This week Joe West looks at the culture of movie reboots.
There has been a frankly alarming amount of reboot-oriented movie news spewing out of the beautifully ornate yet madly flailing hosepipe of Hollywood this week.
First up is the statement that we will apparently be getting a reboot of Van Helsing, which will have those who watched Hugh Jackman’s 2004 effort screaming to be euthanized with a bleach enema. There has also been confirmation that Starship Troopers is going to be revitalised for the big screen after it descended into straight-to-DVD territory after the 1997 original.
Perhaps the strangest reboot news of the week has been that which suggests Ryan Reynolds, he of the beautiful mouth and supernatural abs, will be taking up a role in a revamped Highlander movie. Which I can only imagine will be about as successful as last year’s Conan the Barbarian.
This cavalcade of coverage is a reminder that the reboot is an unusual and relatively recent phenomenon; one which has emerged as a more popular term, eclipsing ‘remakes’ in the traditional sense.
Movie studios seem to call a film a reboot as a kind of get-out clause. The weight of the original hangs heavy around the neck of a remake. But with a reboot, the filmmaker is at liberty to pilfer as much or as little from the source material as they desire. If it is a success, then the reboot can become canon in its own way. If it is a flop, then unfavourable comparisons with its inspiration will be harder to justify, since the reboot was ostensibly setting out on its own path.
This should give studio executives reason to be nervous about Total Recall. Unlike the upcoming Bourne Legacy, or indeed any of the reheated movie franchises mentioned so far, this will be an unabashed stab at a full remake. It will at least be tapping into the drought-stricken sci-fi market, which has of late been sidelined in favour of comic book movies and old world fantasies. But relying on the good will of fans and expecting them to stomach the same basic plot that they have seen repeated endlessly on ITV 4 in the intervening years is dangerous.
There is no guarantee that a reboot/remake will result in a financial windfall. Misconceptions about existing fan bases have led to significant flops. And surely the idea that Van Helsing, Highlander or Starship Troopers will have enough diehard fans to justify the hundreds of millions of dollars that will doubtlessly be spent on their development is tenuous at best?
Of course the semantic gymnastics involved in conceiving of the term ‘reboot’ as being independent from ‘remake’ are carefully choreographed by movie studios. But all the time and effort that filmmakers pour into reimagining existing IPs could surely be spent just as productively in creating or adapting new ideas for the silver screen? This is, of course, about as likely as a spoon learning to write, but a boy can dream.