Friday, August 19, 2011


This weekend marks the opening of remakes of two seminal 80s genre films: Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night; just the latest in a batch of re-makes and/or re-visitations of material that has flooded the multiplexes in recent years . There are more on the way, such as the recently announced Blade Runner (which as of this writing is still unclear whether it is a reboot, prequel or sequel), Evil Dead, The Crow, The Wild Bunch,[1] and the currently filming Superman: The Man of Steel and The Amazing Spider-Man. Currently dead in the water considerations for remakes are Highlander and The Lone Ranger (though their status may be subject to change), 

The current spirit of the reboot is not confined to the big screen either: Wonder Woman  (pilot made, scrapped) , The Incredible Hulk (TV to TV moives to two big screen adaptation and now a TV series in planning stages), Dark Shadows (which not only got a small screen reboot in the early 90s but is up for a big screen remake), The A-Team (big screen treatment), Hawaii Five-O, Battlestar Galactica, Dallas (though more arguably continuation than remake) and Charlie’s Angels  (from small screen to big and back again)  are the small screen equivalents (though only two of those are actually in production as of this writing). And if that wasn’t enough, in the same manner as the highly successful Star Trek reboot of 2009 , at the end of this month DC Comics will reboot its entire comics line with new first issues and reinterpretations/altered histories of its characters (minor spoiler – a villain has radically altered the DC Universe timeline in the mini-series “Flashpoint”. At its conclusion the timeline is re-set again, with substantial alterations).

The reactions to reboots, both announced and executed, are diverse. For many, its proof positive of Hollywood’s dearth of originality; for purists, it’s tantamount to someone spitting on the Holy Bible. To a degree I must admit to having a bit of a bias there as well. The thought of a Superman film without the resounding John Williams score as accompaniment is anathema to me, as it is as intricately linked to the character to me as James Bond’s theme is to him, or the Star Wars fanfare that is emblematic to that series, but I will address that further below.

So why reboot, if it so controversial? Well, perhaps that is precisely the point. In his own review for the Fright Night remake, “Capone”, a critic for, had this to say: “…most [reboots] are made because a familiar title tends to bring in more box office dollars than an unfamiliar one”. Name brand recognition practically guarantees, to varying degrees, some sort of business. Despite the diminishing quality, Highlander’s subsequent sequels (save for the last) actually did some box office business. However, there’s only so long a franchise can ride on the coattails on the name or memory and good will towards the originating production (or else Star Trek: Enterprise would have lasted more than four seasons without dwindling ratings each season). So in that sense it’s almost easy money because chances are even those who are most offended at the idea of a remake will take a gander out of sheer curiosity.

One argument I’ve heard for reboots is that films would get remade for a new generation which may be too biased against watching or not having access to films made before they were born. True, but with the proliferation of cable, satellite and internet broadcasting, a portion of that argument is rendered moot. However, as in the case with the aforementioned Star Trek, or DC Comics, a reboot may be necessary for brand survival. According to DC Comics’ “The Source” blog, the reboot “[n]ot only will this initiative be compelling for existing readers, it’ll give new readers a precise entry point into our titles.” This move is not unsurprising as, due to various factors, including direct market distribution and proliferation of other, more interactive entertainment media, comic book sales have been dwindling. Something had to be done to shake up the status quo. Whether this is a momentary stunt or a committed for the long haul state of affairs remains to be seen. The point is that people are taking notice. Reboots in comics are nothing new. It seems to happen every ten to fifteen years. Noted comic book writer/artist John Byrne has asserted on his message board that there was a time when the turnaround for the departure of old readers and the influx of the new was five years. In recent decades, the readership has stayed far longer than the norm and that core base is aging (I should know. I’m one of them). The catch 22 here is that you have readers who are decrying the same old stories but by the same token cry foul when Superman’s spit curl is slicked back (and let’s not get started on the backlash regarding the comics and upcoming film’s doing away with the “super undies”).

“Change” is difficult in both life and in our beloved stories. However, “change” is the very nature of life. As I said before, I’m not sure I can sit in a movie theater to watch a Superman film without the anticipation of hearing Williams’ fanfare. But its easy to forget that before I sat in a darkened movie theater in December, 1978 an entire generation before me had its own defining Superman theme in the form of the George Reeves’ The Adventures of Superman. And before that there was the theme that was attached to the Max Fleischer cartoons of the 40s. Are any of those themes “not Superman”? The Star Trek series of films had not only the television fanfare but different main themes from Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, and Cliff Edelman. Are any of those less Star Trek than Alexander Courage’s main theme? Does one obviate all the rest?

Reboots tend to incorporate the sensibilities of the generation it’s being made in, therefore giving the story a fresh spin, another perspective, a reexamination. After all, a diamond is not made up of one facet.  Like any other production in any artistic medium, it will have varying degrees of quality. However, there is nothing inherently wrong in re-visitation, especially if doing so imparts something new to say. The frame by frame minutia homage of Psycho is arguably an exercise in futility simply because, by telling the story in exactly the same way, it validated the source film’s “perfection”. Why remake something if the remake due to its very nature essentially reaffirms the sanctity of the original?

Finally, reboots are nothing new. I had an e-mail conversation with a good friend of mine, Dean Stevens (whose blog “Dean’s Lair” at I highly recommend), who has taught classical literature. In regards to fealty versus diversity in storytelling he made these observations:

“There are examples of oral tradition being unchanged for centuries.  It is not so much a problem of memorization, but in ancient Greece the mountains served to isolate Greeks and create more variance in stories…One good example…Dionysos was born out of Zeus’ thigh.   Dionysos was an older god, older than Zeus.  Both stories were known.  This would NOT be a problem for the ancient mind.  They were BOTH true…There were many religious festivals including the 4 Olympic games and other lesser games which allowed people to mingle and spin yarns.  The Olympics included a poetry/storytelling category….playwrights and poets made a living creating their own version of mythological tales, sometimes inventing new stories in the process… It is pretty much unacceptable to make major changes to canonized stories in our society.  Most people would hate to see another remake of The Wizard of Oz for just that reason…
We have the belief that the original was perfect so why would you make another version, for me I start thinking that about Conan…same with Star Trek…how long did fans resist a Shatner-less Kirk character….”[2]
His cogent analysis not only implies that a reboot is arguably a historical certainty, he also bring in a logical reason why reboots are anathema to most. To write something down is to codify it, set it in figurative stone and perhaps make it “fact”. Does the process of re-writing somehow invalidate the source material? Further, does it marginalize the version of the generation before, i.e. makes the previous version, and maybe by extension the generation that bore it, obsolete? That “our” beloved version no longer matters? If so, what does that say about the right of subsequent generations to embrace new interpretations of a particular story or franchise in its own way?

In any event, it is up to the individual viewer to decide whether to watch, much less accept, a re-interpretation of any artistic product. If such a re-make is to be judged, let it be judged on its own merits, like the predecessor that spawned it had been. No matter what your feelings are on the matter, the reboot has been here before the film industry was even a mote in Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince’s (the “director” of the first recorded celluloid film) eye and will be here so long as there are stories to be told and re-told. But there is an opportunity (if the artists don’t muck it up, that is) to see these stories with fresh eyes and perhaps learn or assimilate something new in that retelling.

[1] An analysis of the original film can also be found on this blog.
[2] Please note that Dean’s comments are statements of opinion made during an “off the cuff” conversation and are not meant to be construed as being meticulously scholarly. However, I felt that these statements were particularly pertinent to the subject matter at hand.


  1. Oral tradition societies have more flexible outlooks to stories. The word Muthos (myth) is Greek for story. It does not imply a true or false story.

    When Christian religious leaders at The First Council of Nicaea tried to canonize the gospel stories in 325 CE we see the starting point of the modern view that a story should not deviate from one viewpoint.

    Censorship and intolerance of different tales really stemmed from that moment in time. With the fall of the Roman empire, the bible increasingly became the only source of storytelling beyond simple folk tales.

    Tales from pagan traditions had to be carefully weaved into codices by thoughtful intellectual monks who tried to preserve the original tales, even though they knew only a few other like-minded monks would likely ever see them.
    But even these monks, were choosing which stories to save and which stories to allow to die.

    The irony, became that all sources of knowledge in Europe during the so called Dark Ages revolved around a handful of priests who could read Latin to the illiterate masses (who spoke a native language only), essentially making the bible story even more canonized and ritualistic.

    The printing press saved us from only one official story of everything, but oral tradition was excised. The Old Testement (Torah), makes little sense without the oral traditions of the Talmud, yet those oral traditions didn't make it into European bibles. While this may seem like a tangent, the point is the Western mindset has been long conditioned to learning there is only one "right" story and from that, we have diminished as a culture.

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