I’m old. I’ve seen three different Godzillas, three distinct Batmans, three versions of Charlie’s Angels, three takes on Doctor Who, at least three DC Universes, two cinematic Spider-Mans and at least half a dozen each of Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan. Franchise characters tend to exist in their own universe, whether bound by copyright or movie rights or just the nature of their worlds. Sometimes, the creative powers that be will restart that universe over again. This is called a reboot. What is it about reboots? Why do they keep happening, and why do they work? Let’s find out after the jump.
One of the reasons that a reboot takes place is because the character has been forgotten or that the current generation doesn’t know anything about that franchise. This type of deal covers many of the radio and pulp heroes. The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Green Hornet all fall into that category, as do earlier creations like Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and John Carter of Mars.
The current generation might, and that’s a very slim might, know the names but I highly doubt they know anything else about the character. Therefore, conventional thinking is that the story has to start fresh from the beginning. Blank slate. Blank slates are excellent for this type of endeavor. That way new creators can update a character, change them to be more likable by the current demographic.
Demographics are important to reboots, especially when it comes to Hollywood. Who is our movie-going public? Teenagers, predominantly, teenagers between the ages of twelve and twenty, that’s who. Think about that for a second. If that’s who Hollywood is aiming at, they have no memory (old movies out of the equation) older than roughly a decade. That means anything older than ten years earlier would theoretically be ‘new’ to them. You ask why Sony would reboot Spider-Man to theaters just five years after the last film – it’s new to half of the demographic.
Failed Sequels = Reboots
Speaking of Spider-Man, this brings up another reason the reboot works. Anyone who saw the travesty that Spider-Man 3 was will tell you they’re not going to see a fourth Spider-Man film, because it was so bad. A reboot allows the creator to once again wipe the slate clean and start fresh. In other words, hopefully it will wash the bad taste of the last lousy movie out of your mouth. The Batman movie franchise also worked that way as well, moving from Joel Schumacher to Christopher Nolan as director.
Finding New Directions
Rebooting covers tracks that way also if the new version takes a different path for the franchise than it had earlier. The 1966 “Batman” TV series as well as the Godzilla movies of the 1970s tended to be campy and humorous, but both franchises took a more serious lean when they were rebooted, respectively, in 1989 and 1984. New directions need clean slates.
James Bond suffered from camp for some time in the seventies as well, and currently enjoys a second (third?) life as a more realistic character in a more realistic world. Drew Barrymore did the much the same to Charlie’s Angels for the big screen, turning a dated semi-serious jiggle cop show into a popular quick cut MTV style pair of movies. Doctor Who, after a much too long hiatus, was changed from a kids show with bad sets and double layered plots to a pop culture phenom that has made sci-fi geekery mainstream. Add a bit of modern day action or old fashioned steampunk or gender switches or just a change of time and environment to Sherlock Holmes, and you’ve got multiple hits. Some changes are for the better.
Also, and this is the reason I disagree with most as an ‘old’ person, old is not good. Often when a young person hears that something is old, has years of mileage on it, and possibly years of continuity attached to it – they want nothing to do with it, they can’t relate to it. This one goes more toward the world of comics. This complaint caused DC Comics to reboot their entire universe, not once, but twice. It also made the folks at Marvel create their ‘more relevant’ Ultimate Universe.
Now for the old folks who love their genre fiction, characters, and universes, this may seem like madness, so many reboots and new beginnings. But I have to say that sometimes this is a good thing. Each new reboot gives us a fresh eye toward our beloved characters, new twists, updated ideas, and sometimes bursts of brilliance that make them better. At least, we can hope so.