The current entertainment ecosystem has been flooded with remakes and reimaginings. Is there enjoyment to be found in new versions of old stories? Or should we give reboots the boot?
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a sequel to a reboot, hits cinemas in less than a fortnight. Which begs two questions. First of all; who on earth keeps resurrecting these dinosaurs? And just as bafflingly; why do we keep bringing these old film and television franchises back from extinction?
You only have to look at the production schedule for major studios to get reboot fatigue. Disney is forging ahead with live action remakes of animated classics The Lion King, Dumbo, The Little Mermaid, Mulan and Aladdin, while Warner Bros. recently released the trailer for Mowgli, their “dark” reimagining of The Jungle Book (which was last remade just two years ago). The next X-Men film will cover the same comic book storyline as 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand. We’ve also got a remake of Stephen King’s Firestarter on the way from horror studio Blumhouse Pictures, an English language reboot of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, and Robert Downey Jr. is reprising his role in yet another Sherlock Holmes adventure. Over on YouTube Red, Eighties nostalgia has given way to Cobra Kai, a web series which continues the saga of now-adult rivals Daniel and Johnny from The Karate Kid.
It makes a certain amount of financial sense that studio executives would bank on low-risk ideas which have already proven to be popular. But it makes you wonder just how many original pitches and fresh new voices go unsupported, because a studio would rather green-light yet another reimagining of Frankenstein or Dracula.
And how much enjoyment can really be found in seeing the same old story play out? The Ghostbusters remake starred four incredibly funny women, but ultimately the script’s insistence on treading the same ground as the original meant that the new characters were never fully able to strike out on their own (Kate McKinnon’s glorious Holtzmann aside). Audiences might flock to theatres to see new actors bring their own unique energy to the same words that have been performed by countless others before them, and sometimes that same lightning-in-a-bottle is captured on television, as in the BBC’s production of King Lear. But not every revived franchise has material as rich as Shakespeare’s to work with.
That isn’t to say all reboots are a bad idea. Take, for example, the reports that Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson will be taking on leading roles in a new Men In Black film; two of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars who have already shown in Thor: Ragnarok that they know how to have a blast on-screen together. And then there’s the soon-to-be-released, all-female Ocean’s Eight, which sees Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett pulling off a heist at the Met Gala — who wouldn’t be into that?
Interestingly, when it comes to the realm of TV, Netflix has a pretty good hit rate when it comes to reviving old shows. When Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life was released in 2016, it was like seeing old friends again, but creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was adamant that the four feature-length episodes were all we were going to get. That enabled audiences to catch up with their favourite Star’s Hollow residents and see a refreshingly realistic depiction of messy adult life for once-perfect student Rory, while ensuring that none of these characters outstayed their welcome.
The next year, we were treated to a thoroughly modern reimagining of classic sitcom One Day At A Time, starring Hollywood legend Rita Moreno. It’s rare that a sitcom can make you snort-laugh and ugly-cry within thirty minutes, especially while tackling issues like racism, mental illness and homophobia — but the writing and acting are so fantastic, and accompanied by such a positive and inclusive social message, that it makes you thankful this kind of revival was approved by studios.
Along the same lines is this year’s Queer Eye reboot, which garnered praise for bringing together such a loveable (and attractive) group of men as the new Fab Five. The revival’s warm and sensitive approach to the tried-and-tested makeover show genre proved so popular that a second season was hastily commissioned, and is set to debut on the platform in just two weeks.
So it’s definitely true that every now and then, a new cast and creative team can breathe life into an old idea, bring it into the 21st Century, and make it relevant for today’s audience. And let’s be honest — if you’re not going to do that, why even try?