When Remakes Are Disguised as Sequels

At some point, the desire for familiarity and comfort will be replaced by a desire for novelty, even if it's just novelty within a specific, narrow premise.
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
'Independence Day: Resurgence'

As The Hollywood Reporter's review makes clear, the ultimate appeal of Independence Day: Resurgence isn't really one rooted in the movie's plot or character work. No, what people really want to know about the movie is whether it delivers on the level of destruction-as-spectacle that the first movie excelled in. Essentially, they want the new movie to be the first, only moreso.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is, simply, that the first Independence Day was a modern day disaster movie where the scale of destruction was the point — it wasn't a movie about people, or even a movie about aliens. Consider the one image that everyone remembers from it: the destruction of the White House. That's the selling point, right there. In that light, of course people are hoping for more of the same; how else could it call itself Independence Day?

But Independence Day: Resurgence isn't breaking any new — or should that be old? — ground here. Indeed, it's the third major franchise revival in the last twelve months which seeks to reassure audiences by being, essentially a remake of the original movie in the series that disguises itself as a sequel.

For Jurassic World, again, this might have been a no-brainer. There is only so much that can be done with the Jurassic formula, and it only makes sense to resurrect the franchise with a clone of the original. After all, audiences need to relearn the central premise, and the structure of Jurassic Park has already proven to be a particularly successful way of explaining why genetically engineering dinosaurs for profit is likely to lead to trouble, especially if there are two adorable children in trouble and available to promote bonding with an adult authority figure who needs to open their heart a little.

The similarity of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to the first Star Wars was much remarked-upon when the movie opened last year, and perhaps less obvious than Jurassic World's fidelity to the original. After all, the prequel trilogy had strayed significantly from the original movies — although that might have been the very reason why J.J. Abrams et al skewed so closely to George Lucas' first take on the franchise: to reassure those turned off by watching Hayden Christensen struggle through Anakin Skywalker's adolescence that this would be really like the movies you grew up with, after all.

In one way, it could be argued that this is simply a different flavor of the nostalgia that had ensured blockbuster cinema is filled by comic book characters and toys of the audience's collective youth: Instead of simply reviving the heroes of fondly-remembered stories, now they get to retell those stories with recast leads.

It's also not as if remakes are a new concept for movies; Cecil B. DeMille made three different versions of The Squaw Man between 1914 and 1931, after all. This trend is simply carrying on a long-lived cinematic tradition!

Nonetheless, it raises questions about the longterm prospects of a franchise if thinly-veiled remakes-as-sequels continue to be a thing.

There are only so many times audiences will turn out for the same story, no matter how eye-catching the special effects or charming the performances of the actors, surely — only so many times a theme park filled with dinosaurs can go wrong, or so many world monuments for aliens to destroy in eye-catching fashion. At some point, the desire for familiarity and comfort will be replaced by a desire for novelty, even if it's just novelty within a specific, narrow premise. Eventually, the audience will want something different… won't they?

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that Mad Max ends up being the north star for these series: A second movie that basically retells the first with a bigger budget, a third that tells a different story that most people forget, and then, decades later, a new installment that blows the mind of almost everyone that sees it and feels outside of so many norms of mainstream cinema.

If we get an Independence Day: Fury Road 20 years from now, perhaps there's something to be said for the way things are going. Take that as a challenge, Roland Emmerich.