Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Reboots


Kate Bush doesn't release too many albums anymore. The singer has released eight albums over a 33 year career, releasing only two LPs in the last few decades. Last month saw the release of Bush's first album in 8 years titled Director's Cut, but my question is can this LP be thought of as a new album when none of the songs it features are new? The songs on Director's Cut are not even covers of songs by other artists; they are simply covers of old songs by Kate Bush. Director's Cut consists of 11 reworked or entirely rerecorded songs from Bush's The Sensual World and The Red Shoes albums. Bush's legendary song The Sensual World has been re-titled Flower of the Mountain; now sang by a less youthful Kate Bush―her voice echoing a sense of history and experience, seemingly less pleasurably sensuous than the earlier version, arguably more sombre.

Kate Bush can do anything she likes now; there is no need for her to justify any of her creative decisions. But what strikes those familiar with her work is that Director's Cut is hugely reflective of the times we're living in, though perhaps more self-knowing of this actuality than what other 'creative' mediums like cinema are. The truth is that Kate Bush's Director's Cut is an artistic reboot of her old songs.


Reboots are strange things. They're neither sequels nor remakes, they're new products based on familiar properties that masquerade as fresh material. It's hard to think of many reboots in music but the film world is riddled with them and the situation is about to become more pronounced.

Last weekend's X-Men: The First Class can be argued to be a reboot of the superhero franchise from which it stems. The academics out there may argue that First Class is not a reboot but a prequel because it's an origins story. Others will argue that First Class is actually a spinoff that takes the story in a new direction with familiar undertones. I will argue that First Class is nothing more than a reboot of a story that has been essentially told already. After all, the film opens with the same Nazi Holocaust sequence that opened the first X-Men movie 11 years ago. The argument here isn't whether the film is any good but rather more to do with the studio behind First Class rebooting the franchise to keep the brand going and capitalise on the public appetite for a familiar product that's a proven cash generator. First Class is a movie that exists to fill in the blanks; its function is to flesh out a backstory that never needed fleshing out. It also reboots a franchise that didn't need rebooting because the X-Men movies of past are relatively recent; too recent to be thought of as old films. The decision to reboot the franchise seems a prudent business judgment more than anything else because now we'll likely see further First Class sequels covering the periods between this film and Bryan Singer's first X-Men flick. The $56 million X-Men: First Class accumulated in America over the weekend, benefitted with a $64 million overseas take (£5.44 million here in the UK), suggests further parts will likely follow.

April saw the release of Scream 4 which was a movie that tried to have its cake and eat it. It was a sequel to a horror movie trilogy that saw its last instalment released over 11 years ago. The film was a legitimate sequel in that it brought about all the surviving protagonists from earlier movies but freshened up proceedings by introducing a slew of younger characters to keep the franchise juicy. Due to the fact that Scream 4 offered little in the way that was fresh and innovative (unlike the original Scream 15 years ago), the film was an attempt to reboot the franchise, taking the framework of a story already known to audiences and reinvigorating it with a crop of new characters that will hopefully make the franchise relevant enough to milk a couple of more sequels out of. Judging by the movie's mediocre performance at the box-office the chance for Scream 5 getting the greenlight looks poor.

he problem with reboots for people like me is that I feel like I've already seen what they have to offer and don't fancy having to sit through something that can't really proffer anything new. There are reboots that make sense like 2008's The Incredible Hulk that was a reboot of Ang Lee's 2003 dull as dishwater Hulk movie, though I will argue even that movie was less to do with correcting creative faults and more to do with keeping a superhero brand afloat so that it continues to be profitable. (The irony is that both of these Hulk adaptations failed to monetarily deliver.)

Some may argue that Casino Royale was an inspired reboot of the James Bond franchise and that rebooting movie brands can pay dividends as it has done with the recent crop of Christopher Nolan directed Batman movies. That's correct to a degree, but James Bond is an empty vessel that lacks a recognisable backstory. 007 is simply a coded identity that gets appropriated with an assortment of different personalities who take on the job and therefore assume the identity. The fact that every 007 is called James Bond is irrelevant as that is merely the moniker the spy adopts to carry out his job. That is very different from say Peter Parker or Clark Kent who have a more defined history. Any reboot of Spiderman or Superman will have to repeat the same backstory, therefore more or less replicate the same beats we've seen countless times already.

There is a more worrying aspect about the current trend of rebooting movie properties and that is to do with the relatively short gaps between the original film and the reboot. Already on the way are reboots to Superman, Spiderman, Tomb Raider and The Fantastic Four. With the exception of Tomb Raider, all of these movie properties saw their last instalments released less than 5 years ago (the last Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life was a historical 8 years ago).

It seems to me that Hollywood believes it cannot afford delaying a movie reboot because that risks it fading from the collective consciousness and in turn may prove to be a less economically viable movie proposition. Even Warner Bros. has gone on record to declare that next year's The Dark Knight Rises may mark the closure of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy but the studio will immediately reboot the franchise with a new cast and director. No doubt they will do the same thing every decade meaning that the same old stories and characters will be rehashed generation after generation. This means that while you saw Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, and now your kids are rocking to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight; your grandkids are almost guaranteed to be enraptured by the same bat themed superhero doing very similar things in a rebooted movie.


As long as there's a public appetite for accepting rebooted movies the Hollywood machine will be more than happy to keep on rebooting. It makes their job easy as they already control the story rights and have to take fewer risks. Therefore, there is no pressing need to commission original stories that carry an increased risk of being unfamiliar. Some reboots can be decent like Star Trek and The Incredible Hulk, but that doesn't mean that I don't want to see fresh characters, ideas and plots in summer tentpole movies. The risk right now is that everything in mainstream cinema is becoming uncomfortably familiar. This risks audiences having to experience a limited creative pool of stories and stock characters. Studios want as much certainty as possible in terms of recognisable constituent parts of a movie and that is why reboots fit the bill as they revitalise a brand without fundamentally altering it. The situation is getting so desperate that it will not surprise me if either the Harry Potter or Twilight franchises are lined up for reboots within the next 10 years.

5 comments:

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  2. I'm right with you. I am SO unhappy with Sony for re-booting Spider-Man. It's ridiculous. We -just- saw the origin story, and, as much as I love Spider-Man, I don't need to see it again, already. I'd rather have them progress the storyline.
    I think Hulk, though, was a different kind of re-boot. Marvel wanted to re-make The Hulk under Marvel studios as part of their set up for The Avengers. I can understand that one. At least, Marvel is doing something different. Something different for movies with all of these different films leading into one movie.

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  3. I so agree with your assessment. It seems as though Hollywood only goes for original material if they can't get their reboots released fast enough. There is so much fresh material out there that it's a shame it's not being utilized.

    I'm tired of the re-imagining craze. They're even doing a new Romeo and Juliet because Baz Luhrman's apparently aged. Even though there have been a dozen or more incarnations of the story told over the last decade, well the tweens need a new Romeo to drool over. Perhaps they'll even use contemporary English and turn Romeo into a vampire...Oh wait, that's already been done.

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  4. Excellent and concise article. I watch relatively few new movies, but I agree with everything you've said here. For the time being, audiences seem satisfied with as much flash as possible erupting every few minutes onscreen whether it's the same story or not. I seldom hear people say much regarding a movies story, or the characters. The "special effects" are generally the first, and sometimes only thing discussed.

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  5. I love Kate Bush a lot, especially RUNNING UP THAT HILL which marked a whole age in the music history both the song and the video.
    I also loved THE RED SHOES!

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