When you think of movies today, what comes to mind? There are lots of different answers to this question, but some of them will include remakes, reboots, adaptations, sequels and superheroes.
There is an unintentional thread connecting all five of those together – They are unoriginal.
Remakes, reboots and sequels are merely taking existing film ideas that worked well in the past, and doing it again for a new audience, like the Star Trek films or the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise. Adaptations, like The Hunger Games movies, take an existing source material in another medium and translate it into cinema. Superheroes, such as anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are adaptations of comic books that have proven successful with a wide audience.
A common complaint I’ve often heard with Hollywood is that is not ‘original’ anymore. That any successful film that comes out today is a copy of something else or is taken from another source material, thus Hollywood didn’t have to put in much thought.
To say Hollywood is not original anymore depends on your definition of “original.” Some people will say there are still plenty of films being made that tell new and fascinating stories, while others will say that film was never original in the first place.
While film does have many forms, we’ll look at as it is most commonly referred to – visual storytelling. The point of almost any film is to tell a narrative through images, rather than words, stills or live performances. But stories existed long before cinema was ever considered. Film can be interpreted as adapting these many stories into a medium that is possibly more understandable than any other form.
One of the first films to have a narrative, “A Trip To The Moon,” was an adaptation of a book.
According to a novel by Christopher Booker, there are only seven different types of plots that a story can have, including “Overcoming The Monster” (“Dracula” or “Beowulf”), “Rags To Riches” (“Cinderella”), “The Quest” (“Iliad”), “Voyage And Return” (“Odyssey”), “Comedy” (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), “Tragedy” (“Macbeth”) and “Rebirth” (“Sleeping Beauty”). Every story in existence can fall into one of these seven categories, and is merely a variation of these original plots.
For example, “Star Wars” falls into the “Overcoming The Monster” group, as it chronicles Luke attempting to fight and destroy the Empire. “The Lord Of The Rings” goes with “The Quest” as Frodo and the Fellowship attempt to travel across Middle Earth.
The point that I’m attempting to make here is that, from a certain point of view, cinema has never been original. From the beginning of film to the stories we often praise for being original, they have taken their ideas and story from other narratives. These are merely new spins and variations on old stories that have been told a million times.
That being said, film is taking new spins and variations on old stories so that we fall in love with these narratives all over again.
Yes, film is often unoriginal. Anyone can see that by looking at how many sequels in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, or how many attempts there have been to revive Alvin & The Chimpmunks or Scooby-Doo. But then again, the word “original” is often overrated.
“Birdman,” for example, is not an original idea. The story of a movie star trying to make a comeback and regain his/her stardom has been told many times, in films like “Sunset Boulevard” or “The Artist.” But that did not stop the film from being so captivating and imaginative with the performances, dialogue and cinematography.
When my passion for cinema began, I was initially interested in films that I felt were specifically original, which back in 2008 was films like “Rashomon” and “No Country For Old Men.” But now that I’ve had time to analyze and reevaluate my feelings on those films, I’ve come to understand that even they were not original for their time. The stories of multiple perspectives on the same murder and a western about a ruthless bounty hunter tracking down a man carrying more money than he knows what to do with have been told before “Rashomon” and “No Country For Old Men,” and they’ll be told many times again in the future.
What I didn’t realize back in 2008 was that it was not the originality that stuck out to me in those films, but the creativity and imagination. The ability to take something that’s been done many times, yet still able to give the film its own unique identity. To make the audience forget that we may have heard this story before, and instead give us something we may have never seen.
Film may not be original anymore, but it is certainly unique. If that makes any sense.
“The Lego Movie” is a story we’ve all heard before – A corporation wants to control every aspect of our lives and achieve greatest power, and it is up to a bunch of rag-tag rebels to bring it down. But I have still never seen a film like “The Lego Movie,” due to world building, child-like imagination and the animation style. What other film can make you care and relate to a yellow brick?
“Guardians Of The Galaxy” was the same – except that we rooted for a gun-totting raccoon and his best friend, a tree that could only say “I am Groot.” If that does not make film unique, I don’t know what does.
Overall, I stopped caring about whether cinema is “original” a long time ago. Maybe there have not been any original films in a while, but the great thing about cinema is that the creators will continue to find new and imaginative ways to entertain us. So long as filmmakers continue to be creative and passionate about their craft, there will always been something worth checking out in theaters.