Saturday, May 28, 2016

EDITORIAL: Don't Fear the Reboots

Howdy, fellow film freaks, Robert here, and I feel the need to sound off about that misunderstood step-child of the modern movie industry, the reboot (or "remake", if you're of a certain antediluvian age). Running them down is a favorite pastime on the Intertubes; the movie clubs I follow on Facebook maintain a running and spirited debate about them. In the expected style of the Intertubes, this debate often disgraces the schoolyard's noble traditions of reasoned discourse. But it still bears discussing; we have gotten a lot of reboots over the years, and there appears to be no end in sight.

The best known controversy right now has to do with a certain group of paranormal exterminators (stay with me, Occasional Reader, this isn't another Ghostbusters article). Yes, the people talking stuff about Paul Feig's Ghostbusters just because the stars are women are fools, but it's just lazy to lump everyone who doesn't plan to see the movie into the same gang of idiots. For myself, I will not be going to see this movie specifically because Paul Feig was the director. I saw Bridesmaids, one of Feig's recent projects for the few of you who don't know that, and that's all I need to see of his work, because I learn from my mistakes. I thought Bridesmaids was an unfunny two hours-plus of negative female stereotypes, but somehow I dug deep and sat through til the end. My wife, no weak tool of the Patriarchy she, couldn't even finish it.

But I realize that I am possibly in the minority here. The new Ghostbusters will likely gross in the hundreds of millions on opening weekend and spawn a new franchise. And you know what? I'm fine with that. It may be sacrilegious to admit this today, but movie studios are businesses: they exist to make money. If a movie makes money, the industry model of the day being what it is, that movie will get supported long term with sequels, prequels, spin-offs, merchandise, and all the rest. If it doesn't, the movie will finish its run, and that will likely be the last we hear from it, at least until the nostalgia man comes around in a decade or so. Why do you think we never got Boondock Saints 3?

I personally love reboots. I think they're a great way to support the memory of the movies of ages past, and I like getting to see what a story I know looks like when it's been run through another person's imagination, and then rendered using the technology of the modern era. For example, let's use my most favorite movie of all time: 1981's Tron, which got the reboot/sequel treatment in 2010 with Tron: Legacy. Say what you will about that latter project, but I thank the Users it happened for three reasons. First, it reminded people the original movie existed. Anyone who appreciates the visual effects that CGI has made possible in movies, as I do, should see Tron, as this is where it all began. Second, it motivated Disney to give this landmark movie the blu-ray treatment. And third, because of the Recognizers.

The Recognizers, for those of you who don't know, were these red, horseshoe-shaped aircraft that figured prominently in the first movie. In 1981, they looked like this:

Pictured: Retro Cool
Doesn't look like much by today's standards, does it? After all, technology marches on, turning yesterday's great acheivements into today's "Hello World" tutorials. I really don't care; four-year-old me still squee's his little heart out when I see one of these bad boys. Which is why, when I first saw the trailer for Legacy, the one that included the cameo appearance of the revamped Recognizer:

Pictured: Oh. My. GAWD.
... well, frankly, I needed a moment. I couldn't immediately process the miracle of awesome that had just been revealed to me. Sure Legacy wasn't quite as good as the original Tron; sequels rarely measure up to their initial counterparts. But that is one loving and lavish upgrade, all the same.

This is where I find common ground with Star Wars fans. I quit that far-away galaxy some time ago, and Episode Seven wasn't enough to bring this unrepentant heathen back into the fold. But I can relate to the thrill of seeing your favorite movie universe all gussied-up and hi-def lookin'. Done properly, it's one of the things that make me thankful to be a movie fan, and living in this wondrous time.

Does this mean I love every reboot? Of course not. I avoid 2005's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on principle. I very much wish I didn't live in the same universe as 2010's The Karate Kid. And if you ever hear me say that 2008's Death Race was even a patch on the original 1975 classic, please: punch me in the face. But these are the foul-tasting vegetables we have to endure to get to the sweet pudding of remakes like 1999's House on Haunted Hill, 2016's The Jungle Book, or even 1960's The Magnificent Seven, which was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and one of only a handful of westerns I've truly enjoyed. Not every remake is going to appeal to me, just like not every movie is going to appeal to me. For every hit, there has to be one or two misses.

My second point, and the one I think the anti-reboot crowd needs to remember, is that reboots don't eliminate the original works. If anything, they help revive the original works in the public consciousness, as I said before. Yes, Ang Lee's Hulk had it's problems, and they were many, but I finally got the chance to buy the old Lou Ferrigno / Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk movies on DVD because of it. I hadn't seen them since I was a kid. Sure they were hokey, early-80s TV movie cheese, but I got the chance to hang out with old friends again. No regrets. So if I've got a problem with the new Ghostbusters movie (and I do), no one's got a gun to my head. I can safely miss out on it, and what's more, I can live without being part the insightful witty vigorous conversation about the movie that will rage through Facebook and its ilk in the coming days. I can still watch the 1985 original and its 1989 sequel (which I actually like) and be happy with that. Those movies aren't going anywhere, "progress" or no.

And I think it's that fact, the fact that the movies of, say, 1985 can't compare technologically with the movies of 2016 is why the anti-reboot crowd are so vocal. Movie-goers, as a group, are spoiled. Every year we get bigger and better budgets, buying bigger and better effects, so we notice when a studio cuts corners to save a few bucks. And when we watch similar movies from two different eras, we really notice the difference. Case in point: 2013's Pacific Rim vs. 1989's Robot Jox, two movies about giant robots doing cool stuff, made fourteen years apart. One is a stunning visual effects feast; the other was made with bendable models and stop-motion animation. There is no comparison. But that's the thing: movie studios in the late 80s couldn't produce anything near the kind of movies we're getting today. The technology simply didn't exist. That sense of history helps me keep things in perspective.

Sure, it sucks seeing your favorite movie get eclipsed by something with more flash. It really sucks to go online and read the comments of people who have been spoiled by that extra flash, or who genuinely believe the differences between that new movie and the old one will make any difference in their lives. But change happens; the constant influx of new movies pushes those that came before into the background. But that just means that, not only do I get to witness new spectacles, but I also get the joy of discovering those old movies for myself. My childhood, and the movies that made it great, are secure in the past. No one's coming to take them away. No one can take them away. They'll still be right where we left them, waiting to be discovered again. It's a great time to be a movie lover.

So I say, bring me your CGI, bring me your reboots and sequels and spin-offs. Bring me that far horizon. I'll take what I like, and leave the rest, and I encourage you to do the same, because there's always another trend. This one will pass, and be replaced by something else. But I can't wait to see what we get in the meantime.

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