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Hollywood’s 21st Century Solutions – The Reboot: Pt. 2

By   |  October 13, 2008

What exactly is a ‘reboot’?  It depends on who you ask.  For this article, a reboot is defined as a film/product revived/rebranded/reimagined from a prior film/product, usually for the sake of (re)-building a franchise.  It is also one of Hollywood’s newest buzzword that is being deemed a successful business model.  Some examples include The Incredible Hulk, The Pink Panther, and Get Smart.

One common misunderstanding (or a possible counter-argument) to address is that the reboot is a new, 21st-century term, which it isn’t.  Hollywood is a fan of attempting to remold and reshape old products throughout the 20th Century.  The original Batman, directed by Tim Burton, could be coined as a reboot from the 60s campy TV series and movie spin-off.  The Bond films can also be categorized this way, depending on what film/actor/director combination is being discussed.

The reason this is being brought up now, though, is that the model is becoming too relied upon.  Warner Bros., approximately two months ago, announced their plans to focus on fewer films mostly based on their DC lineup with reboots of characters such as Superman.  Other studios have voiced similar comments, committing to rebranding or recreating characters/situations known from the past.  Another good example coming up is 20th Century Fox’s Dragonball, based (very loosely) off the manga/anime series or Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.

Well, why use this model in the first place?  Although these types of films still require scripts and preproduction crew, the properties have already been established, making it simple to usually adapt into some type of plot.  Because of these products’ established nature, it also brings in is an already-formed audience.  This usually equates to ‘safe’ money for studios.  Established properties do quite well usually.  The Dark Knight, WB’s sequel to the rebooted Batman franchise, has currently brought in over $500 million domestically while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton’s reboot of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, made an impressive $200 million domestic gross.

Also, there is a nearly limitless pool of different characters/franchises/plots that can be remolded at the whim of a studio because of the vast number of entertainment mediums from the past.  Just as well, these reboots have shown that they can be entertaining and well-made.  I can attest to saying that I thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Craig’s interpretation of Bond in Casino Royale and Heath Ledger’s outstanding performance in The Dark Knight.  The beauty of art and entertainment is that it can come from any source and by no means am I arguing that studios should completely cease with their remakes.

However, I am arguing that this Hollywood trend is simply too relied upon with too many films getting this treatment.  Here are my main reasons:

1) The narrowing gap of rebooting a franchise is getting too short.  When I referenced Burton’s Batman reboot, there was nearly a 20-year gap in between (the TV series started in 1966, Burton’s Batman arrived in 1989).  Fans rejoiced at this, as Batman made approximately $250 million that year.  Then take a view at the difference between Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) versus Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk (2008).  Only five years had passed in between releases and Lee’s Hulk was still fresh on everyone’s mind.  The difference, monetarily, between the two films was only $2 million (although critically, the latter was better received from critics and fans alike).  Although some consider the 2008 Hulk a sequel, even the director, Leterrier, mentioned that “it’s a ‘do-over.'” As shown by the monetary amount made, studios need to be wary in giving a property such quick treatment, yet the trend is only increasing in speed rather than decreasing.

2) The ‘try again’ effect can (and is starting to) wear thin.  When a company reboots a series, two main responses come out of it: excitement (that an iconic figure might be given a better treatment) or repulsion (that the property does not deserve another go-around).  Repeat this formula several times within a given genre and what one usually gets is a wary group of fans.

Take note of this summer’s most disappointing release: Speed Racer.  Warner Bros. had a lot riding on this reboot from the marketing campaign, toys/games, and a possible hit franchise.  Instead, it heavily flopped, making only $43 million when the budget of simply the production was at least $120 million.  To simply rely on a particular audience to boost revenue is not and will not guarantee profit.  Speed Racer was confusing to most.  Although the audience from the cartoon series was particularly older, it was helmed and marketed straight to children.  Strange marketing and a lack of good word of mouth led to simply both demographics giving up on the film and heavy skepticism.  As more reboots come along, this wariness will continue to grow as already seen with some reception of the upcoming Dragonball and Street Fighter films.  The reboot term is becoming distilled to mean studios banking on fans rather than meaning a team of people that really want to bring back a series.

3) Studio execs are mixing up what creates a market success versus a successful interpretation (a.k.a. The Dark Knight Effect). The final point has to do more with the reason why the reboot is being made.  Again, coming back to Warner Bros., the exec noted that they would be bringing back Superman and other films in the same dark and gritty tone as the successful The Dark Knight.  Other studios, again, have already noted that they are committed to rebooting franchises some from not too long ago and others that have been long past.

What most of these execs are forgetting is that although a fan base is available and always in want of some film interpretation, they have to be done by people that have a will to do them and know what they are doing.  Daredevil was not the best of comic book films but still made a decent $102 million domestically.  This spawned off a small reboot of the series with Elektra, the spin-off that was thought to play off Jennifer Garner’s popular interpretation of the character.  The film flopped at $24 million (production costs were at least $43 million).  Critically, it received 13 gracious reviews out of 130 others that gave it the thumbs-down and was a mess in terms of marketing and hype.

Successful reboots like Batman Begins and Casino Royale were box-office successes and critically well-received due to a crew that enjoyed the original material and filled with unique ways to take the series that worked within what has already been set up.

The reboot craze is not going away anytime soon.  Just simply look at the slew of titles coming up that can be labeled as reboots (or part of a reboot franchise): Astro Boy, Star Trek, Terminator 4: Salvation, TMNT 2, The Pink Panther 2, Dragonball, Chun Li: Street Fighter, Gears of War, The Sims, Transformers 2, Fast & Furious, Captain America, Alice in Wonderland, Puss-in-Boots, Watchmen, Xmen Origins: Wolverine, Tron 2, and many more.  Again, who knows which films will be enjoyable?  Who knows which films will not?  The central problem is Hollywood’s huge crutch on trying to rebuild these properties as their biggest business model, which frankly, will end up leaving more people disinterested in films than before.

Sources: Box Office Mojo, IMDB, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, Commingsoon

Next time: One Last look – solutions from those in the industry…and my own…

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