Remakes, Reboots & Reimaginings: Part 2

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.

REBOOTS

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

Hard reboots are the “traditional” reboots – the ones that wipe clean the continuity of the original source material and take their Batscharacters 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”.

Soft Reboots

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).

BHsSome 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?).

Not so fast, Amazing Spidey...you don't belong in the Reboots post.

Not so fast, Amazing Spidey…you don’t belong in the Reboots post.

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.

Calling All Angels

PROBLEM: Why wasn’t the third time a charm for Charlie’s Angels?

One of the most iconic TV series of all time, Charlie’s Angels was a hit on arrival when it premiered on ABC in 1976. The show, which involved a trio of female private investigators who work for an unseen boss, went on to air over 100 episodes over five seasons before the Angels hung up their halos in 1981.Charlies angels

Almost two decades later, film reboots of classic TV shows had become such a commonplace thing that it wasn’t surprising when a film version of Charlie’s Angels made its way to the big screen in 2000. Lightning struck twice, and the film and its 2003 follow up, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle pulled in a combined worldwide box office total of over $500 million.*

So, almost a decade after that, it was only natural that someone thought the time was right for Charlie’s Angels 3.0, this time returning them to the small screen. After a lot of publicity and a big advertising campaign, the new Charlie’s Angels premiered (again on ABC) in the fall of 2011. And it instantly tanked. The ratings went from bad to worse and less than two months after its debut, these Angels were sent to heaven.Charlie-s-Angels2

So, how did a proven-successful concept like Charlie’s Angels manage to knock it out of the park in its first two iterations and then strike out with its third? Well, when you break it down, it actually becomes pretty obvious – they took something that wasn’t broken and tried to fix it.

BRANDING

The most iconic thing about Charlie’s Angels has to be its logo – a stylized silhouette of the Angels, each in their own opening-credits “action pose”, against an explosive background. It instantly conveys mystery, danger, excitement and a trio of women who are a force to be reckoned with. The film version wisely used that as inspiration for its own poster and credits (see below for clips of each version’s credits), tweaking it slightly for sleeker, more updated look (flames instead of an explosion, more realistic and recognizable silhouettes), but it was a great way let people know, “Yes, it’s still Charlie’s Angels – just not the one you’re used to”.

charlies-angels-season-1-poster-promoSo this brings us to CA 3.0’s first mistake. Ditching the logo, the fire, the explosions, the excitement and the energy, they instead brought to the table something that looked like the logo for a mani-pedi day spa. And the advertisingca2011 didn’t help either. These women don’t look like they’re about to bust crime – they look like they want to tell you about the feminine hygiene product that has them feeling fun and confident. A half-hearted attempt at updating the silhouettes popped up in some of the tv promos – and horrible doesn’t even begin to describe it – it looks like the dvd cover of a soft-core porn/sci-fi parody.Charlie's Angels tvpromo

THE LEGACY

The great thing about Charlie’s Angels from a franchise point of view was that it had a rotating cast structure built into it right from the beginning. When Farrah Fawcett left the show after the first season, Cheryl Ladd was brought in to take her place next to Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. Jackson then left after season three and was replaced by Shelley Hack, who was in turn replaced by Tanya Roberts for the fifth and final season. Not only did this seem believable (I mean, some people hop from job to job, while others settle in for years at a time, right?), but the

This was Kate Jackson's silhouette. And Shelley Hack's. And Tanya Roberts'.

This was Kate Jackson’s silhouette. And Shelley Hack’s. And Tanya Roberts’.

unexpected genius of using the silhouette logo for the opening credits easily allowed for clips of a new actress to be subbed into the vacant silhouette spot of a departing actress – which also helped to set the tone that while their line-up may change from time to time, they’ll always be Charlie’s Angels.

And that was what was so perfect about the film version – and made it more of a revival of the series instead of a reboot. The characters played by Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Lui were just the latest women to step into the silhouettes of the Townsend Agency’s top trio, and it not only made the film feel like a natural and logical progression from the series, but it no doubt endeared itself to fans who were glad to see that the original Angels run wasn’t being ignored (and was even being acknowledged, with the new Angels re-enacting some classic Angels clips in the film’s opening credits, as well as Jaclyn Smith popping up in a cameo).

So, even with a perfect set-up like that, CA 3.0 fumbled the ball again and decided that its three new Angels (played by Rachael Taylor, Minka Kelly and Annie Ilonzeh) would be working for a rebooted version of Townsend Agency. No legacy of Angels past, no nostalgic winks or nods to the audience…and no Bosley! Well, no true Bosley. The comical big-brother keeper of the Angels (played at various times by David Doyle, Bill Murray and Bernie Mac) was gone and instead we were given a strapping, sexy former computer hacker (Ramon Rodriguez). At least the one thing they didn’t mess with was Charlie, as he still stayed hidden from sight and still communicated only by speaker phone. Silver linings, people.

THE ANGELS

For CA 1.0, Charlie recruited Police Academy graduates. For CA 2.0 he had progressed to recruiting athletic girls with special skills and talents (but not necessarily with training in law enforcement). The Charlie of CA 3.0 however, decided he wanted his Agency to be an adult reform school and recruited an heiress turned cat burglar, a dirty cop, and a car thief. The idea was that Charlie was giving these women a “second chance”…but how can you really expect audiences to get invested in the redemption of someone like a bored heiress who turned to cat burgling for kicks?

Also, no matter how sweet, sexy or slight the previous Angels had been, they were always convincing enough when they had to stand their ground or when things turned to hand-to-hand combat. Whether it was Jaclyn Smith flipping a stocky Police Academy instructor or Cameron Diaz giving a ladies room beat down to a thug, the Angels always looked like they could hold their own. The Angels of CA3.0 however, looked like they could be knocked over by a strong breeze. Which brings me to…

PLAUSIBILITY

The other reason why the first two Charlie’s Angels worked is because they never took themselves quite seriously, so the audience didn’t have to either. However, CA 3.0 played everything straight-faced…and by asking the audience to take it seriously, the cracks started to show early and often – and viewers started asking themselves questions like: Why does a Miami detective agency have tech that seems CIA-level? How are sleepy-eyed Minka Kelly and spaghetti-armed Rachael Taylor even mustering enough force to take down thugs twice their size? And who can say stuff like “She puts the ‘cat’ in ‘cat burglar’” and “We’re not cops – we’re angels” and really expect to be taken seriously?

With all these things working against it, it’s easy to see now why Charlie’s Angels failed to re-launch as another series. And who knows, maybe it isn’t even meant to return to the small screen at all (especially seeing as how a  previous attempt, Angels 88 never even made it to the pilot stage). This new version had potential, but I think it was ultimately done in by the choices that were made by its creators. The ad campaign was vague to those who weren’t familiar with the name, viewers who tuned in because of their fondness for the original series or the films found very few elements of either on display, and most important of all – there just wasn’t anything  fun about these Angels.

I still think there’s room for a new Charlie’s Angels in the future – and if they get it right, then somebody’s bound to earn their wings.

*source – Box Office Mojo