Continuing our look into the Three R’s of non-original film-making, let’s dive into reboots – what they are and how they have been used – and misused lately.
First, a quick breakdown. At its most basic, “reboot” means to restart – and is usually used in conjunction with computers and other technical devices. In the entertainment industry, a reboot is when a faded yet familiar property, be it film franchise, tv show, comic or book series is also restarted, but with significant changes.
What makes the difference between remakes and reboots can be boiled down to a couple of key points:
1) remakes use a single work as their source material while reboots are based on a series of work (i.e. film franchises, tv shows, video games or comic/book series)
2) remakes are essentially retellings of the story found in the original work, whereas reboots are literally restarts – usually taking characters audiences are familiar with, disregarding their previous iterations and telling completely new stories with them.
And in a world where remakes are sometimes met with indifference simply because of what they represent – something that is not original and usually unnecessary – reboots tend to have a certain cachet to them, as they hold the promise of bringing something new and different to an established character or series. Because of this, it is not uncommon to find that a project that has been touted as a reboot is nothing more than a glorified remake upon its release (…but more on that later).
I find that reboots tend to fall into one of two categories – the hard reboot and the soft reboot:
Hard reboots are the “traditional” reboots – the ones that wipe clean the continuity of the original source material and take their characters back to their starting point in order to take them in a different direction than what was previously established.
One of the most well-known hard reboots would be Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, which did away with the very comic-book-esque Batman and Gotham City found in the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher series of films, rebooted them as a gritty hero and a grittier city and offered completely different takes on villains like Joker, Catwoman and Bane than were seen in the previous films.
Other current examples of hard reboots would include the Superman blockbuster Man of Steel, the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films, the latest Tomb Raider video game and (almost) the entire DC Comics universe (now referred to as the DCnU) which saw all DC titles relaunched two years ago as “The New 52”.
Mainly found in television, soft reboots keep the continuity of the original source material intact and use it as a launching point for new stories featuring new characters (along with usually least one or two from the original source material).
Some examples of soft reboots include the CW’s 90210 and Melrose Place which took place in the same locations as the ’90s Fox shows Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place. Both reboots featured a few crossover characters from the originals but largely focused on their new, younger casts.
Another example of a soft reboot is one that has already has already been touched upon here in a previous post and that would be the Charlie’s Angles films. Even though they focused on brand new set of crime-solving Angels, they were clearly established as taking place in the same continuity as the original series, just 20 years later (and as for the updated Charlie’s Angels tv series that followed…well, now’s not the time to revisit that).
Blurring The Line
When thinking of other rebooted franchises, one might naturally think of Spider-Man, seeing as how Sam Raimi ended his trilogy 6 years ago and The Amazing Spider-Man, the first of a proposed new series of films, swung into theatres last summer. There’s just one problem though, because The Amazing Spider Man, is NOT a reboot. It is a straight up remake of Spider-Man. Except for a brief prologue featuring Peter Parker’s parents, this film is a beat-by-beat remake. It takes us through the exact same origin story and sometimes the exact same scenes that we saw in the original (btw, did you know that with great power comes great responsibilty?).
The changes that have been made are purely superfluous and/or still serve the same function: Peter’s webbing is manufactured instead of organic, Spidey’s costumed is redesigned, knockout love interest Gwen Stacy is swapped in for knockout love interest Mary Jane and the intelligent but cautiously admired Norman Osborn, who transforms into the crazed, murderous Green Goblin is replaced by the intelligent but cautiously admired Dr. Curt Conners who transforms into the crazed and murderous green Lizard. Yeah, no matter how much Sony insists that this is a new creative direction – one of the tag-lines for the film was “The Untold Story” (ha!) – it is a remake. And when one knows that Sony has to keep churning out Spider-Man films in order to keep their license on the character and that they were fully prepared to go ahead with Spider-Man 4 before those plans fell through, then the “reboot” label seems like more intended as a means to deflect any criticism that The Amazing Spider-Man was nothing less than a cash grab and license protector.
But what happens when there are projects that aren’t quite reboots, but don’t qualify as remakes as well? That’s when we enter the ambiguous valley of reimaginings, which we’ll be journeying to in Part 3 of this post.