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Old Is The New New

This time, it's personal, rhymes-with-witches!

Don’t hate on me, Internet, because the stuff I’m about to trash includes some of my favorite things! Consider this a healthy dose of “tough love,” and by that I mean “annoying criticism.”

If there’s a duller ongoing pop culture trend than angsty teen dystopias or decrepit old action heroes, it would have to be the “re-imagining” of classic literature, fairy tales, mythology, archetypes and characters—you know, everything that’s gone before. Fantasy franchises as different as Shrek, Fables, Once Upon A Time and Grimm all work very hard to present edgy, modern takes on fairy tale tropes familiar to anyone old enough to be read to. But no matter how good they are—and some have been very good (hint: I like two of these)—it’s hard to be original when you’re tilling soil previously explored on Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Fractured Fairy Tales, back when TV executives apparently never looked at scripts.

Straining even further for hip relevance, Snow White and the Huntsman gave us the dwarf-befriending songstress as laconic action heroine (aided and abetted by Thor, no less); while this week takes an even more desperate turn: Hansel and Gretel as vengeful bounty hunters because, you know, This time it’s personal, rhymes-with-witches! Further straining credulity is the fact that the actors playing the PTSD siblings are fifteen years apart in age, which makes for awkward flashbacks.

Classic literature has been re-imagined with Jane Austen and zombies, Sherlock Holmes as modern urban shut-in aided by distaff Watson, and a Dante’s Inferno comic book based on a video game based on a fourteenth-century poem. (Huh?!) We’ve already seen the witches of Oz reimagined as Wicked frenemies, and are about to learn how a Great and Powerful Wizard played by doughy Frank Morgan could ever have once looked like James Franco. (Apparently, wizarding is really hard work.)
Old Fairy Tales: Wizarding will ruin youIn comic books, this week alone gives us dubious recycled ideas with Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E., The Bionic Man, Transformers, Masks, and even Secret Agents at Devonton Abbey, which I understand relates to some popular British thing that makes American viewers feel smarter. Even Marvel and DC have repeatedly re-imagined their own universes, the former Ultimate-style (motto: things are dark and edgy here!), while the latter would rather re-invent its Golden Age than introduce a new one. (Instead of Alan Scott being “the gay Green Lantern,” why not someone entirely new? If Abin Sur had to choose a successor after crash landing at the West Hollywood Halloween parade, that would be awesome.) And whatever you think of the arguable innovations of The Walking Dead and its TV spin-off, it is after all just another take on zombies; and as ubiquitous and fun as they and their vampire cousins are, remember, someone else created those things.

For the love of God, what are you going on about, you say? Well said, me, on behalf of you! Here’s the thing: by re-inventing and re-imagining, re-cycling and regurgitating, creators are denying us (and themselves) any welcome shock of the new. Something wholly original, like The Matrix, will have a much deeper, richer and more lasting impact than something tired and recycled, like, say, The Matrix II and III.

Imagine if instead of creating Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had re-imagined D’Artagnan and his Three Musketeers as seventeenth-century French detectives; or if Gene Roddenberry had pitched a TV series about a time traveling H.G. Welles instead of a contemplative vision of the future; or if Siegel and Schuster, instead of literally inventing the superhero genre, had simply recycled the Yellow Kid as modern urban avenger. Yeah, that last one is a little weird but you get the idea.Old Fairy Tales: Imagine Siegel and Schuster's Man Of Yellow!

The point is, creators create. From scratch. With originality. Sure, all artists owe a debt to the work that’s come before them, even Kirby. (Well, maybe not Kirby.) The nineties saw an explosion of creative energy in comics that led to the founding of creator-owned imprints, and characters as uniquely singular and impossible to replicate as Hellboy and Madman. J.K. Rowling created an entire magical universe while stuck on a train, when most of us would have been poking away at our smartphones. Pixar has created the most original, visionary work of any film studio since the early days of Disney—and, tellingly, has only failed when attempting a sequel (Cars 2). More recently, the Wachowski siblings finally followed up the Matrix franchise with the flawed but visionary Cloud Atlas… and whether you admired its bold storytelling or were painfully confused for three hours, they probably won’t repeat it two more times.

So while I’ll always prefer something new that stretches boundaries to something familiar that doesn’t, I do have one caveat: Muppets. If the Muppets want to rescue Snow White or battle zombies or join The Avengers or take over Downton Abbey? Bring. It. On.


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Comments (8)


Many valid points made. I agree with most. Also: Your last paragraph made me literally laugh uncontrollably. Well played.

Agreed, but the Muppets… on Downton Abbey? That might actually make me finally watch the show that everyones been talking about.

"The point is, creators create. From scratch. With originality."

The problem is, there are only a finite number of main plot points available to use to create stories. There is rarely, if ever, a such thing as a purly original story anymore… all stories are influenced (whether consciously or subconsciously) by things that the author has seen or read in his/her lives. Some writers (and movie directors) will take a pile of relatively obscure plot points and throw them together, hoping the final product is seen as 'original' and entertaining, others will simply do a straight adaption and hope whatever unique spin on it is enough to win fans over. But, there are no new stories, just new arrangements and combinations of old plot points…

The Matrix… a lot of the Matrix was directly influenced by Japanese anime, and the main influence was Japanese director Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell… in fact, the Wachowskis presented that work to Joel Silver saying "We wanna do that for real". Other elements thrown in were taken from multiple religions, other works (or using plot points in similar ways to other works), and of course Alice in Wonderland. It was a unique spin, but the only thing original is how the elements were combined… there were no original elements in the story. None of it was done 'from scratch'.

Harry Potter… all I can say is, since I won't post a link to a major rival of this site, go to google and search the phrase "harry potter rip offs"… your second link should be to an article titled "Did Harry Potter Really Steal All These Story Ideas?". The most directly similar book in the list, to the point that people have and still accuse J.K. of ripping off this book, is The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy. Harry Potter's plot points and themes (as well as using the same label to denote non magical people) are FAR from original, and in this case at least one person had already merged many of the same (almost exact same) plot points contained in .Harry Potter, and in a similar way, before J.K. And even if J.K. has not lied when claiming to not have plagarized and ripped off the book, the plot points themselves are variations of common themes going back hundreds/thousands of years.

"Here’s the thing: by re-inventing and re-imagining, re-cycling and regurgitating, creators are denying us (and themselves) any welcome shock of the new. Something wholly original,"

Unfortunately, that is the process with any main stream story nowadays. The good writers/directors are able to come up with interesting combinations of plot points (though even then that's rare, and the ideas we attribute to them are taken from relatively lesser known works)… and I admit, the 90s had quite a few creators that were able to present their stories in interesting and relatively 'unique' ways'… Matrix is one, though I say that not having seen more than basic reviews of the influence/s I mentioned. Fight Club was another. And there are numerous others…

…however, nothing is 'original, from scratch' anymore… though I do hope that we can one day soon get some fresh blood that can again pull what Matrix (and other movies like it) did, and hope that they can get away with not being accused of being rip offs when they try. However, for now the trend is more 'direct' adaptations… bringing classic characters into modern settings. I will enjoy the parts of it that I like while I can (such as BBCs Sherlock that I've been trying to catch up on), and will ignore the rest until the time that the public in general moves on to the next set of trends (because while we may be tired of current trends, the trends will continue as long as the general population demands it… I just hope that 'intelligent mind screw' flicks are in line for a come back).


I kinda can't believe I'm saying this, but I couldn't disagree more. I guess I'll give you that a lot of the rebooting, remaking, rehashing era has led to a lot of really disposable entertainment,. but I think you tried to take on too much here. There are basic building blocks of storytelling that everyone has to use. You talk about creating something original from scratch, but forget that everyone gets the same basic ingredients. The kind of goal you're setting isn't realistic or for that matter (if you want to know why they don't "just make a new character") profitable. Maybe there is a little too much retread, but passing on stories is a deeply ingrained human tradition, and one I'm glad to see our entertainment industries as a whole have taken to heart.

JEEZ, I said “Don’t hate on me.” 😉 Thanx for the thoughtful comments everyone! Really! But I did write, “all artists owe a debt to the work that’s come before them,” right? Utilizing familiar story-telling themes and conventions is not at all what I took comic issue with. The gist of my nearly-coherent point lies in the paragraph about the creators of Holmes, "Star Trek," and Superman. I still way prefer the work of a writer who sits down to create something unique to him or her that speaks from the core of their being, over the guys who set out to adapt "Hansel & Gretel" as edgy revenge fantasy. I also needed to lay my Muppet-love bare. And make Jeff Hill run milk through his nose.

You are right; the comics and movie makes about them that we get are just the old versions being told in a new manner. It is high time for Hollywood to seriously put on the thinking hat and come up with some new new ideas rather than the old-new ideas.

Perfect article! Well done!

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