I was somewhat mystified when I watched Carnival Films’ version of ‘Dracula’ on TV recently.
Most of us know the story of Dracula. They know he personifies pure, irredeemable evil. They know the protagonists; Johnathan, Mina, Van Helsing and others, risk life and soul to put an end to his wickedness.
I was quite expecting something like that when I settled down to watch Dracula on Sky. But no.
It’s described as a ‘re-imagining.’ To say the writers have taken some license with this version is to put it mildly. Aside from a few basic similarities, the events, settings, story and characters bear resemblance to the classic in name alone. Instead of desiring his demise, for instance, Van Helsing not only restores and frees Dracula from his prison by offering a blood sacrifice, he is committed to helping him, and thus gaining revenge on the dastardly Order Draculis, who are enemies to both of them. Go figure.
If you can overlook the radical departure from the original story, though, this steampunk version of Dracula is enjoyable, but that only serves to highlight a recent problem with story writing in popular media. If the writers can create such a good story, why spend so much time hacking up an old tale into unrecognisable pieces? Why not write something completely new, with a new antagonist, new protagonists, new world, new problems? This version of Dracula departs so far from the original that, aside from the names, (probably a selling point) it isn’t Dracula at all. Come to think of it, even Dracula changes his name to Alexander Grayson as part of his disguise, so he isn’t even Dracula!
I’m not having a go, because I do like the series, but want to highlight the absurdity existing in the writing world at present: take all that creative energy and use it to rehash a classic.
Dracula, the series, is just a symptom, however. The past couple of years, have seen fairy-tales (Hansel and Gretel, Jack the Giant Slayer, Red Riding Hood, Snow White) converted to feature films. A huge spate of graphic novel heroes (Spiderman, Batman, X-Men, Captain America, Superman) have been immortalised on the silver screen (again). Over 50 films in the last 3 years have been remade. Why? Is there no talent out there? Don’t the producers know where to look for it?
More importantly, where does this leave authors? While most of us are doing our best to produce original, engaging plots with exciting new characters and imaginative settings, the rest of the world is recycling old stuff. Is the media industry at large so afraid of taking a chance on something new and original they won’t look at new writing, new authors? Are we supposed to jump on the band-waggon? Forget our imagination and scrabble about for an old story that no one’s found yet and hope to turn it into something today’s trend finds palatable?
The answer is down to money. Books like Dracula and fairy tales like Snow White (anything published before 1923) are public domain and anyone can use the material they contain. No wonder film makers want to tap that resource – they can use an established title, story and characters without buying the right to do so. It might make sense to them, but the consequence is a market stifled of new ideas and the loss of opportunity for writer and film-maker alike.
Thankfully, there’s one area offering at least a chance of seeing something new and fresh. The gaming industry, as always, is prepared to take a chance on something different. Of course, the standard of writing is not always exceptional, but there’s a growing demand for story-driven games with rich, engaging content and deep plots. The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls were both strong story-driven titles from 2013, which gives us hope that the demand for good, fresh writing is still out there.
Come on, world. Publishers, film-makers, readers. There’s an untapped resource of talent and imagination out there. Take a chance. You might just be impressed.