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[GUEST POST] Alexander Hammond on Remakes, Reboots and Re-imaginings

Alexander Hammond is an inveterate writer, traveler, cynic, occasional magician, sometime hypnotist and reluctant bon vivant. He’s passionate about fantasy, SF and humor writing, astronomy, quality cinema, the environment and wildlife and he occasionally pretends (normally unsuccessfully) to understand cosmology. Tales from the Edge of Forever is his third book but his first published work of Fantasy fiction under this name. His non-fiction has also been syndicated in many international newspapers and publications, but imaginative fantasy writing is his first love. He can be found at his blog, on Facebook and via his Twitter handle @ahammond2011.

Remakes, Reboots and Re-imaginings

Remakes, reboots and re-imaginings…

You know, there’s always a dichotomy inside me when I hear any of those words. One is normally an instinctive groan and a mental rant about the lack of originality in Hollywood, tempered by a hope that if they absolutely have to do it, they’ll do it right; if indeed it needs to be done.

I’m sure you know what I mean.

We tend to think of these ‘new versions’ as a relatively new occurrence, as the studios mine their catalogues for properties of proven provenance in the scramble to make money. Certainly The Godfather Part Two seemed to start a trend as the possibility of franchise features struck a chord with producers. Well, that’s what I’ve read, but in reality, James Bond had been running for years even at that point, so it wasn’t new even then.

Remakes, reboots and re imaginings are generally a sign that someone believes new life can be infused into a tired property, and persuade all of us to pay hard cash to see something about which we are already familiar. It’s a valid marketing concept. It’s the pace at which it’s happening today that’s astounding.

Case in point. The first Batman feature (cut together from a TV series) was shown in 1943. The next version was in 1965. A gap of 22 years. It was then rebooted 24 years later by Tim Burton in 1989 and then again by Chris Nolan in 2008…19 years later. A fairly healthy gap between re imaginings and, despite the negativity about Joel Schumacher’s work on Batman and Robin and Batman Forever, they worked.

Richard Donner’s 1978 version of Superman was then rebooted as Bryan Singer’s surprisingly lacklustre effort Superman Returns in 2006, a gap of 28 years. Within 30 months of its release, the studio announced yet another reboot!

Err 30 months???

Unseemingly hasty for the general public, I thought, but maybe that’s just me. And we all know about the Hulk. A mere five years between the release of both versions.

So the scramble to leverage assets is turning into an undignified stampede. Indeed Bryan Singer was yanked off X-Men 3 to helm Superman Returns. Clearly after the fiscal success of the first two X-men movies, the studios thought he had the super hero Midas touch. He evidently didn’t, and additionally his loss on X-Men 3 was apparent.

This strikes me as awfully simplistic thinking by studio heads. And of course the generally disappointing response to X-Men 3 gave us another reboot: X-Men First Class. A movie which, I have to say, I thought was rather good.

It’s happened before. Tim Burton, fresh from his success with Batman, took on the reins for the Planet of the Apes remake, and we all know how that turned out. Additionally, sometime before Singers appointment to Superman Returns, this was also a Tim Burton project with…Nicholas Cage slated for the main role. Nic Cage? Really? Seriously?

Maybe Mr. Singer didn’t do so badly after all.

And yet, for all my hand-wringing and angst, sometimes these reboots work and work well. Burton’s two Batman outings were outstanding, despite the bizarre casting of Michael Keaton. Nolan’s Batman Begins was so damn good I felt too embarrassed to point out that you couldn’t actually see what was happening in some of the fight scenes. The Dark Knight was such a seminal superhero movie, I didn’t care that the third act really didn’t work that well. Both were just outstandingly fine movies on a property that needed a reboot.

The James Bond reboot is also a case in point. A totally reinvention of a property that was both anachronistic and archaic. Daniel Craig simply is a dangerous killer in the way that Heath Ledger was a psychopathic manic as the Joker. The filmmakers went back to the roots of what the properties were about, and put them up on the screen in a no nonsense fashion. It’s about quality filmmaking and not rushing. It’s about step-by-step craftsmanship in storytelling, production design and direction.

And yet we still get remakes like Rollerball and The Day the Earth Stood Still. Johnathon Frakes’ God-awful Thunderbirds, The Wicker Man, The Stepford Wives, the excruciating Invasion (originally Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, already remade once before). The Time Machine and…well, I could go on and on. I’m not really sure about Sonderbergs Solaris, though in its favour, it was certainly as boring as the original.

I’m literally almost physically sick that Forbidden Planet is under development. Dear God, no. Next they’ll be going after Silent Running and Dark Star

However, it does occasionally seem that the planets line up and decisions are taken, which show the studio cares about the longevity and inherent value of their properties. Normally, it’s sadly after a long run of bad decisions, when it takes a master visionary to rescues a property. The Alien franchise is a perfect example of sanity finally prevailing.

Alien is very much like Star Trek insomuch as each subsequent outing (with a few very specific exceptions) seemed like a photocopy of a photocopy; i.e. the quality diminished each time the property was remade. Each was a pale refection of that which preceded it, each accordingly enjoying the certainly of diminished returns in terms of visual appeal and box office revenue. The family silver was literally being rubbed so hard it was foil thin.

Finally the owners of the franchise made the decision. As I write this, Ridley Scott, the august helmer of the first ever franchise entry for this fantastic property, is hard at work at Pinewood working on Alien Prometheus. I, for one, cannot wait. It’s not ‘just another one in the series’, it’s going to be an ‘event’.

Surely all movies should be treated this way?

Which brings me to Star Trek and JJ Abrams…

Along with several million other people on the planet, I count myself as one of Star Trek‘s biggest fans. I pretended to like the last few outings…I really did…but I knew the truth…they were awful. Nemesis had me nearly cutting my throat. I even hung on for Enterprise having endured Janeway’s helium voice on Voyager and the occasional high points of Deep Space Nine but in reality I knew TNG was the last really good Star Trek.

So what was Abrams going to do with it? I knew his TV credits were beyond compare and he’d directed Mission Impossible 3. He’d also produced Cloverfield, which I rather liked. What would be his take? Would it be the ‘next next’ generation? Then I heard it would be some sort of reboot.

The day came and I settled myself nervously down to watch his effort.

So, what to say? A story that was as ridiculous as it was preposterous. Gaping plot holes and contrived co incidences that beggared the imagination. An Enterprise seemingly populated by a crew in their late teens. A starship bereft of any experienced senior officers, enabling a fresh-faced cadet, straight from the academy (after an mere three years study) to take command of the Federations newest flagship. Dear God!

Horribly stylised lens flare, running, shouting, insubordination, a cartoon villain with a vendetta so bizarre and unrealistic it made me slack jawed. Scientific stupidities and physical impossibilities. Abrams hadn’t just taken liabilities…he’d torn the whole thing apart and rebuilt it in his own image.

I loved it.

I absolutely loved it.

I shouldn’t have…but I did. Abrams destroyed the photocopier and charged everything with ridiculous energy, youthfulness and fun. He’d treated the source material with a nod of respect and in 100 minutes, created a new Star Trek universe without destroying the old one. A masterstroke. One which killed at the box office — it did six times the business of its predecessor. Six times!

Essentially he’d ignored my written exhortations in this piece about reverential respect for the original versions and fundamentals…and it worked…even on a die hard fan like me.

As William Goldman so rightly said…

No one in Hollywood knows anything.

11 Comments on [GUEST POST] Alexander Hammond on Remakes, Reboots and Re-imaginings

  1. Paul NYC // June 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm //

    Sorry to nitpick but…

    The 1943 Batman was a movie serial not a TV series.

    The 1960s Batman debuted in 1966 not 1965.

    The Batman film starring Adam West was original not cut together from TV episodes.

    Other than those few points, I agreed with your premise especially regarding the Star Trek reboot.

  2. Hi Paul

    Thanks for your observations and comments. Indeed you are correct, the 1943 Batman was a serial in the movies (TV of course not being available then) and yes the sixties Batman debuted in 1966 not 1965.

    But I didn’t say the Adan West movie was cut together from a series. I was referring to the 1943 version where I erroneously mentioned a TV series when I should have said movie serial. 

    What I find hugely amusing now, is when I watched the original TV Batman back in the sixties. I was so young the ‘campness’ was totally lost on me. I took it all so very seriously….


  3. Paul NYC // June 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm //

    I agree about missing the camp when I was young. This is why I now consider the writing and acting on Batman to be brilliant especially the performance of Adam West. If there ever was an unsung comedic actor it’s him for playing the part completely deadpan.

  4. Conspicuous by it’s absence is any mention of the wildly successful reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

    I disagree that Aliens was inferior to Alien.  It was a an action movie with horror elements where the 1st movie was the reverse.  Both were successful for what they were.

    Yes, Forbidden Planet is 1 of the all time classics, but it’s badly dated.  What is a modern audience to make of Adams declaring that he & Altaira are permanently bonded after 1 kiss?

  5. Hi Will

    I didnt mention Battlestar Galactica because the article is about Movies not TV. And I most certainly didn’t say Aliens was inferior to Alien. If yoiu check you’ll see I said ‘With a few Notable exceptions’.

    A remake of Forbidden PLanet? Really? Like they did with ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still?”

  6. Gerry Allen // June 24, 2011 at 4:38 pm //

    Mr Hammond:

    Since yours is an opinion piece, here is mine: JJ Abrams’ film had no relationship to Roddenberry’s universe in any useful way, except for a similar title. The “new” James Bond pictures likewise for Ian Fleming. These were not re-boots but crass conversions of franchises with good depth of ideas into simple-minded action films. They had a single goal: make a fortune. They were not entertaining to me. I found them arid and humorless, without the sense of fun both Fleming and Roddenberry put in their creations. There was no narrative or dramatic structure — just noise, SFX and leaden acting. As for the vaunted sense of wonder that we expect in SF, I just wondered when these things would be over.

  7. Hi Gerry

    Thanks for taking the time to read the article. Yes mine is an opinion piece for that is all one can have when talking about art. And you’re as entitlted to yours as I am to mine.

    Nonetheless I will say that ‘Casino Royale’ is as close to the source material as you’ll find. Flemings Bond in the books was a cold blooded killer. He was also a snob and an elitist. There was also not one trace of humour in any of the books. Thats how I like my Bond…because thats who Bond was written to be. You don’t.

    You say Abrams Star Trek had no ‘fun’. Really? I do not concur, which does not make me right and you wrong (or vice versa)

    Your point “They had a single goal: make a fortune.” I said exactly that in the piece.



  8. I’m totally with you, AH, about Casino Royale, or rather, the remake of Casino Royale.  The franchise was trending downward from Diamonds Are Forever onwards.  An exception that proved the rule was Never Say Never Again, a good remake of Thunderball.  1 man’s silly is another’s fun, I guess.

    Let’s postpone judgement of the Forbidden Planet remake until we see it, shall we?  (Although if memory serves, Alien 3 was known to be in trouble before they even started filming…)

  9. Totally with you Will on post Diamonds are Forever Bond Movies, and yes, like you, I rather enjoyed ‘Never say Never Again’…..

    Ahh Forbidden Planet. Yes its dated but if they could re make it with some class….wouldn’t that be just wonderful?

    Re Aliens 3. I’d love to have seen what it would have been if Fincher had been given free rein. The lad seems to have done rather well subsequently….


  10. Aliens may be the single example of a second in a series being better than the first, but in some ways it was a reboot itself, going from what was essentially a horror movie to an action packed, funny, terrifying blockbuster. I completely agree that the latest Casino Royale was a fantastic re-imagining of the Bond franchise, but Quantum of Solace is already losing the magic. It’s really nice for movies to make sense.

    Speaking of making sense, the new Star Trek really didn’t, but it made up for that with a lot of fun. Clearly, it had almost nothing to do with the original series, but sometimes that’s what it takes to revitalize something. I consider it an “alternate history” of Star Trek. Frankly, I think there should be more alternate history reboots. That way you are not disrespecting the original, you are complementing it with a cool “what if” take on it.

  11. You know Shawn, I agree with everyting you’ve said, especially with regards to Quantum of Solace…

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