Martin Deer wonders whether comic book movies could be fueling the Hollywood reboot culture…
Remakes in Hollywood are certainly not a new thing. 1957’s An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant, considered one of the most romantic films of all time, is actually a remake of the 1939 film Love Affair. Alfred Hitchcock remade his own 1934 movie The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1956, and basically since the 1920s when many silent films were remade to include sound, remakes have been a part of Hollywood. But recently it has felt like we’re constantly hearing of films being remade – and in particular beloved franchises getting the remake treatment – and I’m wondering if perhaps comic book movies might have a little something to do with that.
In 2005 Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. released Batman Begins, a reboot to the Batman movie franchise which had fallen apart eight years earlier with Batman & Robin. As a Batman fan, this was very much welcomed as it rescued a beloved character of mine and, in my opinion, gave us the best version of the character on screen. Last year Spider-Man got the same treatment when The Amazing Spider-Man was released just five years after the previous iteration had ended due to the apparent failure of Spider-Man 3 (it should be noted that the “failed” film earned over a £100 million more half a decade earlier and without the gimmick of 3D bumping up ticket prices). Spider-Man fans did, however, feel much more satisfied on the whole with the characterisation of their hero and so the reboot was considered a success. Just this year Superman got the reboot treatment too with Man of Steel, which again I am thankful for; this has been viewed as a success and sequels are planned.
Comic book fans aren’t new to the whole reboot idea as it’s been happening in comic books for decades, and when you have characters that are approaching a century old – Superman being 75, Batman 74 – there are so many different interpretations that reboots can explore new themes and ideas in a wholly new interpretation. But with original films – like The Terminator, which is now known to be getting the “reboot” treatment – it’s not quite the same. The Terminator was James Cameron’s creation, he didn’t adapt it from 50 years worth of stories in print – he created the idea of the character and he made a film about it. Others then took up his mantle when he stepped away and made far, far lesser films which have killed so much interest in the franchise that a sequel wouldn’t be good business. So apparently the answer is now to reboot.
Earlier this year a big sign that comic book movies were influencing the rest of Hollywood appeared when it was announced that Escape from New York, the 80s cult classic starring Kurt Russell was going to be “rebooted” and tell the Snake Plissken ‘origin story’. A character that exists only in film, created only for film, was to have his origin explored. For what purpose? The correlation cannot be ignored – comic book reboots are bleeding over in to other film franchises.
And why not? If it’s good enough for Superman and Batman why isn’t it good enough for The Terminator? It’s clever business – the reboot model works. You can free yourself from the shackles of the previous iteration and try to build interest in the new version. But is there interest? From the reaction of film fans, not really. Remakes of beloved franchises like The Terminator series are considered blasphemous: why remake a film as classic as The Terminator, they ask. They’ll ruin it, they say. But will they? The original Terminator film still exists, it won’t ever change – unless Cameron pulls a George Lucas. Please don’t Jimbo. So what’s the issue?
Well, from my own personal perspective, what can a new Terminator film that reboots (i.e. needs to establish the story and world all over again which we’ve already seen) give us over just carrying on the franchise and telling new stories within the established history? We’ve seen the Terminator story, we’ve seen the rise of Skynet and how it sends a robot back to kill John Connor, so why do we need to see it again? I guess the same could be said of comic book films, but as mentioned there is so much material in print, so many different writers and artists interpretations, and so many different stories to take inspiration from that really the well is quite plentiful to draw from. People aren’t going to want to see Batman’s origin again for a long time. For The Terminator it was one man’s idea, there is but one story of Skynet and John Connor, and it was a pretty damn good film. We don’t need to see that again.
What it comes down to, as we all well know, is money. If Warner Bros. can reboot the Batman franchise in 2005 and make almost $3 billion over three films and Sony can reboot Spider-Man to sell a “new” story and a new trilogy, then why can’t Paramount reboot the Terminator franchise and prey on the fans of that series whilst trying to entice others? Film fans will tell you that they could just as easily re-release classic films in cinemas rather than remake them and make just as much money, but that isn’t quite true as Jurassic Park only made $45 million when it was re-released in the United States earlier this year. Mainstream audiences aren’t going to shell out high ticket prices to watch a film that is regularly on TV and that they likely own on DVD or Blu-ray. They’re looking for something new – even if it is something old that’s been remade.
Comic book properties are of course themselves not to blame. I’m just wondering if their very existence means that studios know they can take any preexisting franchise and remake it for a cash grab. The worry for me is where does it stop? Back to the Future? Die Hard? In the world of the reboot anything is fair game, and that’s a troubling thought…