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Old or New? Isn’t Everything New the FIRST Time You See It?

March 19th, 2010

Every few years, folks in the feature film ‘development process’ get it in their pointy-little heads to test ‘the system’ and send out a famous script with a new title/author page to see if Hollywood would ‘still’ make “Casablanca,” or “Citizen Kane,” or some other beloved classic. It’s a ‘gotcha!’ exercise, and script-readers who fail to recognize the (cinema) past, to disparage Santa Ana, AREN’T condemned to repeat it. Because the ‘powers that be,’ those executives whose jobs are based on the movies they greenlight, won’t put a movie into production unless they ‘recognize’ it – or can compare it to something already made.


For years, action and thriller films were described to comparison-hungry executives as “Die Hard” ‘on something.’ Thus, Steven Seagal’s “Under Siege” was ‘”Die Hard” on a ship,’ and “Speed 2″ was ALSO ‘”Die Hard” on a ship, “”Executive Decision” was ‘”Die Hard” on a plane.’  If you detect a pattern here, you’re observant. Hollywood’s ‘creative’ executives love to embrace a script that feels ‘new,’ but also ‘familiar’ to them. Is it any wonder that so many cartoon character movies are being made right now? Disney just bought Marvel comics, so you’d better get ready to watch films about all the various creations Stan Lee has come up with for the last – oh, let’s say – 30 years…

Hollywood executives, who are reluctant to put $1oo to $150 million of their studio’s money on an ‘untried’ project, will often go back to the well to draw something familiar. Remember “Van Helsing”? A huge gamble, but it combined two known quantities: Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy”) and Universal Studios’ assembled (some literally!) horror legends. Unfortunately, Universal’s “Van Helsing” was a BIT too creatively engineered (at least in terms of its premise and script), and critics and audiences hated the final result. These days, Twentieth-Century Fox is working on variations on its “X-Men” franchise, and has already minted a hit with its Hugh Jackman “Wolverine” spin-off. Next for Jackman’s co-star Ryan Reynolds will be a “Wolverine” spin-off, “Deadpool,” as well as his lead role in Warner Brothers’ “The Green Lantern.”

But here’s the thing: if you start recognizing characters, situations, plot elements and other story aspects, think back. Have you already seen this? Is it another ‘tribute’ that merely regurgitates a plot you’ve enjoyed before? I’ve read plenty of scripts which fall into THAT category… And with few exceptions, I liked it better the first time…

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  1. Anonymous
    March 19th, 2010 at 17:34 | #1

    I think it’s more than studio execs who are looking for the familiar; audiences are just as guilty. People want to be pretty sure we’re going to like what we’ll see before we drop dollars.

  2. Barrett
    March 19th, 2010 at 18:06 | #2

    Obviously, you GET it! All we have to do now is vote with our $ – For quality pictures!

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