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Re-Release Me… Let Me Go… Hollywood and Re-Releases…

So, yep. It’s a bad time for the US box office. The Lion King, a movie first released in 1994, managed to hold on to the number one spot at the top of the charts for two whole weeks, and ranking higher than any new release in its third week. If anything, the major movie studios have been very quick to jump on any trend that offers even the slightest hint of a money-making opportunity. It’s a trend one can easily see from the way that Hollywood pursues ideas. After Harry Potter was a breakout hit, every studio in town was looking for a young adult franchise to adapt to the big screen. After The Dark Knight, it became customary to plan for the superhero sequel before the original even hit theatres. It’s a trend even more obvious with technological gimmicks. After Christopher Nolan proved that you could make money in Imax, it seemed every other movie was being released in the format (even if it didn’t warrant it). Avatar led to a wave of 3D releases, which seemed to be growing old fast. So the success of a film originally released nearly two decades ago in the cinema, remastered in 3D, is pretty much assured to be the next big thing.

I'd be lion if I didn't admit I want to see it...

Of course, there were already rumours of this sort of thing. Like all major Hollywood routines, it hardly came entirely out of the blue. After all, James Cameron was vowing to remaster Titanic in 3D and George Lucas has already begun another round of cosmetic work on the Star Wars films. However, these were very much directors pushing their own agenda, with enough power to get their own artistic vision on screen. Certainly in the case of Cameron and Lucas, I’d argue there’s more than the slightest hint of ego involved – after all, Cameron seemed to take the very idea of Piranha 3D as an insult to his work on Avatar, and Lucas has been busy recrafting his classics to whatever mood he happens to be in.

After all, it’s hard to look at any of the major studios as pushing classic films back out into the cinema to universal celebration. Everyone remembers the embarrassment when Warners tried to push The Dark Knight back into cinemas to capitalise on the success at the Oscars…. em… yep, success. Jurassic Park recently returned to the big screen as part of a re-release, but I didn’t hear that much fanfare about it. Truth be told, I didn’t get a chance to check it out again with everything else going on around Dublin in the past few weeks. While I appreciated the re-release of Toy Story, it didn’t seem to set the world on fire. So the track record wasn’t encouraging.

Everybody likes playing with their old toys...

On the other hand, after the success of The Lion King, we’ve heard the announcement that Disney will be bringing The Little Mermaid, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo all back to the big screen, on top of the already-scheduled Beauty and the Beast. Personally, I’m a little bit disappointed – while Nemo will look excellent with depth, what about Wall-E, which might capitalise on the 3D better, or Fantasia, which would add some much-needed surrealism? Truth be told, part of me is a little excited at the idea, if only for families. If I had a kid, I would absolutely love to take them to a cinema screening any of those classics.

And then there’s the rather blatant cash-grabs, like the re-release of the Twilight films to build up to the latest instalment, which seems like it’s being treated as a pretty big deal. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the studios make a serious amount of money of this tactic of releasing old films and cashing on nostalgia. While classic cult films might struggle to generate enough interest to justify the budget on a sequel, the cost of releasing it again is relatively small in comparison. I wonder if Disney regrets wasting all that money on Tron: Legacy if they could have just got the old fans to come back to view the original Tronin the cinema.

Surely a nice disc release was enough?

I don’t like it. I mean, I can see the appeal of catching a big film on a big screen, as was intended. Indeed, I never saw The Lion King in the cinema, and I do want to see it when it comes out. I know this makes me a bit hypocritical, but I also don’t think that this is the role of the major Hollywood studios. I think this sort of thing is the job of the cinemas – it’s a community activity, rather than one that should be managed by the corporate structure of a multi-national entity. A lot of the local cinemas around Dublin already organise celebratory screenings of old films, giving people a chance to see them as originally intended. I remember seeing Dawn of the Dead at the IFI, and having a great time. The ill-fated Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield screened a James Bond season, which was wonderful.

Re-releasing The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast doesn’t do me any good now. I don’t have any family that I would like to take to it. I might in a few years, or a decade, and I’d like to think that – if I wait long enough – my local cinema will have a screening of something I’d like to share with loved ones. It’s an approach that isn’t as organised and structured, but that’s the appeal – after all, if Disney rereleased them when Iwas ready, there’d be countless others missing the opportunity. It’s one of the wonderful community aspects of the cinema, which has always been a very important institution no matter where I lived, precisely because they were more than just a broadcaster working on the schedule of the distributors.

Does Hollywood need to cop on?

However, my problem with the major studies doing this sort of thing is that it takes time and resources and money away from new things. It’s a variation on the “sequels and remakes” argument we always have, but it’s even more black-and-white. While it was a mixed bag, surely Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans proved the artistic merits of returning to an old idea? Or Batman Begins, offering a definitive take on the Caped Crusader? Or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? None of these were anything like the “same” as the concepts that they returned to, offering at least a unique vision.

On the other hand, The Lion King is literally the same film. And a lot of money went into converting it to 3D, which could have been diverted elsewhere – possibly to fund a Pixar short, for example? There are only some many pieces one can cut from the pie, and I do worry about the possibility of new films suffering because of time and energy spent on these old films.

I'm out of my depth...

Still, it’s only the start. The Lion King was a runaway success, but it’s not the breaking of the new ground that is really worth watching – it’s whether or not Hollywood can hold on to it. With the re-release of the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture in January, we’ll likely have a better lay of the land around then.

6 Responses

  1. Good article, though I resent describing the money spent on Tron: Legacy as a “waste”. I personally think the money spent on Demolition was a waste. 😉

  2. I completely agree with your sixth paragraph. Putting a movie like Lion King back on the big screen falls within the purview of the cinemas, not the studios (or at least it should). What Disney’s doing with their past hits is kind of criminal in that petty, double-dipping sense, and I think there’s a whole book to be written about studios being so money-hungry.

    More troubling though is what this says about contemporary mainstream filmmaking. Frankly, when a movie that’s around two decades old is out-performing the releases of today, it’s a sign of something intrinsically out of whack with the quality of the films modern filmmakers out producing. Eventually, people will realize that they don’t need to waste their time on most current releases and just stay at home and watch the classics on their TV.

    • Thanks! i agree, the signs are worrying. You could argue that audiences are rejecting the remakes and sequels Hollywood has been churning out, and that’s a good thing – but I don’t buy into that logic. After all, good movies are suffering from falling audience attendence as well. Look at 50/50, for example. And, if audiences are no longer buying into sequels/prequels/remakes, is it any better they’re buying into re-releases? As you say, how long until they stop going to the cinema altogether.

      I’m not sure it says something about quality though – I don’t think audiences, en masse, make judgments like that based on quality, I am sad to say. I think it’s more to do with the economic reality. To take a family of five to the cinema, you’re looking at ~€100. I’m not sure about how much it costs Stateside, but that’s a lot of money at the moment.

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