Reboot! 5 Movie Franchises That Need a Kick in the Pants

Amazing-Spiderman-marvelousRoland-from-Flickr

If they can reboot Spider-Man, what else could we reboot?

Is nothing sacred anymore?  I admit it, that’s probably a melodramatic overreaction, but was I the only one caught off guard by last summer’s reboot of the Spider-Man movie franchise?  I mean, here was a successful series of movies, the oldest one being just ten years old, and Hollywood decides to scrap it?1 And, it’s not like it needed a reboot either.

Batman though?  That needed a reboot… let’s not forget the death rattle we heard when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze told everybody to “chill.”  Not only did it need a reboot, but we had to wait 8 years for Christopher Nolan to gut-rehab the disaster that Joel Schumacher and Warner Brothers had made of the Batman franchise.  With Spider-Man, though, never mind “Reduce” and “Reuse” – they went straight to “Recycle.”  Such a quick turnaround felt like robbing the previous works of their artistic integrity… unless of course you feel “artistic integrity” is an overstatement when referring to movies about a man-spider wearing tights.

But after I sat with this seeming loss of artistic integrity a little while, I found it myself thinking, “What’s really the harm in this reboot?”  After all, there were no house-to-house raids for copies of the Tobey Maguire DVDs.  No user agreement with small print and hidden clauses that enabled them to deduct $12 from my bank account because I had enjoyed the first movies.  They were just re-telling a story that a lot of people had liked, with the hope that a lot of people might like it again, just a little different.  Hey, it’s a free country, and who doesn’t like to retell favorite stories? So what if a few details get changed and the story gets cooler along the way.

So, I started to fantasize about which of my favorite Hollywood franchises I would want to retell and make way cooler. My arbitrary, self-imposed rules are these:  I will only consider a movie series, i.e., there must have been one original movie and at least one sequel; the series must be capable of being improved (no one is going to mess with Lord of the Rings on my watch); and it can’t have already been rebooted in the same format.  What follows are, in descending order, the top five movie franchises I would reboot if I were an evil super villain capable of changing the face of Hollywood movie-making.

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5. The Terminator: There’s no doubt that this is one of the great sci-fi action franchises, but James Cameron still left enough meat on the bones for someone to go back and try again.  Watching it now, the lurchy stop motion of the terminator’s robotic endoskeleton brings to mind a campy 80’s horror film rather than the best effects an action movie can offer.

Upside: The future war scenes in T1 and T2 could be developed a lot more… I’d love to see a HAL-esque Skynet be the narrator instead of Linda Hamilton.  Wouldn’t it be terrifyingly bone-chilling to hear what possesses a super-intelligent A.I. to send time-traveler after time-traveler after an enemy without success?

Possible pitfall: The Arnold Factor.  Who could possibly replace Arnold?  His performance is so iconic, that any terminator without an Austrian accent is almost bound to sound weird, wrong, or, ironically, fake.

4. Ghostbusters: Ghost capturing proton packs, Hittite deities living in apartment buildings, and a giant marshmallow-based ‘destructor’: who can come up with a premise like this?  Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis, that’s who.  The inspired insanity of its premise plays well to its awesome ensemble cast (side note: that already awesome cast was originally supposed to include John Belushi, John Candy, and Eddie Murphy!  I’m in hypothetical heaven here!).

Upside: The right casting could help these characters be hilarious again.  Jason Bateman, Jack Black, Steve Carrell and Kevin Hart anyone?  And maybe something could be done about that weird EPA guy.  I mean, is he really the only one in the city who didn’t see this great montage?

Possible pitfall: What if this piece of fluff turns out to be… just fluff?  It may be that the original was perfectly calibrated to keep the ridiculous and the sublime in balance.  Too many jokes (I’m looking at you, Jack Black) and the whole thing could be exposed as totally absurd.

Casey-Jones-Rob Blatt-from-Flickr

The Shredder and Casey Jones in a toy tête-à-tête

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: For a kid whose introduction to the Ninja Turtle universe was the toy-market oriented animated series, the first live action movie was a revelation.  It hewed much closer to the original comic book series – a grittier, less colorful reality.  Such a reality would surely go over well in the era of the edgier Batman and Bond series’.

Upside: Any excuse to revive the Shredder, one of the all time classic villains, is a good one.  Maybe it could even tell a better origin story, explaining why he dresses up like a cheese grater.

Possible pitfall: Michael Bay-ification.  Unfortunately, it looks like this pit has already been fallen into, as – drum roll please – Michael Bay, is slated to produce a Ninja Turtles reboot due out in 2014.  Theaters showing Michael Bay movies should be required to post a warning over the door: “Surrender your brain cells, all who enter here.”  Even more, Bay’s project has already been reported to include several selections from the all-time-worst ideas list: our beloved mutant turtles are now space aliens, our Cuisinart-clad Shredder is now “Colonel Schrader” (the name has a certain ring, but clearly misses the whole point of the Shredder character), and our Jason-mask-wearing, hockey-stick-wielding bad boy Casey Jones is now a rent-a-cop security guard.  The best-idea was made by Paramount: reboot this reboot and delay the movie until its massive problems could be fixed.

2. The “Dollars Trilogy”: Everybody knows, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – in which Clint Eastwood embodied what it is to be a bad ass cowboy anti-hero in a plot that can only be described as transcendently rambling – but not everybody knows that there were two prequels to it.  Yep, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was loosely connected with Fistful of Dollars, and For a Few Dollars More.  Maybe it’s just because the first two movies in the series lacked the ambition of the last, but this series is #2 on my list for a reason: it could be great. (And let’s not discount the chance to reboot the best whistling-based soundtrack ever, composed by Ennio Morricone… yeah, the same guy who also wrote the best oboe-based soundtrack ever for The Mission.)

Upside: Sergio Leone is credited with reviving the fate of the Western and starting the career of Clint Eastwood with this trilogy.  The tricky bit is, he did it with a mostly Italian cast that meant that the entire movie resembled Godzilla with its poor lip-synching. Even Eastwood’s lines had to be dubbed again, and they were in English!  Let’s just say that almost every movie is better when mouths and words line up – something I’m sure we can figure out in a new version.

Possible pitfall: A Corollary to the Arnold Factor.  We are talking about an iconic performance!  It launched Eastwood’s career!  And while the political career of Eastwood was decidedly less ambitious than the Governator’s,2 I don’t think that anyone would dispute that his film career was correspondingly more impressive.   Whoever stepped into those shoes would have to make us forget the first incarnation.

1. The Star Wars Prequels: Disclaimer: I submitted my first draft of this piece to the editor late Tuesday night, sighed with satisfaction, and then went to sleep.  I woke up Wednesday morning, checked the news, and about schnitzed myself.  STAR WARS SOLD TO DISNEY???  NEW MOVIE IN THREE YEARS???  I couldn’t decide whether that meant I was psychic or I had to scrap this one and write 8,000 words on my burning desire to see the Anakin Skywalker thing get fixed.  You know what saved me?  Disney isn’t talking about a reboot… yet.  For now, it’s just a series of additional movies.  (And, yes, it does confirm my latent psychic powers.)  Back to business…

Darth-Vader-Sam-Howzit-from-Flickr

Mickey, I am your father.

More than anything or anyone else, it’s Darth Vader who made the original Star Wars movies what they are.  His iconic, rhythmic breathing, his all-black, cybernetic bio-costume, and his willingness to use the Dark Side of the Force to choke friend or foe all communicated how merciless he is – and how wondrous is his eventual redemption.

The prequel trilogy is meant to show the opposite movement, Vader’s tragic descent into evil.  And of course, the greater the guy who becomes evil, the more tragic and dramatic that eventual fall will be, right?3 Not if you are George Lucas.  He settled for the descent into evil not a great man, but of an insipid, whiny Hayden Christiansen (who also might be the only actor who could have made an already awful script even more wooden).

Upside: A shot at making Darth Vader a truly tragic figure… A truly good man who’s fall is so tragic because it starts from such a great height.

Possible pitfall: None.  Absolutely none.  There is no way that changing these movies could make them worse.4

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So, I think these stories are worth retelling.  There is no claim, express or implied, that this list is either exhaustive or authoritative.  In fact, I’m sure you have ideas of your own.  And I want to hear about them, so please, go ahead and share ‘em below.  We will be joining together in thousands of years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Michael Bay of people who can’t get enough of telling our favorite stories.

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  1. And less successful movies series have even less than 10 years before they are redone.  2006’s admittedly pedestrian Superman Returns, itself a partial reboot, is slated to be undone next year with Man of Steel.
  2. And who would have guessed that after both had a shot at the Republican National Convention, it would be the former Mr. Universe who came off looking like a public intellectual?
  3. “It’s all in Aristotle, all in Aristotle: bless me, what do they teach them in these schools!” (with a nod to C.S. Lewis)
  4. Please, Disney, I’m begging you, here… please!