MIND MELD: Reboots – The Good, The Bad and The Unnecessary
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
I recently watched The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb. I really enjoyed the movie, especially after the horrendous Spider-Man 3, but I know that a lot of people felt that the reboot came too soon. With this on my mind I thought I’d get some feedback from authors regarding the topic of reboots.
The question posed to this week’s panelists:
Here’s what they said…
Necessary? Hmm, I’m not sure ever really necessary. Remakes either. I think you really only want to start playing with established works if you’re sure that you can bring something new (and better!) to it. Expand the characters, the universe. In that sense, I don’t think any project should be protected from reboots, if it has the potential to become better and richer for the experience, say something new.
What properties could do with a reboot? Well, perhaps Rambo? With a younger actor, as a veteran of Iraq/Afghanistan? Could work…preferably with less jingoism though, get it right back to ‘Troubled soldier tying to make sense of the aftermath’. Highlander would be superb – we could not have number 2 as well! Blade maybe could do with an overhaul, and Spawn. I’d have said Mad Max and Robocop too, but they’re being/have been done. Perhaps try again on Mad Max…
For me, some of the best already done are the Batman series, the new Star Trek (I love how they expanded on our knowledge of characters we thought we knew inside out, and then put them in new and interesting positions), which also goes for the Bond reboot. I also liked the new Dredd. What didn’t work for me? The Conan reboot, Mad Max’s Doomsday… Remake/extensions of old franchises, Prometheus and The Thing prequel just didn’t work for me. The originals (Okay, the Carpenter version of The Thing was a remake itself) were so good, that they would have been better leaving well enough alone.
If by reboot you mean bringing something back like Scooby-Doo or The Adams Family, then I’m not a fan. In this day and age, especially with the economies of the world in a state of flux, I think television and movie producers would rather bring back (reboot) a series or movie than try something new. I’m not in favor of that at all. As an author of original fiction, I scream for new content on the big and little screens. I’d like to say that reboots are never necessary, but there are some franchises that are worthy of new life, if only to change them completely.
The same thing goes for the written word, to a lesser degree. While prose fiction seems to be 90% original, comic books are rebooting like a East End wino with congestive hiccups. In 2011, DC rebooted its entire universe, releasing 52 number 1 issues, substantially changing everything that has gone before. Much of this is because after so many years the characters are overburdened with back-story. Any adventure, no matter how miniscule, can be interpreted as jumping the shark. I like this idea. It gives writers the chance to run the same wheel through the same mud in a different universe. It also gives new readers the chance to follow characters from the ‘beginning.’
Marvel, on the other hand, who seems to have invented the comic book reboot, has had so many lives in the past 30 years I feel like Mikkos Cassadine is back on the soap opera General Hospital and about to freeze the world with his ice ray weather machine (talk about something that needed rebooting). Take an old series I just loved, of which I have the first thirty or so bagged and tagged and lovingly look at on cold desert nights — The Defenders. In fact, as a series, The Defenders is a perfect synecdoche for Marvel rebooting. First appearing in 1969 in Doctor Strange #183, The Defenders proceeded to appear in many other comics, before they found their own home and survived in one form or another until 1977, when most of the members were killed. But Marvel comics being Marvel comics, this wasn’t the end. They became The New Defenders, then when that was too much, they had the Return of the Defenders, then there was The Secret Defenders. They had a Reunion, then they had their own Miniseries. Finally, there was their final comic series called The Last Defenders; except it wasn’t. Because – wait for it – There was an evil version called The Offenders, then Doc Strange reunited The Defenders later on, then in 2011, they returned to their own title. Sadly, after lasting only 12 issues, The Defenders was cancelled. Except—that’s right, you know what’s coming—it wasn’t. We now have The Fearless Defenders, written by long time friend Cullen Bunn. This last version has little to do with the original, but there’s still time; after all, this is Marvel.
With regards to prose, there’s a series I’ve been dying to see successfully rebooted. In 1979, Barry Sadler created Casca: The Eternal Mercenary. Sadler wrote the first 22 novels, following the travails of the Roman soldier who was cursed by Christ to live until the second coming. Fifteen more books were written by other authors as recently as 2012. But these found little acclaim. As an author who is finding his voice in supernatural military thrillers, I’d love to see the entire series rebooted with stronger roots in the supernatural. After all, if Christ’s curse can function like an eternal spell, then there has to be more magic, right?
Ah, the series reboot. Or, as I like to think of it, the sudden recognition that the corpse of your franchise has been driven so deep into the ground by some emo-jazz-dance/green goblin sky surfing ninja/Topher Grace as Venom/what the hell Sam Raimi?/my eyes! my eyes! it burns! shenanigans that it can no longer be saved.
Yes, the Spider-Man franchise… The Amazing Spider-Man is neither the worst or best reboot of recent times, but its predecessor Spider-Man 3 does represent one of the most spectacular nosedives of a franchise in recent memory. And the smoking wreckage of that movie serves as a good reminder of the necessity of reboots. Because if anyone wanted to ever make money from a Spider-Man movie ever again, then yes, a reboot was very necessary indeed.
That said, if we’re going to be strict about the necessity of reboots then it should be noted that they are only ever necessary from the financial perspective. But just because reboots aren’t artistically necessary doesn’t mean they can’t be artistically rewarding.
“Why?” I pretend to hear you cry.
Because Christopher Nolan. That’s why.
Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman franchise stands, I think, as one of the greatest series reboots of all time. As a kid, I loved the Tim Burton versions, but things clearly went a awry with Val Kilmer, and by the time we got to George Clooney’s bat nipples all I wanted to do was use a batarang to scoop out my eyes.
But then, out of that quagmire: Batman Begins. An utterly fantastic movie. Plus one which happened to gross enough cash, it could afford to pay for all the laundry detergent needed to clean all the pants that had been soiled by all the squeezing fan boys like me. And Dark Knight was even better. So, yay reboots.
On the other hand, Steve Martin’s Pink Panther movies.
But then again, Battlestar Galactica
Although… Superman Returns.
Basically, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with reboots, even if they are frequently driven by fairly base financial desires. It’s like most things – it comes down to what is done with the idea. And I don’t think any idea is ever permanently tainted or is ever so pure that it should not be touched. Look at the disaster that was Chronicles of Riddick, and here I am all excited for the third one. As long as we have good artists and creators of content, we’ll have good reboots in amongst all the crap. And there are enough crap original ideas out there that that’s good enough for me.
Reboots and remakes are a touchy subject. Lots of people like to yell about them, but the truth is they’re still a very small part of Hollywood’s output each year. If memory serves, less than seven percent of the films that got released in 2011 were remakes or reboots. That’s it. And it’s not like this is a recent trend. Humphrey Bogart’s Maltese Falcon is a remake. So is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been remade three or four times now. Captain America was, too. So if we say nothing should ever be re-done, odds are there’s a lot of fantastic stuff we’d never see.
That being said… I think the answer is in the question. The sub-question, anyway. Does the property need a reboot? Is there a real reason the story needs to be told again? Because in some cases… yeah, there are. There’s new ideas, better technology, looser restrictions, a more accepting audience, and sometimes just better people involved (writers, actors, directors). Christopher Nolan could not have done Batman Begins back in the ‘80s. It just never would’ve happened. Studios and audiences wouldn’t’ve gone for it. The same with Daniel Craig as a brutal, realistic James Bond. The Howard Hawkes version of The Thing is a wonderful classic sci-fi film (I watch it every Thanksgiving while I cook dinner), but the technology didn’t exist to do the original story “Who Goes There?” And people weren’t ready to see that story.
I think that’s the problem most people have with reboots and remakes—when they’re not being made to bring anything new to the table, they’re just being done as a cash grab. Remaking a landmark film like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as a comedy with Ashton Kutcher? A shot-for-shot remake of Psycho? You’d get laughed out of film school for stuff like that, but somebody greenlit them. NBC has tried two different Jekyll & Hyde series in the past few years, and they both flopped because they didn’t offer anything new like the BBC did with Jekyll. And of course there’s Spider-Man. I thought the new film had a great story and was well directed, but at the end of the day it was just a rights grab by Sony. It was so soon after the last series, all people could do was compare them.
What could use a reboot? Probably anything, if there’s a real reason to do it. I think most people could see a reboot of Godzilla, Superman, or Star Wars. I look at bad horror movies and SyFy stuff all the time and think, “man, if I could rewrite this story, y’know what I’d do…?”
So please watch for my bold re-imagining of that 1986 Charlie Sheen classic – The Wraith.
Well, they’re good for the company doing the rebooting, certainly. And sometimes they’re good for the fans, too. When Marvel decided to launch the Ultimate line of comics that did away with decades of continuity and started its flagship characters again from scratch, some brilliant material resulted, especially in the early years. Likewise, DC’s New 52 initiative was a daring wheeze – keeping what already worked but also setting the counter back to zero – and it paid off handsomely in sales and new readers.
Rebooting can bring fresh life to tired or ailing properties. The movie X-Men: First Class managed to undo the all-round rubbishness of X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins and make films about mutant superheroes an enticing prospect again. Not strictly a reboot, it was nonetheless a useful rethink and a much-needed shot in the arm.
But then we come to The Amazing Spider-Man. Did we really have to have another origin story so soon after the Sam Raimi trilogy had finished? Couldn’t the script have just chucked us straight into the middle of things, with Spidey web-slinging around and bashing up foes and all that “Oh no, woe is me, Uncle Ben’s dead!” business confined to a flashback? Doesn’t matter that it’s a whole new set of actors playing the major roles. We all know who Spider-Man is and what he does (which is whatever a spider can). In the comics world, every time Marvel puts out a new Spider-title, we don’t have to endure a tedious recap of the radioactive-spider malarkey all over again. It happened. We know. Just get on with the action.
Reboots make commercial sense. But all too often they smack of desperation and a contempt for the generations gone by who’ve made the characters the success they are. A reboot, after all, is just a fix. When I restart my computer after it’s gone on the fritz, the software configuration is the same as before. The machine works now, but nothing else has changed.
Do it if you have to, but don’t do it just because you can.
Ah, reboots. Ever contentious, the topic of many long, late-night discussions for a lot of us, I’m sure. And actually quite a complex topic too, being closely related to those other two approaches that likewise make a lot of people nervous – remakes and reimaginings. A reboot can be both of those, but rebooting a property to me implies an intention to start again from scratch, using the basic concepts and characters but taking the idea into new territory. The new Battlestar Galactica would count as a reboot, and also a reimagination, given how different it is from the original 1970s/80s series. That’s also a good example of a successful reboot – the new version received much critical acclaim as serious television science fiction, so different in tone and approach to the original classic.
Remakes are a different kettle of fish, because there is no suggestion that there’s any attempt to do something new with the old property – the most extreme example being perhaps the 1998 remake of Psycho, which, although I haven’t seen it, is apparently nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the 1960 Hitchcock film. Remakes are often the subject of some confusion too – the 2012 film Total Recall was panned as a poor remake of the 1990 original, when really it’s a new adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story. The same goes for the forthcoming Carrie – not a remake of the 1976 film, but a fresh adaptation of Stephen King’s debut novel… although, admittedly, it can be a little cloudy. Is the 2013 Netflix version of House of Cards a remake of the 1990 BBC TV series, or a new adaptation of the novel by Michael Dobbs? I’d say probably a bit of both. But in general I’m not sure true remakes are all that common anyway; when they do crop up, they’re usually best avoided.
I think a lot of people have that same gut reaction when they hear a reboot is coming, but I’d like to suggest the reboots are not automatically bad – again, look at Battlestar Galactica. Thundercats was rebooted in 2011, and the new animated series is terrific. Perhaps the most common reboots occur with superhero films – Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Hulk, The Punisher – these have all had reboots, some more than once, some more successful than others. The Christopher Nolan Batman films are easily a drastic improvement on the last of the previous continuity (Batman & Robin… need I say any more?), but for a lot of people, the 2012 reboot of Spider-Man with The Amazing Spider-Man comes way too soon after the end of the previous film series in 2007. There just isn’t that much of a difference between the old Spider-Man and the new one; aside from contractual obligations at Sony Pictures, there doesn’t seem to have been much point in the new film. Of course, rebooting continuity in comic books is just par for the course, often with one reboot leading to another leading to another. Most recently, DC Comics gave their entire universe a hard reset with the New 52. This worked for some titles and not for others. Marvel have taken a far softer approach with their Marvel Now! initiative, electing to keep their established publishing history while providing new readers with an easy entry point.
Two reboots have been very much worthwhile. JJ Abrams’s Star Trek totally revitalized the series which was pretty much dead after a series of increasingly dull Next Generation films of no interest to anyone but hardcore fans. Abrams also took the bold move of not only starting again from the beginning, but deliberately altering the series continuity, effectively shunting the reboot off into an alternative universe, allowing it to exist, in a way, side-by-side with the original TV series.
The other reboot is Dredd (2012), which happily erased the memory of the 1995 Sylvester Stallone film. Unfortunately, Dredd didn’t do too well at the box-office, so this reboot looks to be dead already.
Should any property be protected from the dreaded reboot? Star Wars, probably, although with Disney’s latest plans for a new trilogy and spin-off films, that wouldn’t happen for a very long time, I imagine. It’s tempting to make a list of my most precious film and TV favourites that I’d like to leave untouched, but the truth is, if a reboot (or remake or reimagining) is done well, then why not? A reboot doesn’t mean that the original is somehow deleted, and if the new version is well done and, crucially, different enough from the original, then fans of the property will have a new take to enjoy, a revitalized interpretation of the original idea which may also help the property reach a wider audience.
And that can only be a good thing!
There you are, a thousand years old, hanging out in Imladris, maybe doing a little decorative smithing or tapestry weaving to keep busy during your days.
And each night, everybody gathers in the Hall of Fire in the Last Homely House to sing stories by the dancing flames. You find a place in the back as your kindred take out their flutes and mandolins, and then all the whispering voices fade to silence when the first notes are played.
But then you clench your eyes and fold your arms because, Valinor-damn-it, they’re playing the Lay of Beren and Luthien again. Or the story of Earendil. Or some other thing you’ve heard a million times, this time with a minor variation to make it “contemporary” or “topical.” Even that asshole Baggins has his own hairy-footed versions, and they’re not even his legends to tell.
“Really?” you say loudly with your fist held high and the thumb pointed down, but someone shushes you and mutters that cranky people aren’t welcome in the Grey Havens.
The reason I know it sucks to be an elf is that I’m only turning 40 in a few months and not a thousand, but I already feel like I’ve lived long enough for one cycle of all our stories to come and pass and start to repeat again. I used to want to live forever, but now I just want to die sixty seconds before someone announces a remake of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Yet for all that, I’m not sure I want to stop reboots and retellings and reimaginings of stories, even if I could. I can understand the impulse to make old stories feel more like your own, and my creative writing undergraduates seem to take it for granted that if anything is worth watching or reading, someone will make a version for them.
That’s not an unfounded assumption. There’s a long history of iterative modifications to our fiction in the great literary conversation. After all, the tree of genre must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of fanboys and movie executives.
I think what goes wrong, though, with “reboots” is the seemingly shortening period between retellings. Our electronic media is making it easier to access not only the new stories but all of the old ones as well, and so we’re replacing furniture that’s still in the room. That’s galling to the people who are comfortable with the old couch, and exciting to the people who want the “new.”
That’s a funny paradox that entertainment producers have to reconcile, especially with money on the line. There’s a happy spot between innovation and nostalgia that seems to reward slight advances and punish big ones. Star Wars could have just as easily been a flop. Fortunately, though, it had a long tradition of other films to embrace and work against.
It’s easy to blame the paucity of artistic novelty on the commoditization of culture and the inherent conservatism of investment-based artistic production. The explanation that makes the most sense to me, though, is biological.
What are two of our main survival advantages as a species? One is an interest in novelty to try new things, experimenting and tinkering to enjoy the endorphin rush of epiphany. Another is a drive toward community and group function, picking each other’s nits off our silvery backs to feel the endorphin rush of interconnectedness.
I guess the question is whether we get a greater charge out of new things or out of seeing old friends.
Here’s a thought experiment for you.
When trailers appear for the new Star Trek movies, either the one from 2009 or the upcoming one, how do you feel when you see the Enterprise? The uniforms? The delta symbol? Even distorted and “enhanced” and obscured by lens flare, I’d be surprised if most readers of SF Signal don’t still feel even the slightest flicker of happy recognition, a tiny shimmer of hope that “Yay! My friends are back!”
Yes, it’s followed by rage and horror at the sight of Scotty shooting around the pipes of a beer brewery, but for an instant — a precious instant — some gland in your brain releases a squirt of happy juice.
Now did you have quite that same surge for, say, the trailer to District 9 or Beasts of the Southern Wild? You might have had a different one, especially in a community like this that enjoys new things, but was it quite as strong?
Oh, shut up. You know it’s true.
The studios and publishers know it’s true, too.
The easiest answer to this question is to offer a visual. Does anyone who can grow a full beard remember Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative”? I know; dig deep. Before he was Mr. Whitney Houston, he was actually a pretty decent artist. Now, do you remember Britney Spears’s remix of “My Prerogative”? No? Well, that’s because it was completely F****** pointless.
That’s my opinion about reboots. There are two requirements to justify a reboot: necessity and creative originality. Otherwise, it’s just a cash grab from the movie studio. Now, for the sake of scope, I’m going to stay within the realm of SFF (you lucked out, Red Dawn, though I’m tempted to categorize you as fantasy).
In terms of necessary and creative originality, I’m down with Batman Begins, Star Trek, and Man of Steel (assuming it doesn’t suck). They needed and deserved the reboots they got.
The previous series of Batman started in 1989 with Michael Keaton and ended with Batman & Robin in 1997. Though really, by that time, the franchise had fallen off the rails. The new series started in 2005, which personally feels a little short, but I can forgive it because it was drastically different, completely original, and just plain awesome. Christopher Nolan’s Batmans pass the sniff test here.
The original Star Trek began in 1979, and moved on to the Next Generation crew in 1994, with their last movie in 1998. The Next Gen crew is getting old so we know they aren’t making another movie, and none of the other Star Trek spin-offs deserve one, so there is definitely a need for a reboot. On top of that, the reboot was so different and cool, it was justified. So for Star Trek, sniff test passed. I’m going to add if that they had tried to reboot the Next Gen, I would have thrown a fit.
Superman began in 1978 with its last movie in 1987. I’m going to pretend Superman Returns never happened. There’s definitely a need here; we’ll see if there’s a point, but from what I can see in the trailers, it looks good. Sniff test TBD.
Total Recall, Godzilla, Conan, and Hulk all fail. I’m sorry, Hulk didn’t fail. The Hulks failed. What’s happening to that travesty of a franchise is beyond words. All of the above though, were completely useless reboots that brought nothing to the table, X-Men: First Class, and Dredd I’ll give a lukewarm pass because they were decent in their own way and at least tried something new.
I’m going to toss in the Battlestar Galactica personifies what a reboot should be about. Over thirty years after the original, it was fresh, original, and it explored new themes. Not only that, is far surpassed the original. If a reboot isn’t vastly better than the original content, it is a complete failure. Yeah I’m looking at you Total Recall, Godzilla, Conan, and Hulks. By the way, I would add in Dredd (am I the only one that liked the Stallone version?) and Hobbit (The animated version was much stronger than Peter Jackson’s).
Now, the biggest sin of all is Spider-Man. It wasn’t a bad movie, it was just pointless, just a straight-up cash grab by the studio. The remake of Spider-Man is the movie version of Britney Spears’s “My Prerogative”. The first Spider-Man came out in 2002 with Tobey Maguire. In the past ten years, there has been three Spider-Mans before the Andrew Garfield variety. Was that necessary? Did Spider-Man a la 2012 bring anything to the table besides a love interest that was not only hot but the smart head research intern as well? You could argue that the Spider-Man series had gotten stale but the last movie was in 2007! That’s only four years between the last movie and the reboot. It was just too early, especially if the movie didn’t explore any new themes.
Looking at the horizon, there’s reboots in the works for Highlander (Ryan Reynolds. Really, are you f*%@ing serious?), Battle Royale, Short Circuit, Fantastic Four, Robocop, Evil Dead, Starship Troopers just to name a few. Off the top of my head, most of them don’t scream for a reboot except for maybe Fantastic Four.
If the movie still stands up to the test of time, it is probably fine the way it is. Would I mind? Probably not, though I can see them screwing up the terrific B-flick awesomeness of Starship Troopers, Evil Dead, and Robocop. Highlander is the one I’m really worried about. That movie is a classic. Oh, and Battle Royale. The original was perfection; there’s no reason to mess with it.
In the future, I think no property is infallible from a reboot, but some deserve longer periods of time before one is necessary. I don’t see them making the Harry Potters or the Lord of the Rings in my lifetime either. And I would think we’re safe from another Batman for a good ten more years. Hey, how much do you want to bet some asshat will try to remake Star Wars in the next twenty years?
I view film reboots in the same way I view stage productions. Just as there can be many different versions of Hamlet – with many different directorial visions, interpretations, and performances – there can be new and different versions of films. The material needs to be rich enough for new interpretations, though (and prequels count as reinterpretations as far as I’m concerned.) On the surface, a property like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre might not seem to have enough depth and complexity to give screenwriters and directors much to work with in terms of reinterpretation – and none of the sequels and remakes have done anything to change most people’s minds about this – but that doesn’t mean talented artists couldn’t find ways to create new, effective visions based on this property (but I’ll believe it when I see it!).
Reboots are never necessary, but for an art form to remain healthy and vital, new visions are. Sometimes those new visions come from new, original stories, and sometimes from reinterpretations of old stories. If writers and filmmakers find the idea of a reboot creatively energizing, then that’s reason enough for a reboot. Look at Cronenberg’s The Fly, for example. Did the world really need another Fly movie? We didn’t think so until we saw Cronenberg’s version. Same with the 1970′s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing. They’re new visions. You can watch the originals and then watch the remakes, and while you’ll see the similarities, you’ll know you’re watching very different films. Those are great examples of what reboots should be.
What properties could use a reboot?
I think it’s a hell of a lot easier to mount a new stage production or revival of a play or musical than it is to reboot a film. Theater, by its nature, is open to different versions. No performance is ever exactly the same; whereas a film is always the same when we view it. Certain films are such strong visions that every moment of them becomes fixed in our collective consciousness, and it’s almost impossible to imagine them any other way. I think that properties that originated in other media are easier to reinterpret than something like the original Star Wars trilogy, which began as film. (But that’s why we have sequels, right?)
Pulp and Golden-Age heroes and superheroes could use some kick-ass reinterpretations: Doc Savage, the Shadow, Tarzan, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Green Hornet etc. The world of Oz is so much richer than the 1939 version portrayed, and now special effects are sophisticated enough to render that world effectively (as the recent Oz, the Great and Powerful has demonstrated). The noir film DOA, which has already had one remake, could use a modern hi-tech twist to its plot. I’d love for a Logan’s Run remake to happen. Fantastic Voyage would be great with modern SFX. Lost in Space might be good since the movie version was awful. Speaking of Irwin Allen, Land of the Giants could make for a fun reboot. I’d love to see a good reboot of Wild, Wild West, especially now that steampunk is so big. The Six Million Dollar Man (maybe Six Billion now!) could make a good movie franchise. A period Dr. Doolittle (without the songs) could work well. The 60′s horror film Spider Baby could be remade as a much darker, harder-edged film. Swamp Thing and/or Man Thing. Given that American society still gets in a kerfuffle over Creationism vs. Evolution, we could use a new version of Inherit the Wind. Silent Running could make for a good reboot, as could Soylent Green, especially given our current environmental problems and ever-increasing population. Given our national debate about guns, a new version of Death Wish might resonate with audiences. A new Towering Inferno could be cool, given our current fears of terrorism. There are tons of B horror, SF, crime. Action, and suspense movies that would make good reboot material. A Barbarella reboot could be fun. The Whoopie Goldberg movie Burglar because it butchered Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr novels.
What properties should be protected from reboot?
Any film that’s an indelible vision of its creators, or a film that’s so cemented in the public psyche that any reinterpretation can only result in a lesser work. Citizen Kane is a prime example. Hitchcock’s strongest films certainly count (and the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho was one of the most idiotic ideas in cinema history). But some of Hitchcock’s earlier or later films that aren’t as strong could be remade. Cameron’s Titanic. Alien and Aliens. (Predator could be remade, though.) Kubrick’s films. The Godfather. Most of Spielberg’s films. Star Wars, as I mentioned earlier. Harvey. Arsenic and Old Lace. (Although really talented and respectful directors could do a good job of classics like these.) A reboot of The Wizard of Oz that tries to copy the 1939 version too slavishly would be awful. Only Judy Garland will ever be able to sing “Over the Rainbow” or say “There’s no place like home.” Back to the Future. M*A*S*H (the series). Ghostbusters and Men in Black.
What are some of the best and worst reboots?
Some of these I’ve mentioned before.
Best: John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Fly, Batman Begins (kind of a reboot, but probably more of a new tale of a familiar character), The Wiz, The Land of Oz (not exactly a reboot but a new tale that’s a re-envisioning at the same time) and Oz the Great and Powerful. Jackson’s King Kong. The Hills Have Eyes. Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween 2 (yeah, I know a lot of people hate ‘em; I don’t). Abrams’ Star Trek. The Blob remake. Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake. The Dawn of the Dead remake. Cape Fear. DOA. Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations (although I’m not sure these count as reboots). Casino Royale. The Disney version of Annie. The Addams Family film. Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Burton’s adaptation of Dark Shadows (I know almost everyone hated it. You’re all wrong. It’s a brilliant fusion of homage and satire, not just of the series but of the seventies, too.) Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The A-Team movie.
Worst: The Thing prequel, The Fog, DeLaurentis’ King Kong, The Haunting, Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Doolittle and The Nutty Professor, Flubber, The Music Man with Matthew Broderick, Psycho (which will probably always be the ultimate worst reboot of all time), Godzilla, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (although I liked some things about it), the Land of the Lost movie, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Lost in Space, The Pink Panther movies with Steve Martin . . . I could go on, but that’s more than enough for now!
Reboot, the word fen of all stripes dread. And with good reason. It is the goal of creators to have fans, avid fans, who are willing to invest time and money into that creation. The problem is, with time and money come come emotional investments as well, and reboots by their very nature take all of that and discard it like yesterday’s newspaper. The process can be unsettling even traumatic. So why do creators do it? It would be easy to say money, that by starting something over the property has the opportunity to gain new a new fan base from the start, while dragging fans from the old into the new. That is risky, and it is clear it doesn’t always work out. So again, why do it?
My only conclusion is that sometimes creators are simply not that creative. They write themselves into corners. Their creation gets too big to control, or understand. Their creation stagnates. Their ideas are easier to graft onto somebody else’s creation. Sometimes its easier to steal fans than to earn them. Reboots are necessary because the original property is no longer manageable, and the owners (not always the creators) either can’t or don’t know what to do with it to keep it fresh. Look at Marvel’s X-Men, originally, they were secretly linked to the Kennedy administration. Peter Parker is the oldest high school student ever. Bruce Wayne has been pining about the loss of his parents since 1939. Its easier to start over, than write yourself out of these problems.
This has worked for some, and not for others. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is generally considered a success. Godzilla 1998 and The Bionic Woman, not so much. I haven’t decided about Star Trek, Spiderman or The Planet of the Apes. The Batman franchise has gone through multiple reboots, with some success, but some concerns as well. The British modernization of Sherlock Holmes is a success, the American version is still looking for direction. That said, there are some properties that are in desperate need of better writing or imagining. Season 6 of Dexter was weak. I like the new Doctor Who, but am concerned about the apparent desire to skew toward younger audiences, but so far the risks taken have paid off. I have high hopes for a potential new Godzilla direction.
If it isn’t clear, I’m not a fan of the reboot. I think its a cheap trick, poor writing, and it cheats the fans. There are ways to move forward without it. Batman Beyond for example gives us an old Bruce Wayne training his successor. The 1975 shift in the X-Men was historic. What Alan Moore wanted to do with DC’s Charlton heroes, which finally became The Watchmen, was magnificent. Moffat’s Jekyll brought Stevenson’s concept into the modern age with style. These are examples of how you take something stale and make it new again. This is how you gain fans and keep the old ones, by being bold and smart and taking risks, but preserving the past, warts and all. If you aren’t willing to do this, why bother at all?
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