It is normal for movies, like everything, to feel overly familiar after a while. In fact, it is an issue that has existed even in the early origins of storytelling and literature. Sci-Fi as a genre borrows from a wide spectrum of source material and is one that can easily feel clichéd, and a lot of what we so often enjoy on the silver screen has been done in some way before. Some of the biggest Sci-Fi movies are, in many ways, a shameless rip off of a previous movie. This can be with movie’s use of location, it’s style or indeed the entire plot.
And you may not even have noticed it, but your brain did. It is similar to when you watch a classic film, like Dr. Strangelove for example, and notice that “oh, so that is what the Simpsons were making fun of.” The South Park episode ‘Cripple Fight’ contains the greatest example of my point, with it’s parody of the below epic fight from John Carpenter’s They Live.
While this is obviously a parody, the recycling of images and plots in actual Sci-Fi films can have the same effect. I will present five films that have ran with this idea, and ended up as a shameless rip off of older movies. Admittedly some with more success than others.
In no particular order, here we go…
5. Gamer (2009)/Rollerball (2002) – The Running Man
Gamer (2009) and Rollerball (2002) are two fairly recent films that have benefited from the groundwork laid by an 80′s classic. I am in no way implying that either are exactly great masterpieces of cinema, but they are both an entertaining watch.
Gamer, as the most recent of the two, toys with a dark future of online gaming. In this world criminals are forced to act as pawns in a professional online shoot ‘em up game called “Slayers”. Slayers is watched by a huge audience worldwide, and is the ultimate blood sport. This is revealed to be controlled by a shady corporation. And like the Hunger Games, Slayers is a form of modern Gladiatorial combat. An aside here, this is a sexy tropism that Hollywood has about ancient Rome, and boy do they love it. That however is another topic entirely.
The 2002 remake of Rollerball tells a similar story. In this universe, Rollerball is the ultimate X-Game. Set in near future Japan, the best extreme sporting figures are turned into supernova celebrities once they enter the arena, like Gladiators. However things take a turn for the worst when it becomes a death sport, as a shady TV corporation starts trying to kill the players in order to attract a larger audience. This is not a good movie, that said Paul Heyman does commentary throughout and that is just cool!
The basic premise of these both sound a lot like The Running Man, don’t they? Let us look at that film, made in 1987 and based on the 1982 novel by Stephen King. The Running Man is set in a totalitarian future society. Where we find wrongly accused cop Ben Richards trying to achieve his freedom by winning the Running Man. This is a game show that the bloodthirsty masses lap up. And yes, a shady corporate government is involved.
Movie making “by the numbers” is a major issue that I have with mainstream cinema. The unique idea of a film can become a format, one that is then exploited in this form of production. Until eventually the unique idea becomes a modest plot device. Heck even the sets look similar! There is no sense of foreboding, or fear in either Gamer or the remake of Rollerball, stuff just happens.
Okay, so some will say; “but hold on, the Rollerball original was made in 1975. How was this influenced by a later film?” My friends, indeed the original Rollerball was made in 1975. This however has a very unique feel and tone. It is a very dark film. The tone is set from the very beginning with Bach’s Toccata from the iconic Toccata and Fugue in D minor. The future is very Clockwork Orange in style, there is no fun nor glamour in this era.
The remake on the other hand, adapts the glitz and glamour elements from The Running Man, rather than working from the dark template of the original. The Rollerball remake, just like Gamer, has the following elements: Criminals (or rogues), a future time setting, some kind of shady organisation running things, and violence as the main source of entertainment for the masses. While freedom from that violence is the main goal of our protagonist. Sadly all the elements are there; but the horror is lost. Therefore there no tension!
However 2012 did see the character of Caesar Flickerman portrayed on the big screen. This is an example of a “noble rip off “, literally this character is lifted directly from The Running Man. Yet there is the graphic horror needed to counteract this aesthetic maintained in the film. This world is not sexy or fun. In fact the whole Hunger Games movie could be seen as a modern Running Man, but done well.
This article was first posted on December 11, 2012