The Originality Complex
'Films we all love to watch them.'
Chante Bohitige | 7 November 2015

West Side Story, She’s The Man, Apocalypse Now, Enchanted, Die Hard. Okay, so as I write this, my fingers punching aimlessly away on the keys, I can almost hear you asking, “Where is she going with this?”

Films, we all love to watch them. Since the 1890s we have been a society infatuated with film, although I think it is fair to say that what you and I have come to know as a ‘blockbuster movie’, is not the same thing as the one minute, black and white, silent clips that first braced the eyes of an amazed Victorian audience. Like everything else in life, over the years film has continued to develop but, in its 125 year career, the opportunity for scriptwriters and directors to devise a completely original plot has become all the more challenging. So, it might not be obvious at first glance, but there is a single unitive factor that links all of the films above: all of them have been based on previous books or have drawn ideas from other films of the same genre. This poses the question: can there ever really be originality in film?  

Far too often we see headlines of reviews or promotional taglines raving about how said film is a breakthrough of its kind and that it is, “like nothing you have ever seen before.” Though in a world where social media dominates and technology means that we are exposed to a plethora of information that was never available before, we cannot help but pick up ideas from the people around us. It is through this exchange of creative concepts that we truly develop creative licence and how scriptwriters all over the globe hone their profession to become skilled writers. All little seeds of thought, sparks of genius even, originate somewhere; from what I like to think of as a sub-conscious library of conventions. Every time you turn on the radio, or watch a TV show, flick through a newspaper, scan the pages of a book, you are soaking up inspiration and for writers this manifests itself in a product that has drawn on its predecessors for a starting push. Without trying to get too philosophical, it is, you could say, a result of social/cultural influence that means we have produced films that are reminiscent of things we have seen or read. It is a fact of life.

In many cases nowadays, I find myself watching a film, not too dissimilar to the examples above, and quoting lines from the original novels. Screen adaptations of what we call ‘classics’ have become increasingly popular choices in the industry; some say because the idea well is running dry. The way I see it, the re-working of an already gripping novel can be an amazing thing as it offers people the chance to see the story pan out differently and leads them to question the way they perceived their favorite characters by viewing them in a different light and seeing another person’s perspective.

However, I also recognize that when you hear the dreaded news that your most treasured book has been snapped up by the silver screen, to be picked apart and pieced back together in order to form the next so-called ‘blockbuster’, you may feel a little sceptical. Then you try and convince yourself that it will be alright; that once you watch it there will be parts of it you love, changes for the better. But the time comes and, before you know it, they have altered that book beyond repair. Likewise, recently there has been an influx of re-worked versions of films made in the 80s and 90s such as Footloose, About Last Night and the 2015 remake of National Lampoon, renamed Vacation. As a self-professed film connoisseur (my area of choice being 80s/90s films) you can imagine how unsettled these new editions made me. I am not a fan, simply due to the resonance that the originals have, but I can appreciate the alternative angle they used. So I think it is fair to say that, with the exception of one or two, remakes and screen adaptations are not always the best way forward.

On the other hand, if we are to rule them out and there are no brand-new movies in the pipeline, then surely there is no originality left in film. So does this mean that film is a dead industry? I mean, if we cannot make anything new, then what is the point? Well, I believe that the film industry will never die, it is immortal. Though the exact origins of the films may not always be brand new, the take on them will be; the director, the actors, the effects, the set, everything. Not to mention that there are always new things around the corner. Just because wildly innovative films are more few and far between, it does not mean that they are gone forever. I still love going to the cinema, sitting in my seat, munching on a fresh box of popcorn (an off the menu mix of salty and sweet – my personal favorite) and being transported into a different world. Somehow, I am just not ready to give up on film yet.   


Original image by Chante Bohitige 

James Routledge 2016