Can you plagiarise yourself? Hollywood can.
In a post bringing the new trailer for Battle: Los Angeles to your attention, I made reference to a game I like – and by like I of course mean hate – playing with Hollywood’s latest offerings. You see, whenever a truly innovative idea comes along, Hollywood has a tendency to repeat itself, whether for emphasis or through a lack of anything better to do. What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that Hollywood’s output is like buses.
2010 is a prime example, even excluding the 1 – 2 of Battle: Los Angeles and the Brothers Strause’s Skyline – two alien invasion movies reinventing the genre from ground level – there have been above average instances of deja vu. Step Up 3D, for example, was dancing on the toes of Streetdance 3D; Letters to Juliet began with Dear John; and Megamind found itself warming the same hearts as Despicable Me. Hollywood has been conspiring against our wallets for years, drawing us in with a variety of titles only to show us the same story we saw last week – they never even bothered to recast Amanda Seyfried for frick sake!
While there will always be trends and genre cliches, this list aims to highlight the worst offenders. While the slasher reneissance of the 80’s bore a plethora of sereal killers, you are unlikely to confuse your Freddy for your Jason. Can, however, the same be said for these doppelgänger?
Armageddon/Deep Impact (1998)
Premise: An asteroid threatens all life on earth.
Ah the humble disaster movie. With volcanoes proving so last year (I’m looking at you Dante’s Volcano!) and tsunamis barely a twinkle in their epicentre’s eye, 1998 was undeniably the year of the life-threatening asteroid. With MICHAEL BAY sending John McClane into outer space to blow shit up, shit being said wayward meteor, it was left to Mimi Leder to level the planet’s largest cities. However, even this distinguishing feature was rendered a nebulous blur when Bay gave into his instincts and destroyed New York in Armageddon’s opening minutes.
Antz/A Bug’s Life (1998)
Premise: Boy ant meets girl ant and together they save the day.
After Pixar’s Toy Story showed just what pixels could to, DreamWorks began the time honoured tradition of photocopying the formers work with lesser equipment. While A Bug’s Life might not be the studio’s finest film, it is far more enjoyable than Dreamworks’ assorted cardboard characters and famous voice cast.
Finding Nemo/Shark Tale (2003/2004)
Premise: A fishy ensemble overcome overwhelming odds to live happily ever after.
As Pixar and Dreamworks settle on ‘Unda da sea’ to stage their overdue rematch (really, DreamWorks? No Mosters Inc-lite?), Pixar touched hearts as father is eventually reunited with son and Dory overcomes her memory deficiencies (it can happen) while DreamWorks’ Shark Tale throws every under-realised gag and celebrity they can think of at the waterfall. Both feature underachieving fish, both feature vegetarian sharks, only Finding Nemo does it in a worthwhile and meaningful way.
Open Water/Adrift (2003/2006)
Premise: A plot contrivance leads to a series of unsympathetic characters finding themselves treading water.
Unfathomably marketed as Open Water 2 even though it had been in production long before Chris Kentis’ low-budget ‘thriller’ floundered in cinemas, Adrift features an unrelated cast and, importantly, no sharks. While the lack of sharks reduces the over-all threat, it also saves audiences from another dose of poorly integrated documentary footage with all the threat of a Blue Peter segment.
The Descent/The Cave (2005)
Premise: A group of explorers bite off more than they can chew as they find themselves lost in an uncharted cave-system with…something.
With two groups of pot-holers, two sets of specially adapted killers and a token dose of infra-red camera footage, The Descent and The Cove have an awful lot in common. What distinguishes the two, however, is the difference between universal acclaim and universal disdain.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop/Observe and Report (2009)
Premise: An idiot mall-cop must win the girl and save the day.
Because the universe was calling out for a movie centred on a slothful mall-cop, in 2009 Hollywood decided to honour us with two. Released months apart, cinemagoers were punished for humouring Adam Sandler’s career by being subjected to Paul Blart and Seth Rogen’s ‘hilarious’ attempts at protecting their respective malls. While both succeeded in making Norbit look watchable, Mall Cop wins the day on account of its inoffensiveness in the light of Observe and Report‘s misjudged comedy rape scene.
The Road/Book of Eli (2009/2010)
Premise: In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, one man must protect that which is most precious to him.
With the world essentially over and societal norms well and truly out of the window, Viggo Mortensen and Denzel Washington must protect son and a book respectively from the powers that be. Whereas The Road garnered mush acclaim for its sheer desperation, The Book of Eli spliced biblical hocum with comic-book brutality to breed one of the messiest films of 2010.
Knight and Day/Killers (2010)
Premise: Girl meets boy. Boy turns out to be secret agent. Girl joins in.
While Knight and Day featured an on-form Tom Cruise and game Cameron Diaz, Killers featured a sub-par Ashton Kutcher (oh dear) and neurotic Katherine Heigl as they each cooperate to overcome conspiracies and fall in love.
Letters to Juliet/Dear John (2010)
Premise: A letter-induced romance between Amanda Seigfried and someone else.
Completely forgetting to recast Amanda Seigfried, the actress both sends and receives love letters in a last-ditch attempt to prove her diversity. Intermittently dating Channing Tatum and trying to reunite an elderly woman with her one time Romeo, Seigfried manages two happily ever afters in the space of a year. Two and a half if you include Jennifer’s Body.
Streetdance 3D/Step Up 3D (2010)
Premise: Another dance movie, only this time in 3D.
Backflipping and pirouetting into the audience, the various casts finally bring another dimension to this repetitive genre. While Streetdance 3D won the most favourable reviews, it also suffered from the drop-off in production values that comes from filming outside of Hollywood. Polished, and with two previous instalments to hone its craft, Step Up 3D wins on spectacle.
Clash of the Titans/Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2010)
Premise: Let’s reboot/adapt a classic and bring the Greek Gods back to the big screen.
While Louis Leterrier decided to trample all over a time-honoured classic with bad CGI and an expendable cast of assorted nobodies, Christopher Collumbus decided to white-wash another literary phenomenon with his trademark mawkishness. However, while Percy Jackson may have the weaker Medusa, it ultimately triumphs for actually being enjoyable.
Despicable Me/Megamind (2010)
Premise: A useless supervillian ultimately finds himself acting the hero when he succumbs to mushy family values.
While Despicable Me entertained foetuses with its minions, DreamWorks once again promises celebrity cameos and popular culture references aplenty to counter their inferior story-telling abilities. However, while Despicable Me featured some nice character moments as Gru reacted to the shuddersome real world, Megamind promises to hold back on the clichés just long enough to milk a few more laughs.
So, there you have it. Over the last few years we have been tricked out of our money and wasted valuable popcorn on often pale comparisons of identical movies. I hope that this hugely pointless and tenuous exercise in education has taught us all a valuable lesson: if the trailer looks like a shot for shot remake of the movie you saw last week, the rest of it probably is too.