The remake and its consequences

Houston McLaury-

In February, a new series was released on Netflix that I’ve had no interest in seeing. It holds all the promises of a show from my childhood; a show my sibling and I would gather around the TV after elementary school to watch the newest episode or even a rerun from the past. A show where water could be moved with precise teachings, the earth could be split and sent through the air at phenomenal speeds, and fire and air could be manipulated to the will of the user. Of course, I am talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender and its newest live-action adaptation, or as I shall call it, remake, which was released on February 22nd.

Now, I have not yet seen this adaptation, and honestly, I do not plan to. As I see it, it is another attempt to profit from a series that was done perfectly originally, and I have no faith that this new adaptation can improve on the already wonderful storytelling aspects of the original. When considering remakes, I want to dig into the questions that have been gnawing at me for a while now: When should something be remade? Does it need to be remade, or does the original still hold up to today’s standards? And, are the standards of 2024 misguided? Through using some recent examples, I hope to answer some of these questions.

First, what truly warrants a remake? As we’ve seen through mostly Disney products in the last few years, there are two ways to view a remake: through either the business lens or the artistic lens. Disney has taken a stance to protect their business, the series, and the characters they’ve made in the past, by remaking a majority of their works. Oftentimes in the past, Disney has made new movies of old Disney characters to ensure they stay under their copyright, restricting the characters’ likenesses to be used in other artistic ventures, and in public displays that aren’t owned by the Walt Disney Company.

A recent example of this is the expired copyright of Steamboat Willie (1928), which holds one of the first iterations of the iconic character that represents the Walt Disney Company, Mickey Mouse. At the start of 2024, the copyright expired for this film, allowing it to enter the Public Domain. This means people can use the iconography of the film, the characters, and any other part in whatever way they choose. This can produce wild new takes on characters, such as Winnie the Pooh being turned into a horror movie through Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. But, don’t waste your money on that, it’s not the best thing in the world.

This doesn’t have to be the case for all remakes, however. There is always the artistic side of the spectrum that we can view, one example being the remake of Little Women. Having been released in both 1994 and 2019, the original only had 25 years to age before the new film was released. This remake wasn’t made to hold the copyright of the film or the rights to the original story written by Louisa May Alcott. Instead, it was brought to modern standards and took a different approach to characterization and the way events were displayed on the screen. It made impactful changes to the story to justify its existence, changes that stay in tune with the original messages of the novel. In my view, this is how a remake should be done: trying to be accurate to the original messages and themes. That doesn’t mean this is the right way for each story, sometimes a hard detour from the original storyline can serve the story well.

While this may work, something that irks me incredibly is the modern length of shows that we allow on streaming services, and the rate at which they are released. Take, for example, the Hulu hit The Bear which released its second season all on the same day. Not over a few weeks, no. Instead of dishing the episodes out like a fine meal, Hulu pushed all of the episodes onto the table for the audience to eat. While quick, the show does not keep the same traction, the same excitement, as a regularly released show does. Then there is the format of the episodes; the restriction of only having eight episodes per season is incredibly straining. Going back to Avatar: The Last Airbender, the remake has 8 episodes per season, restricting the growth the characters may have and the time the audience can spend with them.

While remakes can be artistic, most of the time they serve only the business by keeping their properties under copyright, and the restrictive formats for shows of 2024 limit the life of a TV show, and the digestibility of one. It all but encourages binge-watching instead of taking your time with a show and having to wait anxiously for the next episode to release.

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