In Defence Of The Reboot – Issue #1

With the announcement that Joss Whedon has signed on to write and direct Avengers 2, in addition to developing a TV series set in the Marvel movieverse (c/o Bleeding Cool), now seems as god a time as any to discuss something that I’ve wanted to address for a while; what I feel is the undue vitriol directed at the concept of expanding on a winning formula, to wit: sequels, reboots and the dreaded remake.

It’s something I’m not entirely unsympathetic to: people getting all het up about a film or show or comic or song they love being manhandled by Hollywood or anyone else is something I can easily relate to. But that’s just an emotional reaction, and when the rest of my brain catches up I start wondering how the adapters/rebooters are going to approach the project, rather than how they’re going to fuck it up.

This is something that happens a lot more in movies than most other media, as I’m sure most are aware – Hollywood has been remaking flicks, adding on sequels and talking about reboots more in the past decade and more people have been bitching about it than ever before – and the sheer quantity of adaptations, recycled ideas and franchise jump-starts are enough to make you wonder if studio execs are even aware of such things as ‘original ideas’ anymore.

But it’s not isolated, not by a long shot. In Everything Is A Remix, Kirby Ferguson discusses ideas, copyright and originality in media and invention, and rightly asserts that every new thing is built with old parts. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Superhero comics have been riffing on their own history for decades, bands influence other bands, classic songs have been endlessly covered and TV shows have rolled out season after season when they can, many of them spinning out of films themselves and occasionally (and rarely successfully) spawning their own spinoffs.

The main concern seems to be that the new product is unnecessary; that novel didn’t need making into a movie, and certainly not three movies! And while I suppose I can think of many remakes that have confounded me when faced with surmising the reason for their existence, necessity has never really been a big concern of mine in terms of entertainment and art. I’m quite certain that we don’t need eight Batman movies, but I reckon I’d get a lot of argument from Christopher Nolan fans if I said we should just cap it at five.

A lot of these movies might be shit; no doubt a lot of them will be. But I’m an optimistic audience – I want the things I watch to be good. I want things to entertain me and involve me emotionally, to make me laugh and care about the people I’m watching, the story I’m being told, and if something’s doing that successfully then it really doesn’t matter that I’ve heard this story before. A great deal of enjoying stories is in the telling, and while I’d generally prefer to see an original tale that can transport me to a new world or set of characters, I’d also rather watch an old story told well than a new story told badly.

I’m going to get onto other media in future posts, as I think there are different and interesting conversations to be had compared to just film. But, seeing as they appear to elicit the strongest reactions, let’s take a couple of examples:

1. Total Recall

Yeah, this one’s kinda hard to defend. A remake of a stupendously pulpy Schwarzenegger sci-fi from 1990 directed by none other than Starship Troopers and Robocop‘s Paul Verhoeven, it’s difficult to imagine this movie doing anything better than its progenitor, especially in the mind-boggling absence of Mars from the new version. I haven’t seen it yet, but my hopes aren’t high. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I suspect that this is a case where the tantalising lure of nostalgic box-office receipts were the main motivation for the film’s existence.

HOWEVER, even the original isn’t original; it was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, and while the remake seems to be taking its cues more from the first movie than its literary source, an argument could easily be made that they both took from the same well and are on equal standing.

Not that I think anyone’s going to make that argument, obv.

2. The Thing

Yeah, John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror is a remake, and past being the best remake ever, it’s well-regarded as being one of the best genre films around too. I bloody love this movie, and I couldn’t care less that it’s a remake of Howard Hawks’s The Thing From Another World…which is actually itself an adaptation of the short story “Who Goes There?” but neither have that much resemblance to it, and if there’s a better example of a movie overcoming its legacy, I don’t know it.

3. Martin Scorsese

Did you know that Scorsese has made both a sequel and a remake? Of course you did, because you’re knowledgable and clever and have really quite lustrous hair. Yep, the king of catholic overtones has lowered himself to the creative cesspool of unoriginality, first with The Color Of Money, a 1986 follow-up to 1961’s The Hustler, both starring Paul Newman as a young pool hall stud in the original and a washed-up manager in the sequel, and secondly with The Departed, a remake of Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs relocated to Boston.

(Oh, and don’t get me started on all the books he’s adapted.)

The Color Of Money stands perfectly well as both a sequel and on its own. I rather like it, and I haven’t seen The Hustler. It’s an excellent example of the kind of long-form story that can be told in film, with Newman’s character experiencing jealousy of a young Tom Cruise’s cockiness that he had twenty-five years ago. I’m a sucker for this kind of ‘natural’ sequel, a perfect case for me being Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise & Before Sunset, both filmed and set eight years apart, with the romantic lead characters having not seen each other for the entire time between. The sequel is the better for it, the dialogue enriched by the context of what came before and is happening again. Rumour has it that there’s a third film in the works, which I personally can’t wait for…though my recent appreciation of threequels should probably give me pause for thought.

Essentially what I’m getting at here is that to make a film work, you need to have a good idea and strong execution (i.e. story, characters, theme, cinematography, music, performance etc.), and it doesn’t matter a whole lot about whether or not that idea’s been used before. If a film is beautiful or moving or compelling, it’s because the people who made it really cared about making you feel that way.

There are plenty of ‘new’ movies without soul, and plenty of remakes with it.

Next time (I’m debating whether or not to make this a twice- or simply weekly thing) I’ll be talking comics, the bastard child of cave paintings and novels, and how they’re possibly the most derivative medium of all – but why that can be a great thing.

Anything to add? Go ahead and leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter.

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