I'd like to offer some definitions, at least as I apply them in my world. If anyone, Nerds included, would like to argue with my accuracy, that is a discussion I would love to have. A Reboot, in my definition, is when you take an existing property and present a new film/book/comic/game with the original characters, background, and situation, and you present a completely new story, then this new product is the new original. If you tell exactly the same story, as with the several versions of Hound of the Baskervilles, that is a Remake. If you send the original characters off into a completely new story, as J. J. Abrams did with his Star Trek movie, that is a Reboot, and that is what we're here to discuss.
Next, I'm going to take the time to "out" some impostors. Sequels are obvious, and are not attempting to fool anyone at all. Lethal Weapon 2 followed the further adventures of Murtaugh and Riggs through another case in their careers, and no one would mistake that for a reboot. But, let's look at a hypothetical situation, and see whether we think it's a reboot or not. Wanted Dead or Alive was a classic western of the early 60s. It starred Steve McQueen, one of the hot young stars of the era, as Josh Randall, a bounty hunter in the old west. If you made a show or movie starring one of the hot young stars of the modern era, called it Wanted Dead or Alive, and set it in the old west, that would clearly be a reboot. But what if you placed Josh Randall in the modern world, hunting outlaws from the back of his Escalade? That is clearly not a sequel. Is it a reboot?
|The real deal|
|Kristen Stewart as Snow White???|
|Maria Bello as Det. Jane Timoney|
In the real Prime Suspect, Helen Mirren plays a middle-aged detective named Jane Tennison. The first thing that happens to her as the series is getting underway is that, as part of the normal course of a successful career, she is promoted to Detective Chief Inspector, and takes command of a boy's club unit that resents her presence, and tries to undermine and marginalize, and in some cases, sabotage everything she does. In this case, she holds the stick, and this makes opposition to her much more subtle, and the interactions much more nuanced. Like I say, NBC may have a hot property in their "reimagining," but every time I see this swaggering, mouthy street cop running after crooks, engaging in knife fights, and just generally being a badass, I will be yanked out of the story by the simple act of remembering that NBC calls this Prime Suspect.
It's obvious that I don't consider these reboots, no matter what the titles are. So, what are they? Simple. They're examples of cowardice. These two shows, and countless other books, movies, games, and so on, are examples of someone who has produced an original work, and is then afraid to put it in front of the public without gilding it in the mantle of something great, admired, or beloved, that it only bears the most remote relationship with.
With all that ground covered, it's time for me to declare where I stand on the whole subject of Reboots. Like I said, for the past seven weeks, I have followed the Nerds and their followers, as they've waxed poetic about the reboots of everything from DC Comics to Star Trek. I have even nibbled at the periphery from time to time, though I haven't jumped in with both feet, because I'm diametrically opposed to reboots; at least, I thought I was. My feeling was, if you don't have the imagination to tell an original story, then you need to go bag groceries, and let somebody with talent have a turn! That exact phrase is in my handwritten notes for this post, but as I've been collecting material, my views have changed.
|Personal friends, one and all!|
|Not so much...|
The subject must have been before your time, or otherwise have missed your awareness.
Basically, if you didn't "love" the original, you don't resent the reboot. But, that would seem to negate this phenomenon: CT of the Nerds spent a lot of time and column-inches discussing the pending (maybe in progress by now) reboot of DC Comics. He has stated that he grew up with the DC pantheon, Superman, Batman, and all the rest, and he must have loved them (feel free to substitute another word, CT), since he spent most of his life following them, yet he favors the reboot. This flies in the face of the First Premise, so what corollary is at work here? Let's try this for the Second Premise for the acceptable Reboot:
The subject must exhibit some flaw that is perceived to need correction.
Would CT tell you that Batman is flawed? My guess, without asking him, would be no, but when a franchise has been around that long, little mistakes can add up. It's like life; most of us aren't working in the profession we saw ourselves in when we were in high school. Personally, I was going to be a career sailor, a sonarman specifically, a sub-hunter. Then the little details come along, and one by one, they nudge you off course. I got nudged into a Civil Service career as a fuel specialist for the Navy. By the same token, a little decision here, a little decision there, and you wake up one day to find that Batman isn't where he ought to be. Maybe that's what he's seeing that makes the reboot attractive; maybe I'm one-eighty out; maybe he'll check in and tell us, but I'll let this stand for now as a working premise.
Some things that were huge and beloved never get remade. Were they perfect? Obviously, nothing is perfect, but Help never got rebooted, because who are you going to get to play the Beatles? They aren't Shakespeare either, but they seem to be untouchable. So, using them and Shakespeare as archetypes, we can postulate the Third Premise of the acceptable Reboot:
There are certain sacrosanct subjects that cannot be touched.
Shakespeare and the Beatles are examples; to me, original Star Trek qualifies, but the reboot was well-accepted and quite successful. How do you tell what is and isn't untouchable? I guess if somebody has the balls to do it, it's touchable. More discussion needed here, methinks...
I'm going to pose a Fourth Premise.
A reboot is acceptable if the technology of the medium has progressed far enough to justify it.
Doom 3 is the classic example here. Doom and Doom 2 are beloved icons of the videogaming world. They will have their own chapter when the history of gaming is written, but the technology has progressed far beyond those games. With Doom 3, iD Software said, "Doom and Doom 2 never happened; the franchise begins here." Of course, it helps that they nailed it! Flash Gordon looks like a good candidate for a reboot. The Buster Crabbe serial had space ships swinging on wires, and smoke from the exhaust rising in space. Watch him try to keep the rubber octopus tentacles wrapped around him as he "struggles" in its tank. Another one I'd like to see is Doc Savage. Written in the 1930s and 40s, making it Before My Time, it was reprinted in the 1960s when I encountered it. I enjoyed it, even though it seemed dated even then, and then in 1975, a perfectly horrible movie treatment was released, which activates both the Flawed Original, and the Advancing Technology premises. This basically excellent adventure series cries out for a reboot.
All that said, I remain basically opposed to reboots in general. If you tell me something needs a reboot, I want to see a list of good reasons. I still see it as a lack of talent, as in you can't do something original on your own, or a lack of courage, as in you have created something original, but are afraid to put it in front of the public because you can't face the risk of rejection.
Let me tell you about someone with courage. J. K. Rowling. This woman created a unique world from scratch, populated it with a host of heroes, villains, premises, and cultures, and set it all in motion. That done, she put it out on display to let it carry her to the heights or drag her to the depths, as fate would have it. Well, fate favored her, and the tale of Harry Potter is history. Another name is Robert Salvatore. While not (yet) the subject of his own movies, Drizzt Do'Urden and his friends are beloved characters known to millions, including yours truly, and have been followed through 28 books so far, with at least two more on the schedule.
This is what happens when you have courage. Note to Hollywood: Find some!