Remakes, Reboots & Reimaginings: Part 3

So, after discussing remakes in Part 1 and reboots in Part 2 of our look at the Three Rs of non-original film-making, what we’re left with is a type of film that falls into the limbo between the two – a film that is definitely not a remake, but not a reboot, either. This would be, of course, the third R – a reimagining.

There’s no clear-cut definition of reimagining, since of the Three R’s, it is the one that is most open to interpretation. But here are the points I use to identify a non-original film as a reimagining:

1) it tells the same story as the original

2) but goes about it in a completely different way (by adding scenes, expanding character roles, providing new back story and/or changing genres, etc)

Now, while the term “reimagining” has only recently come into vogue among film-makers, the concept has been kicking around in the theatre world for quite some time now. Broadway has been a long-time rider on the reimagination railroad by regularly producing musical versions of popular non-musical films for decades . Except they’ve always been called just that – “musical versions”. But when you think about it, this makes them essentially reimaginations of the original work.

With films though, reimaginings are still a rare breed, and are usually just lumped in with remakes – but they are less about just making a new “version” and more about a writer and/or director sharing a new “vision” of a classic work. And this can seem both respectful and pompous at the same time. Respectful in acknowledging that there would be no point in just remaking original but a little pompous in a “but look what I can do with it” kinda way. Obviously this approach can have its ups and downs – the film can dodge  being  judged under  a straight-forward “which version was better” scrutiny , but then it also sets itself up for the “they ruined a perfectly good story” backlash. Another plus for film-makers is that it also helps to give clout to their project – it makes it seem unique and not just another run-of-the-mill remake.

Perhaps one of the most well-known reimaginings is writer/director Rob Zombie’s Halloween, his 2007 take on the horror classic originally halloweenzombieco-written and directed by John Carpenter in 1978. Released amid the flurry of horror remakes that were produced in the mid-aughts, Rob Zombie’s Halloween was touted from the get-go as not just a remake, but Rob Zombie’s creative vision of Carpenter’s film. A fact directly reinforced in the tag line for the film’s  trailer: This summer, Rob Zombie unleashes a unique vision of a legendary tale. 

So what did Zombie do to take his Halloween from remake to reimagining? Well, he took the 5-minute sequence at the opening of Carpenter’s film, where young Michael Myers stabs his sister, Judith and then is discovered in an almost catatonic state by his parents, and expanded it by about 40 minutes. Not only did he add scenes (and additional murders) before and after the death of Judith, he actually created a full-blown character out of young Michael (who didn’t speak a single word at all in the original) and built to role of his mother from a non-speaking walk-on to a substantial supporting part.

Well, with all those changes, why isn’t this just a reboot then? That would be because after those 40 minutes of new, original material, Zombie then went into straight-up remake mode, and crammed what basically amounts to a condensed version of Carpenter’s Halloween into the last half of his Halloween.

So, it followed the same storyline in the end, but took completely different (not to mention bloodier) route to get there. Response to the film was generally mixed, with many fans and critics finding that giving a face and voice to a famously “faceless” masked killer is not only unnecessary, but doesn’t make him terrifying anymore. People were also critical about the distinct shift from Zombie’s material to the “remake” material – since it meant that key characters like stalked babysitter Laurie Strode and her besties Annie and Lynda  weren’t introduced until the midway point of the film, allowing the audience little time to get to know them before Michael came a-stalkin’.

So, while you have to give credit to film-makers who want to do something different than just a remake, reimaginings run the risk of severely dividing their audience, even more so than remakes or reboots. On the plus side though, being a reimagining means that it doesn’t necessary fall into canon with the films that came before it, so they can more or less be just regarded as unique works unto their own.

And that concludes our look at the Three Rs – I hope I managed to clear up some confusion people may have had about these three types of films (and hopefully, didn’t cause even more confusion).

Oh, and one more thing, back in Part 1 I mentioned how the 2008 Prom Night remake didn’t really belong in the remakes post, and here’s the reason why: Prom Night actually falls under the unofficial fourth R of non-original film-making – “rip-off”. That’s when film-makers get the rights to a well-known film title and then proceed to pull a bait-and-switch, creating a completely new story, with new characters and new settings that has NOTHING to do with the original. At all. As with  reimaginings, rip-offs don’t pop up that frequently…but enough so that I may just have to devote a follow-up column to the scourge of the Fourth R.