“What happened to new ideas?” the old creatives say, sipping a brandy and philosophising about the current state of the contemporary cinematic landscape. At the core of the scorn of the modern critic is the current fascination with remakes, reboots, and sequels. Every day, there is inevitably going to be some film news with headlines like “Current Flavour-of-the-Month Actor Cast in Remake of this 80s Classic” with a myriad of angry commentators smashing on their keyboards, “Why?!?!?! This movie is perfect!” This is inevitably followed by the sentiment that ‘this film is pointless’ and, therefore, not worthy of the ticket price.
As unpopular as my opinion might be, especially coming from a self-proclaimed ‘film critic’, what we do is, essentially, pointless. Arguments can be made that we evaluate films, either adding to or subtracting from their perceived ‘value’. Some see us as experts, guiding a willing audience to experience only the highest quality of cinema, therefore saving cinema-goers their precious pennies. Well, if that were true, I wouldn’t have begrudgingly sat beside an excited friend of mine as I tried to fight sleep through the climax of Transformers 4. Did I wish to spend my hard earned cash on a film I deemed as ‘unworthy’? Absolutely not. Upon leaving the cinema, I asked my friend, “Why put me through that? It was utterly pointless!” They playfully called me a snob, their opinion unaffected by mine.
“I have two film degrees!” I could argue. I obviously know more about cinema, and can name precise conventions utilised on screen. However, most people could respond to my qualifications by saying, “Well, yeah, but I liked it.” On this very website, our talented writer Matt Lind describes his less-than-stellar thoughts on Fifty Shades Darker. But will his review stop a fan of the franchise enjoying their kinky vice? I would think not. I would argue, our jobs as critics comes from a personal gratification. We just saw a film – and we want to tell you what we thought about it. You want to listen to our opinion? Great! You disagree? That’s your opinion! Perhaps our most important function is to be able to describe why a film is successful or unsuccessful in a vivid, well-argued manner. This does mean that sometimes we may let our perceived ‘qualifications’ distance ourselves from those sitting in cinema seats.
It is here that I circle back to the notion that most outings of modern cinema are ‘pointless’. Today, the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast was released in the US. Here in Australia, I have a week to wait until I can revisit my favourite film of all time on the big screen. Did this remake need to be made? No. The animated feature is, in my eyes, absolutely perfect. However, the 10-year-old speckled girl in me, with a worn-out Disney VHS and a bookshelf brimming with adventure, is beyond excited for this film. Upon reading the reviews of it, I have noticed one common thread. “Stunning visuals, fine acting but… it didn’t need to be made.” Did Star Wars: The Force Awakens really need to be made? No. The original trilogy is just fine on its own. Did we need to remake Seven Samurai into The Magnificent Seven? Probably not, just watch the original version. But the fact of the matter is, another filmmaker felt they had something to capture with those films – whether it be nostalgia, or a fresh perspective; they were made to entertain, to make money, and to be enjoyed.
Most things we enjoy in life are pointless. Can these remakes be bad? Unequivocally so. But as critics we should address where they went wrong. Did this version of Beauty and the Beast misstep in any way? Probably! And if I get around to reviewing the film, those issues will certainly be highlighted. I just argue that we should refrain from calling films ‘pointless’. Instead of asking, “Why was this made?”, let’s ask, “How did this succeed/fail for me?” Then, perhaps, we can foster actual discussion about the quality of these films, rather than creating another Ghostbusters debacle. As was eloquently argued in a first-season episode of Rick and Morty:
“On one of our adventures, Rick and I basically destroyed the whole world, so we bailed on that reality and we came to this one, because in this one, the world wasn’t destroyed and in this one, we were dead. So we came here, a- a- and we buried ourselves and we took their place. And every morning, Summer, I eat breakfast twenty yards away from my own rotting corpse. […] Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
So let’s stop pretending we have some answer on whether these things should or shouldn’t exist, and just enjoy our freedom to enjoy or dislike what Hollywood is giving us. I mean, if we are spiraling towards inevitable death, at least we can argue about Emma Watson’s auto-tuned singing while we wait.