It's hardly a new complaint that the humble original screenplay is practically an endangered species in the current cinematic landscape. Multiple column inches have been spent bemoaning the dominance of sequels, remakes, reboots, retreads and other means of narrative recycling in our multiplexes: of the top 10 grossers at the US box office this year, a mere two (Seth Macfarlane's "Ted" and Pixar's "Brave") are putatively original creations. Audiences like known quantities, studios like low-risk investments, original screenplays pile up on the back burner. And so on.
But while popular filmmaking routinely takes flak for its lack of initiative, the trend is no less prevalent in prestige cinema. This year alone sees a bevy of high-toned literary adaptations jostling for festival space and/or awards attention come wintertime, many of which have been filmed before. There at least 17 big-screen versions of "Anna Karenina" on record, but Joe Wright is bringing us another; Mike Newell is steering the eighth go-round of "Great Expectations" (not including last year's high-profile TV miniseries); Tom Hooper, the sixteenth of "Les Miserables" (though, to be fair, the first of the beloved stage musical); Baz Luhrmann, the fourth of "The Great Gatsby"; Peter Jackson, the second of "The Hobbit." The characters here may not wear Spandex, but they're as overworked as any Marvel superhero.