By Vaughn Fry / August 21 , 20111 Comment
There was a time when the only thing you needed to worry about ruining your favorite movie franchise was a sequel… or George Lucas. In recent years there has been a trend to shove as much recognizable content at an audience as possible because the marketing wings have clearly taken over at major Hollywood studios.
Anything that a large segment of the population has heard of has become the target of being turned into a $160 million summer blockbuster. Last decade saw the dominance of the comic book superhero. The next plate of inspiration could be coming in the way of toys and board games thanks to the performance of the Michael Bay’s Transformers saga, the ability for G.I. Joe to greenlight a sequel, and the impending Battleship.
If you’ve heard of a character or product, then there’s a chance someone is trying to make that property into a movie. The reasoning is simple: people know what this is, so we don’t have to try that hard to get them to come see it in theatres. If there was a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie, people wouldn’t be confused to the point of not checking it out. Believe it or not but the common reaction would be something along the lines of, “Hey, I remember that game! Therefore I should at least take my kids to the new movie.”
Beyond stretching for inspiration, Hollywood has found that repackaging and extending successful films will result in more revenue. All they have to do is get the average moviegoer to think, “Well, I loved the original so much that I’m at least interested in seeing what this new film offers.”
It used to be that a sequel would pop up, seemingly out of nowhere, even well after a story wrapped in a satisfying manner. There are some tales where so many important characters meet their demise, or achieve a concept, that there isn’t much else to do other than remake it. The way I see it, Andy Dufresne can only escape Shawshank once. Today’s trend shows that there is a step beyond the typical remake: the reboot.
The term reboot, as it applies to cinema today, has only recently entered the lexicon of filmmakers and patrons alike. I wasn’t made aware of it until development began on Batman Begins (2005), a movie that told a different interpretation of the Batman storyline. However, if you give it much thought, the 1989 film Batman was an effort to step away from the camp of the 60’s TV series. Where a remake takes the elements from an established film and essentially tells the same story but with improve effects or differences in the plot that ultimately lead to a similar conclusion, the reboot sets out to launch a new series by rewriting the history of characters. Batman of the ‘80s and ‘90s, in the movies, had his parents murdered by the Joker. Batman as of 2005 didn’t have a run in with the Joker until adulthood.
Many actors feel they are forever tied to their famous characters. If you paint a picture of James T. Kirk, then surely you have given him the face of William Shatner, right? Well, there is an effort underway to unhinge this concept. With the 2009 film Star Trek, Chris Pine took over the role of Kirk. This assures us that all actors are expendable. There will come a time when perhaps even Harrison Ford is no longer the Han Solo everyone is talking about. By untying the relationship between an actor’s face and a character, the door is open for revivals.
Hollywood has many tricks to get audiences comfortable with the concept of starting over. Marvel seems to go out of their way to produce poor sequels, usually with the 3rd film in a given franchise, so that fans can practically demand for a reboot. Since comic books are the source material of these movies, than starting over a film franchise isn’t half as bad as rewriting pages.
Surely the line must be drawn somewhere. There has to be something sacred that can’t be touched. I would like to believe as much, but there could come a time when even Citizen Kane gets this treatment. The train of thought to do it would be as simple as rewriting history by giving a new version an Oscar for best picture, sort of a lifetime achievement pick up for the original.
There’s little hope of stopping this process, so I would like to offer some guidelines for a tasteful approach:
1) A remake should offer something new. This could be effects or a twist. What’s important is preserving the element of surprise. If the original movie was in color, had clear stereo sound, and special effects that no one has ever complained about, then some CGI work is a thinly veiled cash in. Looking at you The Thing (2001).
2) No remakes or reboots of original screenplays. Not everyone gets to have his or her screenplay given the old Hollywood treatment. Let’s assume the people who created the original work had their shot to get it right and instead invest resources and interests elsewhere.
3) No needless sequels with new leads. I’m pretty sure the Mad Max storyline has been wrapped, so what’s the point of Mad Max: Fury Road? Similarly Pirates of the Caribbean had three films to reach catharsis for its characters, so Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides appears out of place without two of the central characters, especially since the initial trilogy told of their transition into the lives of pirates.
Even a purist could eventually lose control of a creation. You wouldn’t blame author Mary Shelley for an erroneous Frankenstein film. Similarly Alfred Hitchcock isn’t responsible for the 1998 Psycho remake. But if the possibility exists that eventually someone will modify your creation well after your passing, the question becomes whether you filmmakers should accept the leeching as the most sincere form of flattery. This situation is so overwhelmingly disheartening that aspiring filmmakers should be having second thoughts about their futures. When the new, edgier trailer for the Hungry Hungry Hippos reboot makes it to the web, then we’ll see who’s right.