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It’s Not a Remake

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The new term for old ideas


Ever noticed how trends come around again? At the end of the 1990s, you could walk across continents and not find a single horror film at a movie theatre. Then two guys running around the Maryland woods calling themselves the Blair Witch changed everything, and for the last eight years we’ve enjoyed vigour in the genre not seen since the low-budget video nasty period.

But when all the Saws and Hostels have had their cut (get it?), what then? Why, just buy up the rights to every film in a cracked, yellowed case in the darkest corner of the video store, hire a director who loved the genre as a teenager and make ’em again.

The remakes of every classic horror we’re now suffering through are such a distinct product – everything from the film stock to the poster art typography – that the word ’remake’ is increasingly becoming synonymous with’rip off’.

So to distance a film from the increasingly distasteful moniker, filmmakers and their corporate paymasters are coming up with any term they can think of to convince us we’re not watching a mere remake.

The sequel’s passé now, but what’s to stop taking a franchise that’s gone off the rails and starting it all over again in the prequel – a la Batman Begins?

For awhile we had the word ’re-imagining’, for a director who liked the world from a classic film but didn’t want to tell the same story, but a string of rubbish has effectively killed the re-imagining off (Tim Planet of the Apes Burton, we’re looking at you).

Facing the threat of running out of words for ’shameless cash-ins’, 2007 gave us the answer – a new word, re-engineered for movie marketing and bringing with it the street cred the switched-on, always-connected, blogging, webcasting, MySpacing generation can relate to. Yes, it’s the age of the reboot.

But something strange happened with the word ’reboot’. It’s not just a new way to make an everyday sequel/prequel/threequel/remake/reimagining/re-envisioning.

Like the ripple effect back through time of a dozen schlock sci-fi stories, the badge ’reboot’ means a lot more than just taking a story back to the beginning. If a director does it right, it means trimming away the deadwood, stripping out the incidentals, sitting down and asking what the story is, ignoring all the fancy add-ons and flourishes.

If you’re James Bond, that means hitting Control, Alt and Delete on all the silly gadgets and Schwarzenegger-like quips, leaving the hero a brutish stud who makes his living as a government assassin. If you’re Batman, it means trashing the malware of Starlight-Express-meets-Mardi-Gra costumes, sidekicks, smack-fuelled visuals and leaving a rich but tortured man who wears a mask to fight crime after prematurely losing his parents to a petty thug.

The latest white elephant targeted for system re-installation is Star Trek. Under the guiding hand of J J Abrams we’re meeting the crew of the Enterprise as they began. Some cast have already been locked in but rumours are already flying about big names like Matt Damon as Kirk and Edward Norton as Bones McCoy.

The ’reboot’ has become a code word for a franchise that’s turned into a laughing stock – bloated, smug, relying on wry winks at the audience instead of its long lost sense of cool. When they get it right, it works beautifully.

But how long will it be before the reboot outlasts its use, before it’s just another term where we know what to expect? How long before the reboot needs new RAM or a once-over with antivirus software? It’ll be a dark day for movie studios. They’ll have to do something unheard-of – bankroll movies about stories we’ve never seen before…

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