Friday, January 22, 2010 Permalink

I finally saw the much-lauded Avatar last weekend.  I was blown-away by how far technology has come since I suffered through queasiness and blue and red tinted lens’ for Jaws 3D in 1983.

I have been entertained by the media reports comparing Avatar’s plot to that of Pocahontas as well as the web postings which do a ‘Find / Replace’ from an excerpt of Pocahontas – replacing John Smith with Jake Sully.  Though patting him on the back for his ingenuity, bloggers everywhere are describing Avatar as Pocahontas in Space and wondering if James Cameron merely ‘lifted’ the plot (based on real events anyway!) and added some colour and special effects.

I recently touched on this idea of ‘everything old is new again’ in a blog I wrote about sampling or remixing old songs into new ones, which gave me a chance to revisit with old faves.

But this is different.  We see our share of remakes.  Some good – Ocean’s Eleven and The Ring come to mind.  And some not-so-good – think Psycho and Planet of the Apes.  But what I wonder, in a world of remakes and trashy reality television about the world’s worst car-crashes is, are we lazy and purposely stealing ideas or have we just run out of new ones?

I am currently watching two separate television shows, both of which initially had me indignant about the fact that they had seemingly pilfered their storyline from feature films.  I couldn’t believe the audacity and wondered why I hadn’t read about copyright breaches.  But it appears that all is not as it seems….

The_sopranosMy first exhibit is the TV show, The Sopranos, which I am watching half-a-dozen years after the rest of the world.

The show has never really appealed to me, but I was in need of something to keep me entertained during the summer off-season here – other than tennis or cricket – so figured 6 seasons of approximately 13 episodes a season would give me 70 hours (give or take) of TV viewing to stave off the boredom.

I vaguely knew what the show was about (mobsters), but it wasn’t until I watched the first season that I realized how closely it resembled the movie, Analyze This.  Both centre around a mob boss seeking assistance from a psychiatrist and the consequences (good and bad) of this action.  (Of course latter seasons of The Sopranos focus less on this angle, but it plays a pivotal role in the first season.)

220px-Analyze_thisI was shocked at the blatant ‘rip-off’ unless of course the show was meant to be a spin off of the movie.  It wasn’t.  Meant to be a spin off that is. And, more interestingly, it was not a rip-off.  Though the series appeared on TV screens in 1999 – the same year the movie was realized – the TV show pilot was actually filmed in 1997.  So, just coincidence apparently.  Two separate individuals had the same idea.  At around the same time.

Then there is a current summer season offering on our TV screens, which I find myself watching though it is a tad trite and obvious.  Accidentally on Purpose sees an older career woman become (accidentally – as if that can happen in this day and age?!) pregnant to a 20-something guy who lives with his always-stoned buddy.  Sound familiar?  If you saw the movie Knocked Up in which Katherine Heigl found herself in a similar state thanks to a drunken one night stand with Seth Rogen, then the plot is WAY too familiar.  And yet, wait for it…  Apparently the TV show has not pilfered the idea from the movie.  Bizarrely the TV show is actually based on a memoir (of the same name).

Thanks to Jenna Elfman and the dry accented wit of Ugly Betty’s Ashley Jensen the show is watchable. Even if full of clichés.

And, speaking of Ugly Betty, though seemingly a product of the success of the feature film, The Devil Wears Prada, the concept was in fact developed in Colombia as Yo soy Betty, la fea (I am Betty, the ugly) in 1999.  Again – apparently just a similar idea manifesting itself in the written word and celluloid in different countries.  Perhaps that explains the spate of vampire movies, TV shows and novels raining down upon us?

So, it seems, we are not stealing ideas from others.  Nor are we lazy.  But, have we run out of new ideas? Are there, I wonder, a finite number of ideas floating about in the ether, and have we plucked them all out?

Hopefully not.  Occasionally, amid the sea of formulaic offerings about cops, lawyers and doctors, there are glimpses of creative brilliance.  Current fodder such as the serial-killing Dexter, raunchy 30 Rock and Entourage and polygamist world of Big Love offer a  glimmer of originality amidst the Battlestar Gallactica and Stargate remakes and lazy low-cost reality television shows.

I am (admittedly) a fan of the quirky, such as Joss Whedon and Bryan Fuller and their shows: Firefly, Buffy, Pushing Daisies and Dead Like  Me to name a few.  However, many of these shows which have piqued my interest did not garner sufficient interest to fend off axe-weilding TV Execs, which makes me all-the-more passionate about supporting new and unusual offerings.

So, as I settle down to Season 4 of The Sopranos and await new seasons of Dexter and  Entourage I will continue to hold out some hope for what the year ahead may have to offer.

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