Hollywood loves its trends. From 3D circa 1955 (or 1983 or 2009) to westerns, slasher flicks to torture porn, gritty urban thrillers to disposable-tissue romcoms, moviemakers love molds into which they can pour resources for guaranteed returns. The latest trend is the so-called “reboot” which likens the creative endeavor to pushing the power button on an iMac.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before; remakes have been a part of cinema for decades (lest we forget, The Maltese Falcon was the second adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel). It’s entirely possible for a remake to equal or eclipse the original (as with Infernal Affairs and The Departed). It’s also possible, as during the remake glut of the early 1990s, that the result will be as creatively bankrupt as any other formula.

So why single out reboots? And what, if anything, separates them from a simple remake? First and foremost is the matter of time. The Maltese Falcon (1941) was made a decade after The Maltese Falcon (1931) (I’m ignoring Satan Met a Lady [1936] here, largely because it was such a loose adaptation). Ocean’s 11 (2001) followed Ocean’s 11 (1968) by 41 years. Of course anyone who looks can find plenty of exceptions like the aforementioned Infernal Affairs (2002) and The Departed (2006) with only a 4-year gap.

The second crucial element is that the reboot should be part of a franchise or intended franchise. Batman (1989) had 3 sequels over 8 years when it was rebooted; there were 20 official James Bond films over 40 years (1962-2002) before Casino Royale (2006). The Incredible Hulk (2006) reboots Hulk (2003) since the latter was intended to start a series; Eric Bana signed on for three films at the outset.

With that out of the way, what’s to hate about reboots? Plenty.

The most disappointing thing about reboots, in my opinion, is that they seem to have inspired people to really, meanspiritedly bash the originals. It’s as if the only way many people can enjoy the reboot is to convince themselves that the original was a piece of crap, which is sad if you happen to like any part of that original. Look at how the (for the time) highly original elements of Burton’s Batman were denigrated: Jack Nicholson’s gleefully over-the-top Joker was slammed as a “creepy old uncle,” Danny Elfman’s dark, iconic score was suddenly too “jolly,” and the entire production too “lighthearted” or “unrealistic.” The fact that both the original and the reboot might have their own merits proves to be too much doublethink for most people to handle. What you said is all too true. Listen to people’s comments about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series versus the 2012 reboot: it’s as if the 2002, 2004, and 2007 films and their stars were universally panned at the time when at least the first two were stunning critical and commercial successes. That’s what reboots do: they create dark alternate realities a la Back to the Future II where the previous movies were all terrible despite Tomatometer scores north of 80%. It’s hard to embrace even the best of reboots, like the Nolan Batman movies, when they subtly insist that the old movies were terrible and should be forgotten.

There’s also the formula aspect: reboots must be “darker, grittier, angstier” than the original. The model for this is the admittedly excellent Batman Begins, which managed to do this despite the original Batman being pretty damn dark, gritty, and angsty to begin with. You can see the formula at work in The Amazing Spider-Man, which gives its hero a tragic past with parental issues (like Batman Begins), regurgitates an origin story that was covered previously (like Batman Begins), and includes a villain that was never utilized in the original films (like Batman Begins). Throw in some Twilight-inspired casting choices and a bunch of big names in supporting roles (like Batman Begins) and the formula is complete.

The gap between remake and reboot is shrinking as well. It took 33 years to reboot Planet of the Apes the first time but only 10 to reboot it the second. Batman Begins was made 8 years after Batman & Robin and 16 years after Batman, but The Incredible Hulk followed Hulk by 5 years, the same as Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man. James Bond got only 4 years between Die Another Day (admittedly not the finest hour for the franchise) and Casino Royale. It’s getting to the point where a reboot of any franchise, with both the promise of new box office dollars and those of potential sequels, is on the table no matter how recently or how well the last movies were made. How long before Warner Brothers reboots Batman now that Nolan is done with him? The Amazing Batman starring Robert Pattinson as Batman and Kristen Stewart as Catwoman could be hitting screens as soon as 2016!

Finally, in most cases, rebooting is excessive. Why not just recast? Casino Royale is an excellent film, but did it really need to take 40 years of franchise history to the curb just to make Bond darker, grittier, and angstier? Brosnan and Dalton were both praised for bringing those same attributes to the series in 1987 and 1995 but neither necessitated a reboot; the producers just ignored or minimized aspects of the series they didn’t like. In fact, editing a few minutes out of Casino Royale would leave it pretty firmly in continuity with the earlier film (the same can be said about The Incredible Hulk).

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The movie wound up being well-regarded by aficionados of cult sci-fi, and saw plenty of airplay on late-night TV, cable stations, and film festivals. Especially considering how inexpensive it had been to make, the money was such that Gerald was eventually able to pay back all his creditors even if that gesture had no bearing on his virtual blacklisting within the industry. He made his living as an accountant–balancing the moviemaking ledgers time and again had required that particular skillset–and got the occasional windfall from an in-person appearance or interview.

Gerald was never too proud to accept the money and appear, but it did irk him that the same question came up time and again–it seemed no one ever bothered to do their homework, and they always dwelled on the movie’s so-called technical flaws.

“Why didn’t the actors not wear spacesuits in the outer space scenes?” was a perennial favorite. the interviewers usually assumed that, as a 1950’s moviemaker, Gerald had some kind of naivete about the effects of hard vacuum–this despite the pile of Scientific American magazines he’d had bedside during the screenwriting process.

Gerald always gave the same answer: “I did design spacesuits, and the propmaker and I spent a lot of time building them. But the cast members found them really uncomfortable, and eventually refused to wear them, so it was shoot without them or get a new cast.”

No one ever listened.

Not many know that Sly Whitmann harbored aspirations well above and beyond the world in which he became famous, the smoky jazz and blues clubs of Bourbon and Beale. Patrons at the venues where he performed often remember being dazzled as Sly switched instruments mid-set, moving from his signature coronet to the alto sax, the trombone, even the honky-tonk piano. For year rumors swirled about Sly’s personal life as girlfriend after girlfriend left complaining that he didn’t seem to have any time for them. When one of Sly’s relatively few studio albums dropped, people noticed that it included a full symphony orchestra backing up the usual quartet, but hardly anyone read in the microscopic print that Sly had orchestrated the various parts himself.

In fact, Sly Whitmann harbored a desire, long and keen, to write for an orchestra. Those nights away from clubs and girls were spent in classes, or poring over correspondence courses. Sly never earned a degree but over his lifetime he put in enough coursework and practice to qualify for a degree from Juliard. It was his dream to infuse the raw passion and popular sound of the clubs into the whole range of instruments, something akin to Gershwin in scope but far more modern and experimental. But try as he might (behind the scenes, of course) no one was willing to commit the resources to allow him to write, record, or perform anything but club music.

That all changed when Dr. Rutherford Scheer directed the pioneering film “Carnivale et Amour” in 1968. He hired Sly on the spot to record music for his picture, and the posters proclaimed that the film was to feature music by one Sylvester J. Whitmann. But it was not to be. A fickle audience at a preview was all it took for the producers to remove Scheer from creative control, recut the film, and distribute it with no original music at all, only a selection of pop tunes licensed from the Decca back catalog (which completely clashed with the Mississippi River setting). Scheer was able to preserve the acetates of Sly’s music, but never got the chance to present them to his friend; Sly died of a heart attack onstage less than a week after he received the news.

Of course, Schliemann had his own personal scale of box office success, which he wrote out longhand and taped up whenever he thought people needed perspective (usually shortly before they were fired and/or promoted):

“Blockbuster” – The rarest of the rare, a flick that made way more than was invested in it. Due to the ballooning budget requirements to make 3D action extravaganzas and brush out Australian actresses’ blemishes, the margins on even the biggest pictures tended to be too narrow to qualify as a blockbuster by Schliemann’s standards.

“Hit” – A movie that made back its cost plus a healthy profit. It was usually the first step toward promotion or more work for the people responsible. Crucially, Schliemann’s formula allowed for “Hollywood accounting” which put even the most successful feature as a loss to swindle authors and rightsholders out of their cut.

“Sleeper” – Movies that the studio didn’t have a lot of confidence in but also didn’t have a lot of cash tied up in, which slowly made money over a long theater run or broke even in theaters before making a profit on video.

“Watertreader” – A flick that made back its budget. A few people might get chewed out, but no one was losing their job. Often the overseas grosses would be the deciding factor, which Schliemann called “The Reverse Marshall Plan,” whatever that meant.

“Flop” – Movies that did decent business but didn’t make any money. Usually they came and went fairly quietly, often with freshman directors, writers, or stars. They’d have a hard time getting more work, but most were freelancers anyway. A major name could withstand half a dozen flops before Schliemann started calling them a “has been.”

“Bomb” – Movies that didn’t even come close to making their budget back despite a big marketing push were slapped with this label, not just by Schliemann but the press.

“Disaster” – It wasn’t enough for a disaster to lose money, even a lot of money. It also had to be critically reviled, with toxic publicity and media ridicule. Heaven’s Gate. Gigli. It was almost an honor to earn entry to this select club.

The film was rubbish, to be sure, but nevertheless had offered Geraldstein a broad canvas. He’d written several long-lined cues for the battle sequences, basing them on a pair of contrasting themes: an oboe-led five-note phrase for the heroes and snarling brass sixteenth notes for the villains. There was a tacked-on romantic subplot as well, so Geraldstein wrote a string love theme that was interpolated into many of the action sequences, taken up by brass or woodwinds depending on which side possessed the utterly helpless heroine, football-like, at any given time.

Of course, in that era of CGI, Geraldstein had worked mostly from storyboards and a print with green screen where major special effects would still be added. The director and producers demanded daily updates, as well, so the orchestrators converted whatever DAT tapes were finished at the end of each session on the scoring stage to CD and mailed them across the lot to the admin offices. In retrospect, the comments that came back–“scale it back,” “less noise,” “too old-fashioned”–should have been warning signs.

Then, one day, Geraldstein and his orchestrators had arrived for a scoring session to find the orchestra already warming up, with Calvin Zukovsky conducting it. Geraldstein liked Zukovsky; the boy was classically trained and had apprenticed under Konstantin at MGM. But he had a tendency to cave into whatever the producers wanted for a film, musically, and had been typecast in urban thrillers and romantic comedies as a result. He was apologetic to a fault, even offering to take Geraldstein to dinner, but the message was loud and clear.

His music had been rejected from the picture because it didn’t match a focus group’s impression for a movie starring a rapper, and Zukovsky had been brought in to give it a “contemporary” sound.

High Road from Khartoum was a classic larger-than-life adventure tale, one of the great Paramount Technicolor epics from the 50’s. Richard Burton and Rock Hudson had headlined a star-studded cast as British refugees fleeing the Seige of Khartoum during the Mahdist Uprising. It was really nothing more than an elaborate adaptation of Mason’s The Four Feathers with modifications to keep from paying royalties and rewritten to appeal to a postwar audience, but the film had influenced countless others with aspects of the final charge scene in particular appropriated by everything from Zulu to Star Wars.

And Collstein wanted a new adaptation on his desk by Monday. In the old days they might have called it a “remake” or a “re-imagining,” but he called it a “reboot,” that detestable buzzword that implied sweeping away decades of cinematic history was as easy as turning over an old Presario.

I glanced wearily over the producers’ notes. They insisted that the time frame be updated to the present day, that the suicidal charge be modified into a triumphant victory, that the two-dozen pursuers be upgraded to a massive (CGI) army. The Richard Burton character, a retired Army captain, was to be rewritten as a wisecracking photojournalist so the role could be played by a popular rapper who’d lobbied for the part. I was required to work at least of his songs into the film in a diagetic manner. The Rock Hudson part, perhaps appropriately, was to be female and written for the latest pretty young thing to come out of Australia (covering her native accent, of course). There was also a detailed combat requirement: three major firefights, two airstrikes, and a body count of at least 100. I was given leave to use the “f-word” exactly once to guarantee a PG-13.

“There isn’t enough coffee in the world,” I sighed.

“Here’s the pitches we’ve got in fast-track right now,” Scuttler said. “All high-concept, all drawing on aspects of IP’s which test off the chart and are in the public domain along with proven crowd-pleasing updates fresh off the presses.”

Leighton looked at the sheaf of papers spread across his desk. “So all I need to do is choose one and write a script?”

“That’s right,” Scuttler said. “It might have to go to a doctor, of course, but you get screen credit and a paycheck and we get a nice juicy literary name attached to the script. Like Faulkner and The Big Sleep, though if you come up with a murder mystery it should probably be within the context of an intergalactic war or something.”

Leighton had a momentary and horrifying vision of his name, computer-animated, whooshing by a viewer wearing 3D glasses. “Pitch them, then,” he signed.

“Shakespeare’s Hamlet with biotechnology!” crowed Scuttler. “Biotech is hot and ask Disney, Shakespeare ripoffs never get old.”

“They never get old, they just fade away until a second-grader wonders why old Bill cribbed from the Lion King,” Leighton thought.

“Coleridge Rime of the Ancient Mariner re-imagined in a post-apocalyptic setting with faster-than-light travel instead of ships! We think the albatross around the neck could be some kind of squid alien.”

“There may be a sucker born every minute, but most don’t wind up around your neck,” Leighton said to himself. He nodded as if interested.

“Stevenson’s Treasure Island as a disaster pic!” Scuttler continued. “The treasure is the key to stopping the earth’s tectonic places from sinking.”

“Nuclear, biological, chemical?” Negathrust said. “People have seen it all, and worse. You’ll be lucky to make the 9 o’clock news locally with that sort of thing. If you want to get taken seriously, you need to drop these old standbys.”

“And what, exactly, do you suggest replacing those ‘old standbys’ with?” said Spectrecide. The lair’s HVAC cycled, bringing his billowing cape to a standstill. “Causing mayhem and murder on a vast scale if one’s demands aren’t met is quite the feat with neither murder nor mayhem.”

“Old-fashioned is what it is. It’s all about marketing these days, Spectrecide, and your marketing is stuck in the Walter Cronkite era. Sure, back in the day, if you could get the old goon to take off his glasses emotionally you’d shock the world. But things are different now.”

The line’s on the old villain’s face deepened. “You’re just tearing me down now,””Not even offering any useful advice.”

“Marketing! Marketing is the name of the game these days, Spectrecide. Market well enough and you’re untouchable. Market well enough and crazy normals will do your dirty work for you!” Negathrust paced back and forth, accentuating key words with pumps of his omnithrust gloves.

“I don’t understand,” Spectrecide sighed, fiddling idly with his disintegrator pistol.

“Count Skullthorn has been quietly funding a multimedia blitz that’s made Nosferati the 90210 of this century’s 15-20 female demographic. The Deathjester had himself portrayed by an Aussie hunk in a major motion picture and now copycats are springing up all over the country!”

“And here we have the non-circulating collection.”

Gus examined the nondescript-looking cabinet, notable only for the heavy padlock which secured it. “What can we possibly have that’s worth putting behind a lock that beefy?” he asked Sally.

She shrugged. “Rarities, mostly. A lot of Oscar promos. One of the DVD’s is signed by Martin Scorsese. Another’s a rare blooper made from the raw workprint instead of a matted and cropped version.”

“So why keep them here?”

“Lots of reasons,” Sally sighed. “Coruthers up in Archives doesn’t think movies are art so he won’t touch ’em. Profs in Film Studies sometimes take ’em out to flash around. But most of all…” She lowered her voice. “It makes it look like we’ve got something to hide back there.”

Gus blinked. “But we do!”

“Exactly. When–not if, when–people break in, they go straight for the lockbox. A smash n’ grab could make off with a thousand dollars of DVD’s if they wanted, but every minute they spend trying to cut that beast open is one more minute we have to catch ’em.

Have you ever seen a movie with an audition montage? The kind where it quickly cuts from one awful aspiring actor to another, and throwing in the director’s horrified reactions for good measure, despite his best efforts to maintain his composure?

My first conferences were like that this past year.

It’s something I carried over from Osborn College–over there, we were expected to be the kinder, gentler “good cop” teachers to the “bad cops” that did unpleasant things like fail students and give tests. Composition was about growing your students’ writing abilities, not fascist grades.

Of course, I assigned the fascist grades anyway, and just took care to document each step thoroughly, but the idea of a face-to-face conference before each paper was due stuck with me, since freshmen who might otherwise hand in a piece of shit can sometimes be cajoled into improving their work if the instructor is right there.

To get things rolling, I had assigned the kids a movie analysis paper. We didn’t have time to read a novel, and they all would have watched the movie anyway, so I drew up a list of critically acclaimed movies that met the most crucial criteria of all: I liked them.

The first thing students would do was claim they didn’t have any idea what to write.

“I just don’t know what to write about,” said Ted, who had chosen Braveheart.

“Well, consider the character of William,” I said. “What was his motivation? Why did he do what he did?”

Ted shrugged. “Because he hated the English. That’s all I’ve got right now.”

“Well,” I asked, “Why did William hate the English?”

“Because they were the bad guys,” Ted said.

“Did you even watch the movie, or just read the back of the DVD case?” I wanted to ask.

“Think harder,” I said. Of course, I invariably did all the thinking, using guided language to get the student to realize, seemingly of their own free will, that William Wallace hated the English because they robbed him of the oppurtunity to live a simple life and raise a family.

Then there were the people that actually watched the movies, but whose mental dictionaries had an entry for “analysis” that read “see: summary.”

“I’m doing pretty good,” said John, handing me his draft. It felt heavy enough to be the requisite three pages, but that could be deceiving.

My trained comp instructor’s eye zoomed over it: “John Nash is a college student. He is having a hard time coming up with an idea. He doesn’t go to class, just hangs around with his roommate. Then he comes up with his original idea and..” I flipped to the end. “…and he starts ignoring his hallucinations, and John Nash is able to save his beautiful mind.”

“Do you have any questions about what an analysis entails?” I asked.


“Do you need a little help in, uh, polishing your rough draft with more details?” That was always the key word: details. Why the hell did John Nash do all that stuff? I know that he did it. I saw the damn movie in the theater when it came out.


“Do you need me to roll this up as tight as I can and shove it up your ass?” I should have said. Instead, I read through the entire thing asking that magic question–why?–like a five-year-old. The conference time I had with the students was the only time when I could be sure those questions were being asked, and I meant to make the most out of it.