What Makes Certain Movies ‘Unrebootable’?
These past few days have been a veritable case study in the Art of the Justified Reboot—what to do, what not to do, how you should never, ever fuck with John Cusack. In one corner you have the Say Anything TV show, which spurred the wrath of the Internet, Cusack, and some dude named Cameron Crowe when it was announced, only to be canceled less than 24 hours later, 20th TV and NBC stuffing their hands in their pockets and attempting a casual whistle as they pretended they never thought rebooting one of the most iconic rom-coms of all time would actually be a good idea.
In the other corner there’s Twin Peaks*, being brought back for a nine-episode limited series on Showtime by original creators David Lynch and Mark Frost. And the Internet did this:
*Yeah, yeah, it’s not a reboot (or for that matter a movie, aside from Fire Walk With Me), but stay with me on this. They’re both beloved stories being brought back after decades. It’s close enough to be able to compare the two cases.
So why was everyone excited about Twin Peaks but up in arms about Say Anything? The answer, at first glance, is obvious: Twin Peaks is being done by its original creators, and the suits behind the Say Anything show didn’t even bother to give Crowe, the movie’s writer/director, the man for whom this was a labor of love, a heads up. Aside from any other adjectives you want to throw NBC’s way for this (and Dustin had a choice few), it was remarkably tone-deaf. Of course, when they hear about a Say Anything reboot, one of the first things people are going to want to know is whether it has the Cameron Crowe/Lloyd Dobler seal of approval. When it doesn’t, and when the two of them have about 1.5 million Twitter followers between them… it’s not a recipe for fun boombox times.
So, in short, Twin Peaks has a creative justification for coming back. Say Anything doesn’t. It’s a money grab, and one that exploits the creativity and love of its original creator, at that.
Easy peasy coffee squeazy.
Or is it?
Let’s delve a little deeper here. I’m actually of a pretty liberal mind when it comes to reboots—my thought is, the kneejerk reactions people have against them tend to be unjustified. Sure, there’s a tendency in Hollywood to crank out reboots instead of taking risks developing original films. From a marketing standpoint, you have to explain to people how Pacific Rim isn’t just reheated Bayformers, whereas everybody basically knows what they’re getting with RoboCop. Robocop has brand recognition. And sure, that’s a problem—but the proliferation of reboots is a symptom of that problem, not the problem itself.
In short… there’s nothing to say the Say Anything TV show had to suck. Who thought 21 Jump Street would be good? Or Dredd? Rise of the Planet of the Apes? Battlestar Galactica? It’s obviously early days, but —Ghostbusters 3. It was one of those “don’t you fucking dare” reboots until it came out that Paul Feig is mixing it up with a female team, and now people are on-board, because that’s interesting. (The Say Anything sequel did not sound interesting. The Say Anything sequel sounded yuck.)
It’s about quality. If a movie (or TV show) is good—if it’s creative, if it’s entertaining, if it’s not just some studio head demanding that an underpaid director churn out shit so he can cash checks—then I don’t much care whether it’s a reboot. And if it’s bad, then that’s because of story, of character, of directing—not because it was based on something else. And hey, it’s a two-hour thing you don’t have to see. It’s not like it accesses the fabric of the universe and replaces every copy of Footloose with the Julianne Hough version.
Fuck, Phil Lord and Chris Miller could reboot The Princess Bride, and I’d be OK with it.
Or… maybe not. Because the very idea of a The Princess Bride reboot sends shivers down my spine. A key component of what makes a movie “unrebootable” in the popular consciousness—maybe even more key than whether it pays appropriate respect to the creator’s vision—is how beloved it is. Announce a Citizen Kane reboot, and you’ll get a heavy dose of “WTF?!” and some tooth gnashing and genuine emotional reaction from the cinephile corner of the internet. But Rob Reiner, William Goldman, and Jesus Christ himself could announce they’re doing a The Princess Bride reboot, and there would be rioting in the streets. “We don’t wish for this!,” the masses would wail. “Why can’t you just leave it alone?”
Because certain movies belong to the public. Like The Princess Bride. Like Say Anything. I would argue that Twin Peaks, though obviously a cultural icon, doesn’t as much, because it’s so associated with Lynch in a way that The Princess Bride and Say Anything aren’t with Reiner and Crowe. Twin Peaks IS Lynch, and he’ll do whatever the fuck he wants with it, and we’ll go along for the ride and thank him for the privilege.
But do movies belong to us? Should they? Are we letting our nostalgia, our emotions, our desire to exert some small level of control over an industry that won’t stop propping shitty ’80s cartoon remakes and fucking Paddington in front of our poor, unwilling eyes blind us from a simple truth? Namely, this:
There is no movie that is too precious to be rebooted.
I think the answer to that question is yes. I also think that having an averse reaction to reboots, at least when it comes to certain films, is a completely natural and understandable impulse, if not a logical one.
Movies are a personal thing—so many of them, particularly ones we grew up with, are baked into our consciousness in a very real way. It’s a complicated issue, s’what I’m saying, and one that I don’t have an answer to.
But now I’ve said my piece. Feel free to join Dustin around the fire, where he’s roasting marshmallows over the Say Anything show’s burning corpse, and tell us the reboots that would make your head explode if anyone dared to try and do them.
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