The easiest, most obvious answer to the question in the headline is "Neither! Both suck!" But let's actually meet the challenge, which is inspired by a tweet from the Playlist today claiming, "If I was forced to choose btwn remakes and prequels, remakes would win."
Indeed if forced to choose, or simply if interested in discussing and debating two of Hollywood's most hated practices, there are pros and cons to consider with both remakes and prequels. In a week where a certain reboot is so far earning decent reviews, the usual knee-jerk response to remakes overall -- that they're "evil" and proof that creativity in cinema is "dead" -- doesn't quite work. Meanwhile, the most popular movie of the year is a prequel to one of the most popular movies of all time.
The Evil Dead and The Wizard of Oz are both beloved classics that fans hate to see threatened by the exploitive reasoning that's behind remakes and prequels. The new Evil Dead and Oz the Great and Powerful are clear cash grabs capitalizing on familiar titles, concepts and characters. The interesting thing is, neither of the originals here were technically all that original to begin with. The Evil Dead is great in spite of being based on common horror ideas because of the distinct tone and clever direction Sam Raimi put to the ideas. And MGM's 1939 version of Oz was already a big splashy desire to mine L. Frank Baum's already over-filmed material for more money by putting new songs and color to a familiar story.
The new Oz movie is also one of the least problematic prequels in terms of stretching some backstory and illustrating something we already get sufficiently through exposition found in the earlier movie. And there's plenty of eye-pleasing spectacle that trumps anything we imagined about the origins of its characters. Meanwhile, as much as the Wicked Witch of the West is one of cinema's greatest villains of all time, she's not viewed as the sort baddie that can be diminished if we now see her younger years as a relatively good-natured witch who was tragically turned into something evil. Typically, prequels mean an iconically hard-core villain on the level of Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, Magneto and Norman Bates is all but completely ruined by exposing their pre-evil background and what turned them bad.
That's the thing about prequels that on principal should make them a worse idea than remakes. Prequels can ruin a continuity, dilute a powerful story or character, mess with the mythology of a franchise, essentially lower a property in value as a whole. Remakes are more separable from their source, something we can ignore and dismiss while always having the beloved original. And while there are more remakes than prequels in total, there's still a greater percentage of them done well and in a fresh if not particularly necessary way. Remakes can even sometimes add to a source more than a prequel can. Think of John Carpenter's remake of The Thing versus the recent prequel to that remake.
And, of course, there's always the Star Wars prequels to end the debate. Wouldn't you have rather seen Fox remake A New Hope than make The Phantom Menace knowing what you know now? What's the best examples we have for prequels being a good idea? The Godfather Part II and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which are only part prequel. And Star Trek, but that's tricky because it's also a remake/reboot and has already inspired Hollyood to do more, giving us the much-hated Prometheus and soon an Escape from New York trilogy.
Personally, I'd rather have a remake of one of my favorite films any day. I feel less compelled to see it, for one thing, and there's actually more room for originality in a remake, as strange as that sounds.
Would you rather see your favorite film remade or get a prequel?
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