The Closed Circle

JetsonsYou read a lot of lists about films or ways of making them that changed the movies forever. You know the ones… Jaws (mass releasing), Blair Witch Project (DIY filmmaking), Pulp Fiction (cult fandom), Jurassic Park (CGI), etc.

Recent development announcements have highlighted one more, one that passed with little fanfare nearly 20 years back.

You can say a lot about the excesses and empty-headed style over substance of 80s movies, but even the Top Guns and Beverley Hills Cops of the world were original stories created for the screen.

When Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) became a marketing behemoth, there was a new revolution. Who wanted the risk of writers creating new worlds untested by the market when literature, cartoons, video games, video games, cereal boxes and TV shows were ripe for a big screen makeover?

They came thick and fast; The Brady Bunch Movie, Super Mario Bros, The Addams Family, Street Fighter, Dick Tracy… What’s more — as anyone who’s been to a movie in the last three years knows — we’re still enjoying/suffering the endless comic strip adaptations.

But Hollywood’s endlessly remaking TV, books, comics and anything else not bolted down by rights options (or owned by copyright holders with dollar signs in their eyes) isn’t news. Lost in the sands of time of the very early 90s is our watershed.

The trailer began with a black screen. “25 years ago,” a deep, booming voice intoned, “they gave us a startling vision of the future…” Movie fans in their teens and twenties bristled with excitement. A big budget sci-fi spectacle? The new generation’s Star Wars? No. Mr Spacely — George Jetson’s irritable boss — appeared on screen to shout his iconic line ‘Jetsooooooooooon!’

It was a big screen Jetson’s cartoon.

Why is that a big deal? Hollywood’s been doing remakes for years. The first ones appeared in the 1930s when Hollywood was barely out of its own teens and the art form enjoyed a spike in buying power thanks to the spread of its popularity filling studio coffers.

But 1990 was the turning point where the remake became Hollywood’s return-on-investment business model, not just a creative choice for directors or producers who genuinely loved the films they were remaking.

Batman wasn’t the biggest movie of the year because it was the best, it was because the yellow and black bat logo could be found on every T-shirt, belt buckle, lunch box and stuffed doll in the world. It was Hollywood’s way of not making the same mistake again after dismissively signing merchandise rights for Star Wars over to its nerdy, bearded director.

After nearly 20 years, we’ll reach the starting point of our circle again. Announced recently is that Robert Rodriguez will be megaphoning the 2009 live action Jetsons movie.

1990 was the rebirth of Hollywood as a different kind of grindhouse, one that ground up art forms of every kind and splattered them across movie screens in the hope of brand recognition. And for the first time, studios are remaking the first films from that period.

Like the infinite procession of images in opposing mirrors, they’re remaking the remakes.