Why we hate some remakes and praise others

Hello Creative Writer,

Today I’m just going to muse on the wonderful world of re imagined stories.

We have all been there. We are flicking though videos on Youtube when we see a title like “Coming Soon: Disney Remakes Classic” You roll your eyes. Why? Why, can’t we get something new?

Why indeed.. Yes, often a company will decide to take a property it owns and remake it a different way to exploit the nostalgia of it’s original audience in order to squeeze as much additional profit from the title as possible. But creatively retelling a story is sometimes an interesting idea that can serve a purpose. When can a remake garner praise rather than ridicule?

1) When the new story actually adds something useful or beneficial to the original story. I loath straight scene for scene remakes. If I want to watch the same movie I’ll choose the original. But movies like Maleficent- take a character from a classic story and provide a much needed background, explaining and expanding on the original story in a way that both fits and enhances the story. It answers a question audiences had “Why did Maleficent hate Aurora so much? She was just a baby..”

2) When the new story advances the plot or fills in plot holes from the original. I don’t mind a good prequel or sequel as long as it feel like a story that deserves to be told- just as before it needs to add value to the original. Simply creating a new story with the same characters isn’t enough. This new story needs to have a purpose. In addition to this, I feel the best companion stories are stand alone stories. They don’t require you to re watch the first film or re-read the first book. The story is treated as a separate fully contained entity trusting your audience to make the connections without alienating new reader/viewers. Think Harry Potter, yes it a series of books but you could pick up any one and there is a complete story that makes sense even without prior knowledge.

3) When it’s not actually the same story. This one is very tricky to pull off and can flop if done wrong. Every once and a while though you get a story that takes a problematic original to retell it with modern sensibilities and values in mind. Let’s face it- the past was sexist, racist and a whole lot of wrong sometimes. Updating a story to reflect what audiences want now can be a way to breathe new life into an older source- you are likely better off using the original as inspiration especially if a major portion of the story is likely to need updated.

If you break the rules, people might not receive your story well. You make unnecessary changes even with good reasons and you ostracize your audience (looking at you live action Avatar the Last Airbender).  You tell a pointless story or your plot doesn’t work.

The truth is, re-imagining a story often starts you in a negative place. People are already defensive before your story is ever released and you will have to work twice as hard to win them over. A beloved story already belongs to it’s audience and as the owners of the story, we fiercely defend it.

Finally, the biggest and most asked question again.. WHY! When you set about re-writing a story you face the critique of not being original or creative or contributing something new. A re-hash of a pre-existing story can make you look lazy. And let’s face it- as writers sometimes we do just want to send some more time with characters we know and love- our old friends who make writing feel fun and easy. I don’t feel there is anything wrong with that- but, if you plan on sharing these, keep your audience in mind.

I can float either way on both writing and reading/watching remakes. There is something to be said for making a movie for “a new Generation” because, yes our aesthetics change. Watch any movie from the 40s or 50s and you’ll notice how much slower they feel in comparison to today with a more dramatic acting style and hell technology that leaves them in the world of black and white. The more “outdated” the original story the more you might want to re-imagine it for a current audience. For me, I only ever really dislike a story when it doesn’t deliver on its promises, when it isn’t what it said it was going to be.

Think of all the stories that change media and thus the story must be adjusted too.. Movies from video games, books into movies, books into graphic novels and on and on. The original story must change a bit to suit the medium by which it is being told. Often by doing this though, you risk angering the fans of the original medium. “The book is always better!” Yes, it is. It always will be. But judging a movie with book criteria just isn’t fair. When entering into the story a new way I try to separate my connection to the previous story and look at it individually.

For Example, I loved The Fault in our Stars by John Green- It’s a sad but brilliant book. The movie was ok.. Nothing exceptional. Why? They relied too heavily on the book- there were parts of the movie that only make sense if you’ve read the book. That is not ok. Your story needs to make sense to your audience regardless of whether they’ve already ingested the source material. You can’t leave holes hoping that the audience will fill them in for you. You can add information so that only readers of the previous story will “get the joke” but the story needs it’s own legs to stand. Sometimes this is hard because you know both sources. Have someone read your story who has no background to fall back on- if they can understand the story and it makes sense without you having to explain anything then the plot is solid.

Beware adding things. Your knowledgeable audience will notice when you make changes- They definitely notice everything you leave out but will roast you on the stuff you add if the addition doesn’t add value. In the positive think of Coraline by Neil Gaiman. In the movie they added an entire character that did not exist in the book. But it was necessary. In the book we are inside Coraline, the main protagonist’s, mind; but in the movie they opted not to have her narrate her inner monologue but instead gave her a character named Wiborn, Wybie to talk to. For the movie, it made sense to give Coraline another person, someone her age to interact with and deliver some of the exposition. This was a change that was done so seamlessly that it was hard to even notice it and it suited both the medium and the way they wanted to tell the story.

At the end of the day- its’ the story that matters. If you tell a good story it doesn’t necessarily need to be the same story. You won’t ever be able to make everyone happy and some people will always hate remakes on the idea that we should only tell new stories. This is a myth- all our stories are built on the backs of everything that came before- we are all retelling ancient stories- the difference is you, you and how you choose to tell it.

Write on!



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