The New And Never-Ending Cycle

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 16.884% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

You may think it’s too soon to reboot the Spider-Man series.  You are wrong.  It’s just right.
The cycle is speeding up. We’re going to see more remakes, at a faster clip than ever.  And it’s all in the seven-year cycle.
If you look at wrestling, it has a seven-year rule – namely, that there’s enough of a turnover in the fan base that after seven years, 80% of the audience won’t have seen this plot before.  So why not recycle the best plots?  Sure, you could spend years trying to find the Hamlet of wrestling storylines – or you could have the ones you know went over gangbusters in past years, the ones that the fans loved and blogged about and ran again.
Put another way, you’re a theater owner.  Why take a chance on a new play when you can actually run Hamlet, with newer, hotter actors?
So what happens in wrestling, and soap operas, and comics, is that hey, let’s do the Time Warp again.  Peter Parker abandons his duty! The Undertaker gets buried! Matilda’s having another affair!  This isn’t to say that new storylines don’t happen – the writers usually don’t have enough to completely recycle seven years’ worth of plot, and the old fans will walk away if it’s entirely salvaged plot – but a lot of the big storylines are a big “been there, seen that” production.
But the seven-year rule doesn’t quite apply to Hollywood, where people see movies forever… Or do they?  TAs it turns out, welve to twenty-four year-olds buy a solid third of all tickets.  Furthermore, you kind of need to rope them in young – teach them that going to the movies is a fun experience, going with a group of friends, and they’ll continue to do it until they’re at least forty.
In other words, your biggest audience and the audience you most need to reach to continue your existence? They’re largely outside the seven-year cycle. Everything you give to a teenager is new – or mostly new, anyway.
Which means that, again, as a Hollywood producer, you have a choice: try to make a new franchise, with potential for sequels, with all of the problems inherent in turning “Cowboys and Aliens” or “Green Lantern” or “Sucker Punch” into a huge franchise… Or go back and get a tried-and-true story that works?
I mean, come on – how badly can you fuck up “Transformers”? Or “The Smurfs”?  Or, you know, “The Karate Kid”?  It’s not like they’re elegantly-balanced masterpieces of characterization and plot to begin with.  You put in a bunch of cool action sequences with some awesome CGI, and have a neat trailer, and the teenagers will go, “Oh, man, that’s cool.  What do you mean it’s a remake?”
Don’t believe me?  If Bin Laden taught us anything, it’s that kids who were six to eight when 9/11 happened largely had no clue who Bin Laden was when he got killed.  Google searches for “who is ben laden” shot to the top of the search engines. And the movies of yore?  They may remember something about Lord of the Rings, maybe they saw it on TV, but today’s teenager has no clue of the cinematic history of ten years ago, nor do most of them really care. So you can sell them endlessly.
What about the twentysomething kids, who don’t want to have all these damn remakes?  Well, let me introduce you to what I call the Sue Effect.
My sister-in-law Sue, who is forty, continually bitches about how Hollywood has no originality.  Every time I see her, she’s complaining.  But I tell her, “Inception is really great.   The King’s Speech was mind-blowing.  Tangled is the best comfort watching.”
She doesn’t see any of them.  She has no time to go catch movies in the theaters.
But when I call her up, what has she gone to see? The remake of Halloween.  Why?  Because she knows the plot, and wants to see what twists they put on it.  It reminds her of a younger time, when the future looked free and boundless, and she had her whole life ahead of her.  She can round up her old high-school friends to go with her. There’s a certain bottom level of entertainment, because even if it totally sucks ass, she can complain to all of her friends how they fucked it up.
Everything about a remake is perfect for Sue, except that it’s cookie-cutter remake.  But hey!  She doesn’t have the time to find what the new, good films are!  That involves a lot of paying attention.  And she can wait for those on DVD, if they get enough good word.
So really, what Sue wants to see in the theaters is a film she’s seen before.  Even if she doesn’t want to admit it.
The thing is, when you remake a film, there’s a built-in level of publicity.  If Joe Schmoe is making his own space opera?  Well, that’s good.  Call us when you get some killer trailer material.  And hey, your space opera’s probably too complicated to sell us on these crazy robots and armadas and whatnot.
What’s that?  Joe Schmoe’s remaking STAR WARS?  Well, suddenly, you have a hundred thousand inbound links. And a lot of them will be favorable.
The twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings claim they hate remakes, and they do… But “love” is not the opposite of “hate.” That’d be “indifference.”  And hate can turn to love pretty quick if there’s a really cool trailer attached.  As opposed to “indifference,” which leads to a fucking awesome film like “Moon,” perhaps the best sci-fi film in the past decade, which bombed at the box office with one quarter of a percent of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’s take because it was a new thing that nobody quite knew how to sell to teenagers, and didn’t have a lot of shit blowing up.
This doesn’t really apply to more traditional dramatic films – I don’t think we’ll see the remake of “Shutter Island” any time soon – but for theater popcorn-munchers? When you can rope in a new generation of kids and have twenty-somethings going, “A Transformers movie?  Fuck, I loved that as a kid!  That’s gonna be awesome!” then you wind up with a cycle that’s only going to get worse.
Built-in PR. A minimum bottom line of failure. Easier to create, since all the work’s been done.  And hey, if you want originality, why not just go to TV, where Mad Men and The Wire and Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire and all the other interesting dramas that used to win the Oscar have fled?
The cycle’s not going to be seven years, since movies have a slightly slower half-life thanks to being one-shot events.  But ten to twelve?  Oh yes.  Long enough to make that even spread between teenagers and twentysomethings.
My take is that we’re going to see a cycle of Spider-Mans and Batmans and Transformers and Hangovers and Nightmare on Elm Streets and whatever else comes.  It may even become encoded, like a new season of a TV series, or this year’s new model of car.  The Spider-Man 2020 Edition.  Tried and true.  Bulletproof.
With just a few tweaks.  And some awesome special effects.

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