Here’s Hollywood’s favorite joke:
Pete and Repeat went down to the lake. Pete fell in and who was left?
As Homer Simpson would say, it’s funny because it’s true.
I’m talking, of course, about Hollywood’s incessant need to mine the past – old movies, old TV shows – and redo them for a new audience.
Except that, recently, instead of calling them what they are – which is remakes – the marketing geniuses have come up with a new term: “reboot.” It sounds so high-tech, so of-the-moment – much more so than, say, “do-over.” But let’s be honest: What’s a reboot but just a slick way of avoiding the term “remake”?
Oh, sure, you can sell it as a whole new approach, a reimagining, a re-whatever. But what it comes down to is a lack of imagination, a need to suck the life from an existing idea, apparently out of an inability to come up with anything original. (Sequels? Do I even need to go there?)
So, yes, “Batman Begins” was a vast improvement over either of the Tim Burton “Batman” films or their sequels – but it’s still a “Batman” remake. (Don’t even get me started on “The Dark Knight.” We’ve already had that argument. My side: an overhyped mess. Your side: No, it’s a great movie. My side: You’re wrong. End of discussion.)
Since the beginning of May, we’ve had three more so-called reboots. Two of them sucked, big time: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “Terminator Salvation.” One didn’t: “Star Trek.” Still on the horizon: “Land of the Lost,” “The Taking of Pelham 123,” “GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.”
As much as I enjoyed “Star Trek,” it was a guilty pleasure. Because here was yet another movie – another $100+ million dollars spent – that was devoted to selling us something we already had.
It’s not that I’m flatly opposed to remakes. There are films that take the basic premise of a previous work and use it as a jumping-off point for something new, a different take on old material.
It’s just that there are so many stories that have yet to be told, whether they’re new ideas percolating in the fevered minds of budding screenwriters or books sitting on a dusty library shelf somewhere, waiting to be discovered and translated to cinema.
I propose a moratorium on remakes: a year in which filmmakers are forbidden from making any film that’s been made before, as a movie or TV show. I’d exempt interpretations of the classics – whether it’s Shakespeare, the Greeks or Eugene O’Neill – because they didn’t start as movies or TV shows and because they deal in universal themes.
Unfortunately, it can’t be done. Call it a reboot, call it recycling or call it what it is – an inability to imagine anything other than long lines at the box office to see a repackaged product. But Hollywood is suffering from a synaptic shortcoming that seems to block original thinking. And summer is the peak harvest time for the remake mentality.
Wake me when it’s Oscar season.