My Dad, who was of the “Greatest Generation” once said to me “Son, there is nothing new under the sun. Everything is simply a variation on a theme that came before”. Now, when he said this bit of wisdom to me I was a teenager and gushing over the sheer genius of the movie “Enemy Mine” and how two enemies stranded together learned to respect each other and work together. My father pointed out many examples of where this particular story line has been used over and over with characters of different countries, sex, race, religion etc. Being a teenager and stupidly stubborn I refused to buy into it.
Now that I am older I see it all the time. I remember a few years ago I went to see Avatar with my kids. Now they thought it was the coolest thing ever and one of them even stated how unique the story was and how it could be applied to learning to understand those from a different culture. I sort of chuckled and I agreed, but I then pointed out that the storyline was as old as time and helped them to remember when we saw the movie “Dances with Wolves”….. they immediately got the reference and similarity.
Not that the recycling of ideas and concepts is a bad thing, there are many people who make an entire living doing that. An author, John Scalzi, comes to mind. I have read several of his books and it is very clear that while he is a good writer he lacks the ability to create something totally new and inventive. The book “Old Man’s War” borrows heavily from Heinlein, Redshirts from Star Trek and Galaxy Quest, Fuzzy Nation is a direct rip-off of Little Fuzzy and, well you get the point. The last book of his I tried, Redshirts, just did not hold my attention and I doubt I will try another of his books for awhile. But that is for different reasons.
Anyway, I still enjoy many movies and books even when I recognize the theme(s) being recycled. The biggest joy is when I do not recognize the theme in which case it becomes a challenge to find previous examples.