To Reboot Or Not To Reboot:
What is the Solution?

by Thomas R. Willits

part 1 of 2


As our first decade in the new century (or millennium, if you prefer) winds interminably down to the end of its reel I’ve often asked myself: ‘What’s with all the reboots lately?’

Seems like everyone’s rebooting these days, and I’m not talking about that computer in front of you.

If you don’t know what a reboot is you probably haven’t been paying as much attention as the average entertainment junkie. No one can say for certain where the reboot first originated, possibly somewhere between the fine lines of remakes and prequels that didn’t provide enough closure on the old material and the desperate need of revamping a stubbornly-dying Universe to bring in new fans and eventually, as hopefully intended, more money.

If you try to look up the term ‘reboot’ in the dictionary you’ll only get the meaning that it is to restart your computer. The closest I found was that a reboot in its broadest sense means: again, anew, retell, back or backward, even: against. Perhaps the term associated with restarting an entertainment venue did get associated with the likes of restarting your computer after all and it’s too soon for the term to have a definition of its own.

Basically if we were to establish a definition of our own we would say that ‘reboot’ means to restart an entertainment universe that has already been previously established, and begin with a new story line and/or timeline that disregards the original writer’s previously established history, thus making it obsolete and void.

I recently saw the new release of Star Trek on the big screen and after leaving the theater asked myself the question: ‘What’s with all the reboots lately?’ Not that ‘lately’ means in the last six months or even the last six years; the concept has been around for a while: in movies, books, television, comic books, even video games.

Star Trek is quite simply the latest in the long line to undergo the Silver Screen Surgery from the dry and over-pumped Well of Entertainment. Paramount, which owns the Star Trek franchise has drawn from that Well for over forty years with the same blend of entertaining refreshment without any change in its filter — until now, of course. (I’ll get into the new Star Trek film later, perhaps a non-biased review of the film, if there even is such a thing as a non-biased review of Star Trek.)

Some of the biggest reboots in the last decade have been the long-successful James Bond franchise with its newest releases Casino Royale in 2006 and Quantum of Solace in 2008, and Batman, although known as The Dark Knight in the 2008 feature which raked in a whopping one billion in sales. There was also Superman Returns in 2006 which returned by ignoring the original parts three and four and took up after Superman II.

There have also been smaller-success films like The Incredible Hulk which rebooted with Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, the Angry Green Giant with an intensely-filled, action-packed, special-effects whirlwind that ignored its predecessor The Hulk released in 2003 starring Eric Bana. The Pink Panther starred the hilarious Steve Martin as Jacques Clouseau and was loosely based on the original films starring Peter Sellers.

The Sum of All Fears released in 2002 and starred Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan, a series I’ve always enjoyed. The 2002 release restarted Ryan’s career much the way James Bond does in Casino Royale, at the very beginning of it. There is a very different Ryan present in the latest film. He’s younger, less sure of himself, harder to believe in, unlike his predecessors, Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, both of whom were outstanding. Patriot Games is still my favorite of the lot and if they make more, which Tom Clancy has many more in the long series, they’ll have big shoes to fill.

Halloween has been rebooted several times, the most recent a 2007 take by Rob Zombie starring Malcolm McDowell, who incidentally also stared in a Star Trek Film called Generations (not a reboot though). Eleven years ago in 1998 they released Halloween H20 which brought Jamie Lee Curtiss back into her hauntingly famous role as Laurie Strode and picked up twenty years later erasing the previous three sequels in the franchise’s slasher line. Halloween H2, a sequel to Zombie’s 2007 film, is set to release later this year even after mixed and negative reviews of his first film.

Another older reboot was also released in 1998 called Godzilla. It was a summer smash hit which could be the earliest best selling reboot on record which came out just before Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. As I recall it was a Disaster Movie Year where each movie tried to outdo another in destroying New York City (or the world) the most.

A film about a comet hitting the Earth (because Armageddon had already used a meteor) was released starring Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni and Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact. And the then unsuccessful film called The Siege, also starring Bruce Willis, tanked at the box office although it has seen more DVD sales since the September 11th attacks. The film involves a terrorist bombing on a New York city tower. Renters of the film are treated to a morbid foreshadowing of the attacks that would occur just a few years after the initial release of The Siege.

1997 might have been a Disaster Movie Year as well, although instead of meteors or comets or bombs they were using volcanos in the aptly titled Volcano with Tommy Lee Jones and Dante’s Peak starring the then off-duty James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, both quick sources of entertainment if you’ve never seen them or haven’t since they came out.

1n 1996 Universal Pictures released Daylight, an action flick with Sylvester Stallone as a normal-guy hero responding to an emergency in the Lincoln Tunnel. It has the same ‘this is New York and we’re not prepared or equipped to handle this sort of thing’ feel. Another disaster movie, but not as big as the others mentioned, and it also has that same foreshawding feel to it.

Arlington Road is another one of these foreshadowing movies that was reasonably well-made, but really, we’re off the subject of reboots here. Godzilla is the only actual reboot that was mentioned with the other Disaster Films but it was such an interesting couple of years in film I thought the others deserved to be mentioned as well. I’ve only mentioned them because the late Nineties seemed to be building towards something.

What exactly that is I can’t be certain, but I think it is some precursor to unoriginal ideas, a shortage in the Idea Bucket if you see my meaning. Disaster Movies seem to tie in like all other moneymakers. No original ideas floating around so... Time for a remake? Maybe a prequel? Maybe even a...

No, I won’t say it yet.

Like Disaster Films it’s funny how each year you get certain themes that everyone mimics as if it’s a contagious fad. Don’t see the connection? What about 2006’s The Illusionist and The Prestige? Both the same type of film in the same year. Is it just coincidence?

Or what about 1999’s release of Richard Matheson’s novel A Stir of Echoes and The Sixth Sense? 2000’s Red Planet and Mission to Mars? I’m sure we could go on and on with these (Your mission Jim, should you choose to accept it: name as many similar movies released within twelve months of each other as you can). Disaster Movies one year, similar movies at the same time, prequels another, remakes the next, and eventually you get REBOOTS (oops, I let that one slip) because there just aren’t any more choices.

Or are there?

There are more reboots on the way too. A Nightmare on Elm Street is set to give it another go along with Final Destination, Daredevil, and Mortal Kombat, based on a video game. And that brings up another subject that may tie into original creativity. Movies spawned from video games. There’s certainly no shortage of those: Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Tomb Raider, Double Dragon, Street Fighter, Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Doom and the list goes on.

The oldest that I know of was Super Mario Bros., which tanked something awful, but that didn’t stop them from trying it with another video game. What doesn’t work for one title, might work for another. Films made from video games aren’t entirely new creatively. Sometimes there just aren’t enough good, original movies out there to see and you find yourself settling for something a few notches below the standard threshold of excellence.

So far, I’ve only mentioned films that are reboots.

So maybe we need to ask, when did this all start? Or where?

Probably from comic books. That’s the earliest source of reboots that you’re going to find. Characters were formed in an earlier decade only to be recreated in the next. Each decade demanded something more, something redefining of the hero and his universe. And it was done for various reasons not unlike they are done today: to retell the story, redefine the characters, open up new possibilities and timelines and allow newcomers to climb on board without having to delve deep into the history and backlog that comes with the territory of comic book reading.

There’s a plethora of comic books to add to the list and they would be too long to note in this article so I won’t waste any time in mentioning them. But suffice it to say there are a multitude of them. No decade was safe from the revamping knife. So maybe reboots aren’t a bad thing?

Well, let’s not answer that just yet.

Television has also used the device with shows like Battlestar Galactica, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Knight Rider. So far Battlestar Galactica has proven successful while Terminator has not been renewed for a third season. Knight Rider hasn’t been out long enough to prove as a successful reboot at this time but from what I saw of the show it’s aimed at a younger generation so it might do well with that target audience.

So now we pretty much have an idea of what a reboot is and what some of them are. We know that not all of them were successful but surprisingly most have been. Most notably, The Dark Knight and James Bond have done remarkably well. So far Star Trek has done well, opening with seventy-six million domestically. Even Godzilla, one of the earliest blockbuster reboots did well. So does this mean that reboots are a good thing?

Maybe.

Perhaps when you’re tired of watching or reading or playing the same tiresome thing over and over you want something new, but maybe not completely new, that would be too unfamiliar. It still needs to be recognized by its cover that way we’re not stepping into a cold swimming pool without knowing what the temperature is. Even if it means judging that book by its cover.

It has to cry: “New, hip, fresh, young — but recognizable.” Maybe that’s why people are so generational when it comes to things like music or cars. The way some people like older cars and just can’t relate with anything past 1969 that hits the shelves for your listening pleasure. The same way younger generations like what surrounds closest to them in music and cars. It’s like a connection to our youth, a link in time.

Apparently, James Bond looks better at forty than he does at fifty or sixty. And to me at least, that’s a little sad. I saw nothing wrong with Pierce Brosnan even though he was over fifty at the time Casino Royale was slated for filming. Brosnan’s contract was up, he had his share of films. (He was actually cheated about five years at the beginning of his run due to legal litigation in the early Nineties over the Bond franchise and he was actually targeted while Roger Moore was still playing the role as far back as For Your Eyes Only in 1981. However he couldn’t be released from his deal with Remington Steele and Timothy Dalton was chosen for the last two Eighties films. It’s funny how it was okay then for Roger Moore to play the part up until he was fifty-seven!)

I always liked it when Bond was frank when he introduced himself as “Bond — James Bond.” But you won’t find it anywhere in Quantum of Solace. It was iconic. Legendary. How dare they.

I also saw nothing wrong with James Bond smoking, even though it might be taboo for younger viewers and ordering a Vodka Martini “shaken, not stirred.” But you won’t find them anywhere in Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace either. So in other words instead of your children dying from throat cancer or emphysema, or becoming alcoholics they’ll grow up to be hired assassins. The new Bond films, although stripped of cigarettes and drinking, are filled with more violence than ever before. The same can be said of The Dark Knight, which ironically is darker than ever.

Is this a form of modernization? Bringing an icon into present day society? Really, am I that old? I grew up watching worse things than Bond light up a cigarette and blow up a building with an explosive yield hidden inside its filter. Does leaving this trait out of the new films make antismoking groups happy? Oh yeah, you bet your blue, tar-free lungs it does. Does it make me feel we’ve somehow let something truly original and iconic slip away into a static-free, hermetically-sealed, aristocratic waste bin?

I think at least, it does to me. I won’t be afraid to admit it.


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2009 by Thomas R. Willits

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