I've often spoken about the plethora of uninspired reboots, remakes, and sequels that we the movie-going fans are being inundated in this current era of Hollywood. Recently I came across a facebook post that said "a Jumanji reboot is a slap in the face" of Robin Williams.
Rather than agreeing with the sentiment as you might expect, I found myself, while not being entirely to the contrary, took a stance against the statement. I don't know whether it was because I'd just watched the trailer and it had exceeded my rock-bottom expectations or whether I was just in a devil's advocate kind of mood but I found myself asking the question "Are all reboots/remakes a slap in the face?". So when is it ok and when is it not?
Let's look at the recent "The Mummy" reboot, the first in Universal's "Dark Universe". The film has been panned by critics and fans alike, and was hardly eagerly anticipated before its release. In the end, Universal took a film that in its previous incarnation didn't take itself seriously and gave its audience an occasional knowing wink, and turned it into a run-of-the-mill action flick that offered nothing original to make it stand out from either the other films released around the time, or from its predecessor. In short, they did less and gave audiences the impression that they simply re-appropriated the name as a cheap marketing ploy to lure unknowing fans based on brand recognisability alone.
Another oft-bemoaned reboot was the last year's Ghostbusters reboot. All the furore around the all-female casting of the four leads detracted from and masked people's real complaint: they did not want their beloved original to be re-appropriated. The original Ghostbusters is very highly regarded and often touted as one of the greatest comedies of all-time. When Sony announced they were rebooting Ghostbusters with an all-female cast, aside from the casting announcement having a feeling of "Look! We can be gender equality champions too! Aren't we great!" what people truly didn't like was the feeling that the original performances by Bill Murray et al were being tossed aside, pasted over by studio who were simply seeking a good PR story. I believe that if Sony had announced a sequel to the original two films, that included some of the original leads (perhaps in a story that found them looking for younger blood to take on the mantle, in an art mirroring life story) then there would have been much less opposition. In the end, as well as having a lazily put together film, Sony made another big mistake: rebooting a property that audiences could not separate from the original. By remaking something so beloved, Sony did the opposite of what studios should be doing when it comes to reboots and remakes: remaking bad movies.
If a studio wants to do a reboot, then a previously poorly received movie is precisely what they should be looking for. It's difficult to get cross about a remake of a bad movie. Certainly there can be no complaints around re-appropriation as the original wasn't liked in the first place. It also means there is ample opportunity to make the new version better than the original. A perfect example of doing this would be Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven.
Loosely based off the 1960 film of the same name, the original was poorly reviewed and not a staple of any all-time top lists. It was so forgotten that upon the release of the remake, many didn't even know it WAS a remake. It took the original concept, expanded it, built upon it and it became its own entity and the result was a very enjoyable film.
Another occasion when a reboot or remake is more acceptable is if you are going to create a whole new experience. Planet of the Apes is a good example of this. Rather than doing straight remakes of the originals, the current Planet of the Apes franchise is exploring the origins that lead to the world of the original. Thanks to this new direction, the current franchise feels like its complete own entity, rather than a remake. It is this that led to me defending the Jumanji remake, despite originally hating that it was being done. After watching the trailer, it is very clear it is taking a new direction to the original.
When reboots/remakes/sequels are decried, a label they are often attributed is "cynical". I believe that what people are really meaning is "lazy". The "Saw" franchise, for instance, has now had 7 installments, with another coming later this year. Can we really say that any of the sequels explored some facet of the original in new, interesting ways? Or was it just the same formula but with people dying in slightly different ways? Did "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" unveil a hugely important character development or background story that gave new meaning to previous installments and unlocking potential new twists in future? In summary, it is this laziness that is the true problem. Movie-goers are pretty good at picking out a reboot/remake/sequel that is lazily put together, and largely driven by efforts to solely cash-in on a recognisable name.
What do you think? Are there other times when it is permissible, or am I too forgiving?
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