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Spawn, which was released in 1997, helped build the foundation of what is now a Hollywood instinct: reboot culture. (The Canadian Press)
Spawn, which was released in 1997, helped build the foundation of what is now a Hollywood instinct: reboot culture. (The Canadian Press)

ANNE T. DONAHUE

How I learned to stop worrying and love movie reboot culture Add to ...

In 1997, we experienced a certain type of renaissance. Film franchises and TV series were updated, recast with familiar faces and issued with the speed and confidence that only the nineties could deliver. They were not good, but they certainly existed and people saw them – or at least that’s what I gleaned from the fact The Beautician and the Beast was always out of stock at Jumbo Video.

Of course, if you were a kid or a preteen at the time, you likely didn’t understand what was happening. You knew 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie was a play on a classic seventies show, and you knew movies such as Dennis the Menace were based on a comic strip.

But “reboot culture” wasn’t a thing – despite how the 1997 release of Spawn, George of the Jungle, Leave It to Beaver, Mr. Magoo, That Darn Cat and The Saint (to name a few) built the foundation of what is now a Hollywood instinct.

Twenty years later, reboots are thriving. This weekend sees the release of CHIPS and Power Rangers, while last weekend Beauty and the Beast brought in about $350-million (U.S.) around the globe. Next week, Ghost in the Shell will be the industry’s white-washed answer to the beloved Japanese franchise, while Baywatch, Wonder Woman, the Smurfs and a 2.0 take on King Arthur are slated for release down the line.

In the two decades since producers concluded we needed an update on the Cleavers, Hollywood has learned a lot. The business is choosier, a little more careful – or at least less likely to lean on the work of a creative predecessor. Now, reboots are bigger, better, more dynamic.

Kind of.

There is purpose in rebooting something we love. As we’ve learned from recent takes on Star Trek, Sherlock and even Ghostbusters, it’s possible to pay homage to something while building on it, too. We may not need reboots, but they can serve as the key to introducing young viewers to franchises they might have overlooked.

While the Star Trek films upped the political ante over the 2010s, Ghostbusters made the case for more movies starring just women. Not every reboot needs to be saddled with 15 years of Spider-Man’s baggage (some reboots are allowed to be fun), and some – such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast – can add logic and heart to fairy tales riddled with plot holes. (Although honestly, did the Beast just not have dishes before the spell was cast?)

More importantly, our approach to reboots – as fans – has evolved. Now, with access to old TV shows, original movies and a better understanding of how pop culture works, our relationship with reboot culture is relatively transparent.

We understand how unnecessary they are, so we can lower our expectations accordingly. We know movies such as Baywatch are going to poke fun at nineties-era David Hasselhoff, just like we know a TV series such as Riverdale has upped the darkness to draw an audience who didn’t read Archie comics. Even the millionth Spider-Man movie feels as if Hollywood’s admission that maybe Tobey Maguire shouldn’t have danced around with an emo haircut in 2006 or that, while he’s a charming young man, Andrew Garfield was clearly a twentysomething pretending to be a teenager.

Reboots now tend to be accompanied by a disclaimer: We know nobody needs them, but who cares?

The year 1997 still delivered movies with a side order of mystery, particularly because we lacked the perspective that social-media-induced cynicism brings. And in the wake of that development, Hollywood has learned to embrace the reality behind reboot culture: Some are interesting, important, potentially groundbreaking, while others are Power Rangers – and each have a place.

But just as we should not automatically dismiss films we don’t want to see (film snobbery is the worst), there’s an onus on filmmakers to do justice to the original material.

The year 1997 may have delivered questionable remakes of boomer-era TV shows, but 2017 cast Scarlett Johansson to play a Japanese woman in Ghost in the Shell. We may have a more evolved relationship with reboots today, but that means Hollywood needs to evolve, too.

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