With the recent announcement that Universal Studios has a reboot of “The Mummy” in the works I have decided to tackle a subject I have not talked about on here before. Film. Specifically the recent trend in the last decade to Remake, Reboot or Sequelize so many of the popular films from the last 20 years. I understand the motivation to do this on the part of the studios. These popular titles put butts in the seats at the theater because of the value of the name.
Transformers is a perfect example. Millions of people went to see “Transformers: The Movie” because of their cherished childhood memories of the cartoon and toys. It wasn’t a great film, I probably wouldn’t even classify it as good, but it made a boat load of money so in no time at all there was a sequel in the works. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was an even worse film, despite someone for the love of god reigning in Mel Bey a tiny bit so we could actually see the transformers. Still it made money so guess what, sequel time. “Dark of the Moon”, well not much I can say about the film past WTF? But it made money so don’t be surprised to see a trailer for a fourth Transformers movie while you are out seeing this summer’s blockbusters.
In most cases the sequels to any film, even really good films, are very thin in terms of story and ask the audience to be forgiving to the studio for taking away the sense of catharsis at the end of the previous film, particularly when the first film was a whole and complete story that didn’t leave room for continuation. One of the most egregious examples I know of is “Phenomenon.” You know the film where John Travolta develops strange telekinetic powers, which turns out are the result of a massive brain tumor and he dies at the end of the film? Yeah they made a sequel to it, somehow.
Remakes are a little different. The validity of these films depend a lot on what the source material is. For example the novel of “The Three Musketeers” is possibly the most adapted novel of all time. Which makes sense because it is thrilling with lots of action that translates to screen very well. Or at least it has that potential. There have been something like half a dozen films based on Dumas’ work in my short lifetime, and those are just the American ones that I can think of. When the source material is outside of film there is a little more room for forgiveness doing a remake because you are not technically remaking the film, you are reinterpreting the original material. “True Grit” is another good example of this, based on a book of the same title. That film also draws on another key to creating an acceptable (to me at least) remake, and that is time between when the first adaptation took place and the remake.
The more time there is between the original film and the remake the more I understand the reason behind it. People and culture evolve over time, a film that was made 50 years ago, while having a good story, may not be relatable to younger viewers because we as a society have moved beyond a certain point that was pivotal to the film. Remaking a film like that can update it and expose a whole new generation to the story. There are however timeless classics that should definitely be left the f@*k alone.
There are films that fall into a gray area for remaking. Ones that are reaching an age where they are clearly very dated but haven’t passed into “classic” territory yet. Some have the potential to be very good remakes, given the changes in both film technology and in the technology of our society as a whole. I think RoboCop falls within this group. The idea of a hybrid cybernetic being is much closer to reality now than it was in 1987 when the original film was released. And the potential for examining the ethical and moral issues involved with making such a being, especially in the sense that the original RoboCop’s transformation was involuntary. Also huge potential to examine our definition as a culture as to what makes a being “alive” given the advances in artificial intelligence in recent years. And I won’t go beyond just mentioning the increasing power and influence of big corporations is a reality we have to deal with today, like it was in the original film.
Long story short, there is huge potential to update theme’s and to encourage thought among viewers about current and not to far distant social issues. And don’t forget the kick ass shoot em up coolness factor as well. This is all of course if the studio doesn’t screw it all up and skip out on all of the deeper themes and just go for the action.
Then there are the remakes that leave you going “why?” As in “why are they remaking American Pie?” The film is only 12 years old and only recently had its latest sequel released. There is little potential for anything new or groundbreaking cinematically or for the story and themes to be reinvented or reexamined in enlightening new ways. This is purely a money making proposition for the studio. Which they have every right to make money from films, but I think they could just as easily do that with a fresh new script and idea than with old material. I for one am more inclined to see something new than to pay to see something I have already seen.
Reboots are a monster all unto themselves. To keep things as simple as possible I will restrict reboots to being exclusively in reference to super hero or comic based franchises where there is such a depth of source material, often having undergone their own version of rebooting, that it at least makes sense that the films would follow suit. Anything else calling itself a “reboot” more closely resembles a remake anyway. So how does one judge the merit of a reboot? I would say it comes down to four factors.
First, how long has it been since the last film in the franchise. Rebooting “Batman” after 8 years feels OK, but doing the same for “Spider-Man” after only 5 seems to be pushing it. Superman is somewhere in between. Yes we did just get a new film, but it really just capped off the movies from the 80′s. Which brings us to the second criteria.
The state of the franchise after the most recent film. Is there room for expansion on the current body of work or had it run its course or become too ridiculous to pallet? Here again Batman seemed to have played its course and become a kind of joke with its 1997 film “Batman and Robin”, an entirely new direction was needed and there was no way to salvage what had already been done. Some would say that Spider-Man was in the same shape, but I would argue that it could have been salvaged and expanded upon with a tonality adjustment.
The third criteria is the quality of the previous work. When the quality of the film reaches a certain low, you can’t save it with a sequel. I don’t think anyone would argue that “Batman and Robin” wasn’t garbage, the franchise needed a new direction and a fresh start. The Hulk was the same way after its 2003 entry. Spider-Man is again somewhere in the middle, The third film wasn’t great, but it was no where near as bad as “Batman and Robin.”
The final criteria I put on reboots is the direction that the franchise plans to go in the future with the reboot. We got a reboot of Hulk in part because of the upcoming “Avengers” movie, which is totally awesome. The pure scope of having 5 individual movies that all have threads that lead up to an epic smashup is an incredible achievement of story telling and scope that I don’t think has happened before. We may be looking at something similar in the DC universe, which is why we may see a reboot of Batman not long after “The Dark Knight Rises” comes out, as well as a Superman reboot so that Warner Bros. can do a Justice League film. I’m kinda OK with this purely because of the direction that it would be going. As far as I know there are no such plans for Spider-Man, which makes me less forgiving about its reboot.
Anyway, end result of my ranting. I will not being seeing any remakes, reboots, or sequels this summer with a few exceptions. If they have source material that is deep enough and broad enough to justify a sequel and/or there is substantial merit in the film based on story or thematic principles I may go see it. Otherwise it’s just a studio looking for an easy way to make a buck when they could be developing the next big thing in cinema instead of rehashing what’s already been done, and I can’t stand that.
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