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The Top 7 Clichés of Hollywood’s Remake/Reboot Craze (For Better and for Worse)

I’m sure it won’t be news to you that Hollywood has been in love with remakes and reboots lately. These days, when so much audience attention has been diverted by the Golden Age of Television and Youtube, it’s safer for studio execs to repackage an existing franchise than to risk their money on something the public hasn’t heard of before. With this flurry of rehashes, it was inevitable that certain patterns (or clichés, to be less kind) would emerge. Nevertheless, many of the writers and directors who revisit old material can make it work. Others, less so. Let’s count down:

(WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead!)

 

7) Sequels are taken for granted.  Once upon a time, moviemakers assumed they would only get one shot at telling their story. Even when a movie seemed to tease the next adventure, (i.e. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” in Back to the Future) it often was just the director making a final joke before the credits rolled. Now, for better and for worse, studios are happy to lay the groundwork for an ongoing series of movies. Often, they end up looking like visionaries, but sometimes they just look foolish:

Who Nailed It? The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003):

Lord of the RIngs

Director Peter Jackson originally planned for two films to cover the sprawling Middle Earth epic from J.R.R. Tolkien. At one point, he was even threatened with the prospect of having to condense it all into only one installment. Luckily, a New Line producer with some foresight decided to greenlight three massive movies at once, to be filmed back-to-back. His gamble paid off, and the result is one of the great trilogies in cinema history. Maybe it worked a little too well, though; why else would Jackson now be so insistent on stretching the Hobbit into three movies?

Who missed the mark? John Carter (of Mars) (2012):  

john carter

This isn’t, strictly speaking, a reboot or remake, but it is a pretty tragic case study in failed movie marketing. After Disney suffered a painful box office flop the year before with Mars Needs Moms, their profoundly insightful executives decided that the word “Mars” itself was box office poison and removed it from the much more descriptive title “John Carter of Mars.” After throwing hundreds of millions into a lavish–and actually quite enjoyable–opening chapter in what was surely hoped to be an ongoing series, they fumbled the advertising at the crucial moment, and now we can only wonder what might have been. Too bad.

 

6) Prequels that aren’t really prequels.  This is a newer trend, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of it. Prequels themselves are nothing new, but sometimes they turn out a wee bit disappointing (*cough*Jar Jar*cough*). Lately, we’re instead getting the pseudo-prequel: a movie that’s basically set before the stories we know and love, but twists things around enough to be its own animal:

Who nailed it? Star Trek (2009):

star trek

Frankly, I’m not convinced J.J. Abrams really nailed it with his Star Trek reboot, but he did manage to revisit old characters in their early days while wiping the slate clean for future installments, unfettered by pesky continuity. He definitely aced the casting (probably the most important element), but ultimately failed to follow through on the potential.

Who missed the mark? Prometheus (2012):

prometheus

Ridley Scott was going to make another sci-fi film, his first since Blade Runner (1982)! And despite all his claims to the contrary, it would be a prequel to Alien (1979)! Well, at first glance, Prometheus appears determined to have its own vision, not content to just be another face-hugging nightmare. Yet, by the time the credits roll, it’s been made pretty clear that all we saw were just stepping stones to a reveal we all knew was coming.

 

5) Heroes have darker sides.  Why does Superman have to be such a good guy all the time? Flying around, saving people just to be nice? That’s lame, man, he should be badass!

Who nailed it? Batman Begins (2005):

batman begins

While Christopher Nolan’s bat-trilogy was definitely a departure from anything we’d seen on the screen up to that point, it still had its roots in established Batman lore, particularly as interpreted by Frank Miller in the 80s. The world was ready for a grungier, more tormented Gotham City, and Nolan delivered.

Who missed the mark? Man of Steel (2013):

Man of Steel

Superman can be tormented. He has been in plenty of the comics. That doesn’t mean he has to fly around knocking over buildings and killing people.

 

4) Nods to the fans.  How do you soften the blow when you’re trashing everything that die-hard fans have come to love about a franchise? Drop in references to the old stuff, just so they know you’re actually familiar with it:

Who nailed it? Star Trek Into Darkness (2013):

star trek into darkness

Did I just hear somebody mention Section 31? Was that a model of the NX-01 on that desk? Wow, they’re really going deep with the references here. This is awesome!

Who missed the mark? Star Trek Into Darkness (2013):

star trek into darkness

Calling back to everybody’s favorite iconic moments is great for scene-stealing jokes and atmosphere. It’s not so great when you literally steal scenes from previous movies and assume you can piggyback your entire emotional climax on them.

 

3) New and improved CGI.  Sure, the classic was a lot of fun, but the effects were so cheesy. Just think what they could do with today’s technology:

Who nailed it? Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011):

rise of the planet of the apes

This is proof that CGI doesn’t have to be a bad word. The lead character here is a chimpanzee, and reputedly not a single ape actor was ever hired. Andy Serkis, following up on his ground-breaking digital performance as Gollum, carries most of a movie without ever uttering a single word. The whole story is propelled with very little dialogue, in fact. Even the end credits elegantly pay off a major story point without recourse to spoken exposition.

Who missed the mark? Clash of the Titans (2010):

clash of the titans

There’s a reason Ray Harryhausen’s name is so revered (Guillermo Del Toro gave him a special dedication at the end of Pacific Rim, in case you missed it). The stop-motion special effects guru injected way more personality into the original Clash (1981) than all the CGI krakens and giant scorpions Hollywood could muster for this remake. Dudes wearing eyeshadow do not a Greek mythos make.

 

2) Origin stories.  Used to be, you’d either ignore your hero’s origins, or just make it into the first act of your movie. Nowadays, it is the whole movie:

Who nailed it? Batman Begins (2005):

batman begins

Once again, it’s Christopher Nolan who broke the mold. In fact, so many of the reboot clichés are, to some degree or other, emulations of what he did for Batman.

Who missed the mark? Robin Hood (2010):

robin hood

Had you already forgotten about this one? It seemed like a sure-fire hit–Ridley Scott working his Gladiator magic on the classic story of Robin Hood. While the Russell Crowe vehicle had its highlights (and, we can now be thankful, few musical numbers), it featured very little stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. I won’t even go into the bizarrely anachronistic medieval D-Day landing craft.

 

1) The most iconic villain(s) are saved for the sequel.  Too many examples of this one to name (Sherlock Holmes, Amazing Spider-man, Iron Man, etc. etc.). This is a corollary to the “origin stories” trend. The first movie focuses on the hero, the second puts the spotlight on everybody’s favorite villain–a foe who often gets mentioned or teased in film one:

Who nailed it? The Dark Knight (2008):

the-dark-knight_2

When Heath Ledger was first announced as the Joker, the news was greeted with about as much enthusiasm as poor Ben Affleck is getting now for Batman vs. Superman. I don’t think anybody has any doubts any more. Enough said.

Who missed the mark? Star Trek Into Darkness (2013):

star trek into darkness

KHAAAAANN!!! Give it up, J.J.! Not everything has to be like Lost.