“Oh, I wouldn’t call it a remake. It’s more of a __________”
Taking classics and cinematic obscurities and remaking them into modern movies has been a standard from the beginning of Hollywood. (Fun fact: by 1933, there had already been five versions of Alice in Wonderland. Times never change.) But only in recent years has buzzword jargon been so essential to the process. No longer are film studios in the “remake” business. The word comes with baggage — no one, the filmmakers or the film-watchers, wants to feel like they’re regurgitating — and so, brand mining and expansion has taken a whole new turn.
By describing new projects in hyperdetail, Hollywood has found a way to sidestep “remake.” Thank you, jargon! To help you understand what all these variations of “remake” really mean, Hollywood.com has compiled a rundown of the latest and greatest in franchise-friendly buzzwords:
Thanks to the magic of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (the 14th big screen adaptation for those counting), this became the go-to term for timeless tales making their way back to the big screen. A “reimagined” movie isn’t the previous incarnation you know and love — now it has more CG. And curlicue architecture.
An off-shoot of “reimagining,” “retelling” is a director or producer twisting the approach to their source material a weeeeee bit. Tonally different, but not unfamiliar. After Batman Begins, a retelling of the Batman origin story, every property under the sun was overhauled. Suddenly, everyone wanted “the dark version.” Which is why we’re eventually getting the gritty version of Little Mermaid.
NBC recently announced that it would be reinventing the 1960s CBS comedy The Munsters. Why is it hard to call it a straight remake? The show will be played as an hour-long drama, constructed from the supernatural elements of the original but with the modern genre spin that’s perfectly acceptable on the 2012 small screen. “Reinvention.”
You can only remake the same story in the exact same way so many times (well, in Hollywood, that’s up for debate, but let’s pretend for now). So what do you do if you want your own stab at a time-honored narrative? “Reinterpret,” of course. Filter a story through an alternative world and you’ve got yourself a whole other movie. Say you want to tell the story of Easter, but you don’t want to live in the shadow of the countless other Biblical blockbusters that have made their way to screen. Simple solution: tell it with barnyard animals. Boom.
“Modernization” is what happens when a producer wants to reinterpret a text, but decides it’s any time period or setting but right here and now is too boring for movie-going audiences. This isn’t your Pappy’s Shakespeare/Dickens/Bergerac or whatever literary figure may accidentally remind young people of high school English. These are movies! Why read Dracula when you can see the modernized Dracula 2000? You know it’s hip, because it has the year in the title.
A favorite of the 2010 and beyond crowd, “reboot” has quickly taken the place as the go-to back-up to the “remake.” Studios don’t remake their properties that came out 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. They reboot them. The new generation needs their own version of Total Recall and Spider-Man, so Hollywood gives them a swift reboot in the butt with a fresh cast, fresh director and (hopefully) fresh vision. The goal of a reboot isn’t to recreate the existing version — even if that’s the case 50% of the end products.
Fan expectations is Hollywood’s biggest hurdle to concocting new and improved versions of well-known properties. On one hand, they can’t cater to them — a movie has to play to the widest audience possible. But angry fans are often the loudest, and negative buzz permeates. That’s why there’s no better creative weapon than a “preboot.” Think J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek or the recent X-Men: First Class. A preboot acknowledges the established history of a property, a respectful nod to diehards, while paving over it with a new creative direction. Time travel is a preboot’s best friend.
“Semi-Sequel’ can play two distinct roles: either used to tie a movie unofficially to a famous milestone of the past (think the twisted fantasy Return to OZ and its classic predecessor) or as a label for something that really just needs an identifiable anchor. Judd Apatow’s upcoming This Is 40 is billed as a semi-sequel to Knocked Up, not because it requires the groundwork of another film to tell its story, but so there’s noticeable connective tissue for people wondering why they should fork over $12 to see it in theaters. Whatever works, funny people.
Is Elektra a sequel to Daredevil or its own entity? That’s what three people (including myself) were asking themselves when the Jennifer Garner-led movie was first announced. Since it lived within the continuity of the established Daredevil universe, Fox considered it a spin-off. Beefing it up with mysticism and a whole lot ninjas make the endeavor suspect. But hey, it really can’t be considered a remake!
Here’s where the line between “remake,” “reboot,” and “spin-off” blur. It could be argued that this weekend’s The Bourne Legacy fits into all three categories. It follows a similar path as the original Bourne Identity (inching towards straight remake territory), it features a new actor in a solidified franchise (reboot), but it’s part of the grander Bourne mythology (Jason Bourne’s story is weaved through the new hero’s own mission). This calls for the “sidequel” — the cinematic equivalent of an amoeba splitting in two. Bourne Legacy and the films comprising the first Bourne trilogy are technically two different beasts, but they’re composed from the same genetic material.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Universal Pictures]