Remaking films has been happening since the beginning of cinema. Modernising, updating, twisting and turning the story lines of films already made and putting a new spin on them with a different director, new cast and a different set often allows us to revisit films from long ago, or experience a powerful story told in a different way. Lately, however, remakes are becoming not only more frequent, but less imaginative. Let’s take a look at a couple of chick-flick remakes of the past year, which hardly break the mould of the films they are based on…
The noughties brought us some sensational chick flicks (if you are a fan of the genre). Two stand-outs, however, have to be Legally Blonde and Mean Girls. The latter was written by comic genius Tina Fey and has become, if you buy into the many many Facebook groups dedicated to the film, one of the ‘most quotable movies of all time’, while the former became the basis for a sell-out musical. While not everyone’s cup of tea, these films were fresh, inventive and (particularly in the case of Mean Girls) really clever. With stand-out performances by Reese Witherspoon and Rachel McAdams (and a solid performance by Lindsay Lohan in her hey-day) these two films became chick flick gold, and classics to be enjoyed not only at the time of their release, but for years on, by those who adored them the first time around and also by the next generation of young girls learning that popularity doesn’t automatically mean happiness and that beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive.
If, in twenty or thirty years someone decided to reinvent them for a contemporary audience, I’m sure they would both be welcomed with open arms. The fact of the matter, however, is that both of these films have been remade (or have had an unimaginative spin-off made) within ten years of their initial release. Mean Girls 2 has been changed so marginally that there is virtually no difference in the narrative at all. What we have to wonder is why remake a perfectly good film, aimed at the same niche audience just a couple of years down the line, rather than take a step back and write a whole new story – doesn’t this decade of chick flick lovers deserve their own ‘most quotable’ movie rather than a less impressive spin-off of a brilliant concept written only a few years before?
Neither Legally Blondes nor Mean Girls 2 was given a cinematic release (MG2 aired on ABC Family in January 2011 before being released on DVD in February, while Legally Blondes aired on the same channel in April 2009) and both were considerably lower budget (as most made for TV movies are) than their predecessors. To be fair, Reese Witherspoon was a co-producer of Legally Blondes and the character of Elle Woods is referenced in the film itself, so it, more so than Mean Girls 2, could be considered more of a sequel than a remake. Regardless of this however, what are film-makers trying to do by making these films? As Hilary Busis noted in her biting article in Entertainment Weekly the day after Mean Girls 2 aired on TV (in which she asks why we must ‘’sully Mean Girls’ reputation by associating these rip-offs with Tina Fey’s masterpiece’’), similar films were made after the release of Bring it On, with several remakes appearing over the years since the original Kirsten Dunst/Eliza Dushku film appeared in 2000. So why spend money remaking these successful films only to have fans complain that it’s nothing like the original? Mean Girls 2 tells the story of the new girl in school conspiring with an outcast to bring down the queen bee and her two minions, but ultimately discovering she has become no better than the bitchy teen she has been trying to destroy… sound familiar?
It is difficult to come up with an entirely original plot for a film these days – the basic literary themes have pretty much all been reworked on screen time and time again for the past sixty or so years. Love, friendship, power struggles… we could go on and on. The really great films, however, are the ones which explore these age-old themes and ideas in a way that we haven’t seen before. Putting a darkly comic twist on a previously bleak story, or writing a story most often told by men from a woman’s perspective. These kinds of changes allow remakes to go from a being rated a poor second to a thoroughly enjoyable film avoiding the problematic comparisons which are bound to be made to the original. In that case, why make Mean Girls 2 rather than a new story about a high school outcast? Sure, this idea has been examined many times before, but find a new way of doing it! Mean Girls isn’t dated, it was released less than ten years ago! So let the next generation of have the pleasure of watching a fantastic film like Mean Girls and give them a whole new story to enjoy too. It’s all too easy to just redo something that has been done before; it’s much more of a challenge to make something new that’s just as good… but it’s definitely more worthwhile.