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Stray Thoughts: You Seem A Decent Fellow, I Hate To Remake You

So the other day Tony Vinciquerra, CEO of Sony Pictures, made an off-hand comment in a Variety profile of Norman Lear, saying that people--you know, famous people--have been talking about maybe sorta remaking The Princess Bride. The internet promptly exploded, and everyone from leading-man Cary Elwes to sapient-bag-of-fetid-waste-wearing-a-skin-suit Ted Cruz voiced their outrage on Twitter. It's abundantly clear that no one in the world outside Sony Pictures wants this remake to happen, and that can only mean one thing.

It's definitely going to happen.

Some background. People grouse endlessly about the lack of original ideas in Hollywood, and how everything is a remake, a sequel, a prequel, a spin-off, or tied to a pre-existing franchise. We get the occasional Inception, but mostly these days we get superhero movies and live-action remakes of the Disney cartoons we loved in the 90s. And yeah, this is true, and there's a very good reason for this.

Movies, you see, are incredibly expensive to make, distribute, and market. And because--believe it or not--Hollywood is mostly run by mostly responsible business-people, the higher-ups at motion picture studios devote a lot of energy to mitigating risk, and in movie terms, this means making sure that people go see a movie when it comes out. While original ideas are great, the very nature of originality means that nobody is inherently interested in them, and they occasionally flop so hard that they bring down entire movie studios. If you want to stay in business, you need butts in chairs in theaters, which means you have to get audience buy-in from somewhere. Maybe you take your original-idea generic action thriller and put a bankable star in it, a la Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper. Or maybe this original idea is the product of an auteur with an unusual voice and a following of their own, a la Charlie Kaufman. Or maybe you green-light an overly cerebral film because it's Chris Nolan's passion project and he's got a good track record with those Batman movies.

But the best way to get buy-in is to attach the movie to an existing property with a pre-established fan base. Not only is that a guarantee of people who will see your movie opening weekend, but it also becomes a hype machine that does a lot of your marketing for you. Why are there so many superhero movies? Because there's already a dedicated base of fans who will pack Hall H at Comic-Con and keep the social media buzz going. But you can't only make movies based on The Avengers or Harry Potter or The Hunger Games because those rights are hotly sought-after and that gets expensive. You know what isn't super expensive to get the rights to? A movie you already own. That's part of the appeal of remakes. (Just to be clear, The Princess Bride is based on a book, so it's not like Sony can do this without ponying up something.) And if that remake happens to a faithful update to a much-beloved film that Gen-Xers remember from their childhoods and will want to take their kids to see, even better.

(Sidebar: 80s nostalgia huge right now. Between Dreamwave and Stranger Things and Fireball Island and all the rest.)

Now, with regards to The Princess Bride, it may seem like this has backfired, given the public reaction on social media, but that's where you have to remember what they say about negative publicity: there's no such thing. People are saying that The Princess Bride shouldn't be remade and that they're angry at the very idea of it, but that doesn't mean that they won't go see it. Some will go for nostalgia, others for curiosity, others just to see how bad it is. Hell, you'd have people going to see it just so they can be part of the conversation about it. All of those tickets cost the same amount of money, regardless of what's motivating the viewer. And if the outrage becomes so great as to start something like a social-media-driven boycott, then you can end up with a backlash to the backlash and that's the best free marketing you can get--just ask Chick-Fil-A or Nike how their bottom lines are doing.

So when Vinciquerra floated this idea in Variety, saying that famous people he won't name are interested in the redo (which I interpret to mean that this is his own idea that he's trying to build momentum around, but what do I know--I write silly stories about appliances), he wasn't trying to gauge how much people want this. He's gauging how much people care about this, and it turns out people care quite a lot. And that translates to audience buy-in. So I think in the next year or so we shouldn't be surprised to learn that this remake is moving forward, and that they've stunt-cast Dwayne Johnson or Dave Bautista to play Fezzik (or, God-forbid, someone actually Turkish) and that a few of the original cast members are on board--maybe Wallace Shawn will cameo as Miracle Max or Mandy Patinkin will play Inigo's father in a flashback. And then it will come out and it will be good enough but not nearly as good as the original and we'll all get on with our lives.

That's what I think, anyway.



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