For God's Sake No More Reboots or Remakes
Neither Reboot Nor Remake
Twenty years ago Hollywood did what it rarely does – it made a well-crafted and entertaining remake of a classic TV show. 1993’s The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, was a critical as well as a commercial success. Apart from a few minor changes in the source material - the 1963-1967 TV series starring David Janssen – the resulting movie left one with the sense that its director Andrew Davis and its writers Jeb Stuart and David Twohy were truly paying homage to this classic TV show. But the critical and commercial success of The Fugitive is the exception to what has now become an epidemic in Hollywood – the remake and the “reboot.”
According to the site Movie Moron, Hollywood is planning to release at least 34 remakes by 2014. These remakes include classic TV shows like The Lone Ranger – starring Johnny Depp – and classic movies such as Scarface – which starred Al Pacino and was itself a remake of 1932 film. While many people still eagerly anticipate the remake of their favorite TV show or movie, a growing contingent of movie-goers - myself included - have gone from anticipating these releases to almost dreading them. The problem is that most of the remakes and reboots have been disappointing to say the least. Among the many disastrous remakes Hollywood has released are 1998’s The Avengers, starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, 2001’s Plant of the Apes, 2008’s Get Smart and the list goes on. Not only have these remakes been mostly flops, many have left people wondering if the writers of these movies ever even saw the source material from which they were “borrowing.” This trend - which shows no sign of ending soon - is merely an attempt to profit from the intellectual legwork someone else has already done from men and women who are basically creative parasites.
Take Star Trek as one example. (For the sake of full disclosure I have to state at this point that this is my favorite show in the history of TV.) Director, J.J. Abrams has ruthlessly appropriated this mother of all of ready-made, commercially profitable franchises. He has already released two movies in the series which, granted, have been commercially successful but which have been - in my opinion – creative failures. But that is the problem. Abrams and men and women like him see the original materials as opportunities to milk existing franchises; to exploit built-in audiences only. They don’t understand or appreciate that these shows and movies mean something to the people who grew up with them. People want to know what happened to their favorite characters. They wish to recapture what they felt when watching these shows and movies. Remakes seldom do either as they are not intended to fulfill these needs.
For example, Abrams decisions to ignore Star Trek canon - created over decades by fans and writers who loved and understood the series - is an attempt to pander to mass audiences and demonstrates his contempt towards the fans of the original series. Abrams “alternate timeline” crap is merely a device he uses to profit from the pre-existing, intellectual capital of the franchise and to exploit the name, the merchandising, etc of the show. His takeover does not expound upon the ideas of Trek nor does it expand upon the characters. This is not the chore of people who seek only to appeal to the mass market.
And that is the problem with the mentality of those who remake our favorite shows and movies. They worship at the temple of mass-market appeal and are contemptuous of those who do see something very personal in these movies and TV shows. Abrams doesn’t get that Star Trek is special. He only understands that it is a cash cow. Moreover, if Abrams had been old enough at the time Gene Roddenberry first pitched Star Trek to TV executives, he would have fit in nicely with those who said the show was “too cerebral” for television. In other words, these executives were saying the masses are stupid. They were insisting upon something that was appropriately brainless and uninspired.
Let’s take another example of a remake: 1999’s The Wild, Wild West movie starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline. It was based, of course, on the TV show of the same name which bucked the sameness of the scores of westerns on TV at the time by adding to it a science fiction element. Some immediately puzzled at the selection of Will Smith - an African-American - to play the part of a 19th century secret service agent. I did not puzzle at the selection of Will Smith since he was a hot box office property having just come off the success of Men in Black. As anyone knows, producers often cast movies on the basis of how popular a particular star is at any given moment sometimes defying all logic or reason.
Smith’s race was important not simply because a white actor – Robert Conrad – had originally pioneered the role, but because the movie had to either ignore the fact that he was a black man working in the secret service in this racially hostile era or it had to acknowledge it. The first choice would have made the movie completely unbelievable and the second makes it a totally different show from the sixties series. (There were actually African-Americans in the early West who were at least as colorful and courageous as the Jim West character was and who would have been apt material for a whole different movie. I wish they had made that movie.)
However, the movie did moderately well, Smith got a video out of it and Hollywood is never one to argue with any modicum of success. One successful movie like The Fugitive means that it will continue to seek a home-run with remakes of every other property they can get their hands on. (While I am typing this Hollywood is even reported to be planning a remake of the cartoon The Adventures of Jonny Quest with a grown man (Zac Efron) cast in the role of what is supposed to be a twelve year old boy.) Eventually, Hollywood will wear the viewing public out and only then will producers quit churning out movies meant to exploit our love of these movies and characters. In the mean time, Hollywood will continue to demonstrate how its reservoir of original thinking is running nearly dry.