watching any of these programs, but I have suffered through more commercials than I care to remember, and if what is portrayed on those shows is reality, I will stick with fiction.

These programs seem to draw a large audience, and obviously, they pass as entertainment for many people in this country.

From the producers’ point of view, these shows are pure genius. They don’t have to pay writers or actors, so the profit margins must be huge.

From a cultural literacy point of view though, they are pure poison.

Movie remakes have been around almost as long as there have been movies, but the number of remakes that are being screened, and the quality of the material that is being recycled, present an ominous trend.

Clearly, there is a difference between art and entertainment.

A film does not need to be artistically creative or intellectually stimulating to be entertaining.

However, the standards for what passes as entertainment seem to sink with each passing year, and, like “Titanic” (1997), this really is a preventable tragedy.

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