There’s some discussion amongst my buddies about the recent attempts to add a new spin to old franchises in the wake of the impending Star Trek film. I’ve touched on this before in a previous post with the concept of the remake. In that I talked about 1-to-1 remakes of films such as Psycho or Rollerball, but the central figure was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Tim Burton. In my post I noted that this film seemed more like a re-imagining of the story based on Dahl’s book than a remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from the seventies. Using the term “re-imaging” is in some ways equivalent to the term “reboot” being explored here.
Probably the best way to define “reboot” in this context is when a franchise (or the more politically-charged term “Intellectual Property”) is reduced back to a starting point, and released as a new kind of entity, with or without connection to its source.
Some properties seem to be more “rebootable” than others. Comic books seem to fare well in this regard. Television and movies seem to be hampered by the time period they are created in: How primitive does the bridge of the Enterprise seem today, and how do you redo that without radically changing the franchise’s consistency? Comics, though, seem to be out-of-time, or at least the elements within it can be easily translated to whatever time we are in now. Hence why the first Burton-directed Batman movie still holds up.
Let’s look at a couple recent “reboots”:
The Batman film franchise definitely went off the rails with Batman and Robin. Then Batman Begins was released, and its title made clear what it was going to be. The franchise was starting from the ground up, not as a “prequel” in the strict sense, but kind of like saying, “Let’s deconstruct this franchise to its barest bones, then build it again.” It tried to wipe clean the slate, and give the franchise new life. While this rebooted film was not terribly well-received, it laid the groundwork for the followup The Dark Knight (masterfully written and directed by Chris Nolan), which allowed the Batman series to explore new ground.
Superman Returns is an odd duck. As a reboot it tried to give the franchise a new look on film: new actors, new effects, etc. It was also a story fork of sorts, in that it takes place after the events of Superman 2, of which there are two other films that already cover that ground. This is another issue of rebooting a franchise: canon. The Superman canon is a mish-mash, with content spanning comics, TV, and movies, none of which is necessarily connected with another. In a franchise like this, a liberty like Superman Returns is acceptable, albeit still under scrutiny from the diehards. However there are some properties where canon is king, and is susceptible to (possibly unfair) criticism (probably the hallmark of this kind of franchise is Lord of the Rings, wherein the source material goes beyond canon into gospel territory; the source is inviolable). This issue brings me to this next reboot…
J.J. Abrams’ re-imagining of the Star Trek franchise is walking a tightrope. The franchise has undergone a wide variety of permutations, yet has retained a fairly rigid internal consistency. Star Trek, moreso than other franchises, begs to stay true to the core of the series. So it is a dangerous proposition to take the very heart of the franchise – the original cast of characters – and do something wholly different. The franchise is rife with landmines of consistency in character and history. Much of the universe of Star Trek has been fleshed out, its origin stories covered and re-covered. This isn’t to say that the franchise hasn’t had its share of inconsistency, but in most respects the ends are not loose. To introduce something new, in a part of the Star Trek universe that is, admittedly, open for exploration, is venturing into the franchise with high expectations. Personally I think it will be an interesting experiment to see if we can take characters established (cemented) into our experience over decades and put new people into them. Sometimes it works (James Bond seems to do OK despite the lead changes, mostly), and sometimes it doesn’t. Will the performance simply be the new crew playing caricatures of the original actors who created these roles? Or are these characters true archetypes, recognizable for who they are regardless of who inhabits them?
It ultimately comes down to the quality of the film: an engaging plot, endearing characters, and great presentation. If the film is really good, the franchise will survive it, even if it is exploding it to remake it.