Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sequels, Remakes, and Reboots

In response to a task assigned by The Kid in the Front Row, today I will be discussing my thoughts on the recent proliferation of Sequels, Remakes, and Reboots. As no two of these are precisely the same beast, I will be breaking them down one at a time.

Sequels

Sequels have an undeserved negative stigma. From a producorial standpoint, the reason a sequel is even considered for production is because an original film proves successful. So from the start, a sequel has name recognition and characters that have worked before. Most original films are at an automatic disadvantage in this case as most films do not have worthwhile characters and have to spend a considerable amount of screen time defining people that the audience might not even connect with. Not the case with sequels. You know these guys, they are tried and true.

I think where sequels often fail is when they are compared to the earlier films of the franchise instead of being judged independently. Is Godfather 3 a true failure? Maybe compared to Godfather 2 it is. But what isn't a failure compared to Godfather 2... other than Ghostbusters of course. I can't think of anything. Judged independently of the franchise, I would call Godfather 3 deserving of its Best Picture nomination at the very least.

In some cases, as with the aforementioned Godfather Part II, a sequel outdoes its original. The Toy Story franchise appears to have done this twice now. Spiderman 2 was better than the first according to most people, and I've always preferred the second installments of the Gremlins, Short Circuit, Terminator, and Alien series. As well as, I'm sure, countless many more. But as an audience we gloss over those. We focus on the Transformers 2's and the Spiderman 3's and point to them as the true indicators.

Third installments have an even harder time. They are victim to a "trilogy curse" which is something akin to the "Poltergeist curse" in that it is relatively unsubstantiated, except that Poltergeist three is pretty bad. What I mean is most third installments are good. Make a list of every one you can think of and cross off the bad ones. I'm sure you will have crossed off fewer than half. Now make a list of movies in general and cross off the bad ones. Interesting. Look at your Back to the Future Part IIIs, your Last Crusades, your With A Vengeances, and don't compare them to BTTF or Raiders or Die Hard. Just watch them. Enjoy them. They're good movies.

Some franchises take until their fourth installment to fall completely flat but often this is the fault of the time spent between numbers 3 and 4. Complain all you want about The Phantom Menace, Live Free or Die Hard, and Crystal Skull, but some franchises are just hitting their stride with the fourth or fifth movie. For example, Leprechaun in Space (the fourth of the series) is the jewel of my Pot of Gore DVD boxed set. Hands down.

What's important to remember is that, with the obvious exception of the occasional Lucas or Spielberg film, simply adding a film to a franchise doesn't actually affect the original. You can always go back and watch what you loved in the first place and not have to worry about all the guns being replaced with walkie talkies.

Remakes

In keeping with the pattern I've laid out. Remakes can go either way. You have your A-Team's where people flip out over the casting a UFC fighter, ignoring the fact that the acting shoes he's meant to fill belong to Mr. T. That movie went through a lot of writers, a lot of producers had their hands in it, and as any film geek will tell you, it's awful. Unless he didn't read that somewhere and actually sat down intending to enjoy the movie, in which case, I'll bet he did.

The reason for this is simple, remakes are not automatically bad. Just occasionally.

Where I usually find myself most disappointed is when a foreign film is adapted and watered down for American audiences. This is not to say that all adaptations of foreign films fail their predecessors, I much prefer Vanilla Sky to Abre Los Ojos, but when I hear things like the now defunct remake of Old Boy coming from Steven Spielberg and Will Smith, I have to assume they are changing the punch-line. Of course, this is an unfair judgment as the film never came to be, perhaps specifically because of a futile attempt to preserve the ending in the face of producer intervention. Much in the same way, I have lately found myself unfairly biased against Matt Reeves' Let Me In. Judging from the trailer alone, it doesn't stand out enough from the original for me to want to see it, and at best the ending can only resemble the original's. To tone it down would be a shame and to outdo it would be unnecessary. This unfortunately leaves Matt Reeves in the remake territory of Gus Van Sant. And yet, I would be thrilled to see any country take on remaking Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale, watered down or not. My first real disappointment of this nature was with the American version of the Vanishing. I remember wondering why someone would adapt something and then change only the most appealing part of the original. At least Vanilla Sky had the common sense to recast Penelope Cruz.

I hesitate to refer to films like the Social Network or Monopoly here because I don't know if they are remakes in the strictest sense. More likely these examples are considered adaptations. But hesitation implies I must go on. People get incensed when they find out something like the Country Bears or a Geico advertising campaign is actually getting produced and there garbage script isn't because they assume that any possible film would have as little substance as the original incarnation itself. And so I bring up a point John August recently made on his own blog which is, the vaguer a license you are adapting into a film, the better the film can possibly be. August uses Pirates of the Caribbean in his example. The ride doesn't have an implicit story, so the writer gets to make one up. If I was forced to adapt a doll to the screen, I would absolutely choose Stretch Armstrong over G.I. Joe because Joe has a background. He has a specific profession. He has an entire history in the form of an animated series. What the hell is Stretch? What's the mythology there? Be creative! Make it up!

Reboots

George Lazenby got laughed out of a job when the more astute audience members of Her Majesty's Secret Service noticed he wasn't Sean Connery. So they brought Connery back for a bit (because after leaving the Bond films he was so desperate for work he took reduced pay for films like Zardoz) and by the time Roger Moore showed up, audiences had accepted that now, since more than one person had already played Mr. Bond, they could accept a new face. Also, blasphemy: Roger Moore is my favorite. And here's why; he is in the better movies. He's not the best Bond. But I'd rather watch Man With the Golden Gun or Moonraker than any of Connery's lot. As far as I'm concerned, Roger Moore was the first successful franchise reboot.

Since then it's relatively slim pickins. Star Trek was a popular one, stemming largely from the fact that people will like whatever J.J. Abrams does, especially if it also happens to be really good, and the original Star Trek film was something of a flop. I think where people are turned off is when a film is rebooted within a decade of an original. It throws people off. So when the last decade saw the casting of not one, not two, but three Hulks in the span of three films, there is something of a fatigue to it. Although strangely, despite my point, I am excited to see Ruffalo in the role. Spiderman less so, as I fear the worst, in the form of a Twilight/Spiderman mash-up. Also, the announcement that Fox is looking to reboot the Fantastic Four franchise simply because failing to do so would cause rights to the characters to revert back to Marvel aka Disney, does not instill confidence in even the most avid of fans. But as often as people want to make Batman movies people will be lining up around the block, occasionally with good reason.

In summary, sequels, remakes, and reboots are not inherently bad... at least, no more than original films are inherently bad. In fact, I would argue, on a purely percentage basis, they are more successful, critically and financially, than original works.

And then, flying in the face of my own logic, I pray nightly that Ghostbusters 3 never comes to fruition.

4 comments:

Michael McGovern said...

Really nice points. There is an instinctive jump to shout down reboots/sequels that's probably undeserved.

I think with the reboots it comes down to how "sacred" they are to us in the first place. Ghostbusters holds a prominent place in my psyche, so the thought of G3 is anathema to me. On the other hand, people who were getting bent out of shape about Transformers getting the reboot treatment always baffled me. It was a goddamn TOY COMMERCIAL from the 80's. Just because it happened when we were young doesn't necessarily make it inviolate.

On the sequel front, I think superhero movies have the best shot at being good overall. They are set up to be episodic to begin with, so the continuing nature of the sequel is easier to swallow. (Won't be seeing: *Batman brushes himself off* "Welp, that's enough crimefighting for me. I'm done. Beer?")

Anyway, the post was thought-provoking (as you can tell) and interesting. Thanks, Patrick.

Patrick O'Riley said...

Speaking of the best James Bond films, three days after I posted this article, Tom Mankiewicz, screenwriter of The Man with the Golden Gun and creative consultant on Moonraker and a number of other top-tier Bond films lost his battle with cancer. Bond enthusiast site MI6 put together a touching tribute worth a look for fans of the series. http://www.mi6.co.uk/sections/articles/biography_tom_mankiewicz.php3?t=&s=articles&id=02630

Dedalus1947 said...

By the way Patrick, I don't comment on your blog because they remind me too much of the car chases in the movie Bullitt, with Steve McQueen. They are experiences that require no words.

fracturedsynapse said...

Well put.

I tend to lean away from these, but you make good argument. You're bringing me closer to the fence on how I feel about it.