A Crash Course in Writing the Hollywood Reboot
The idea behind the Hollywood reboot was summed up perfectly in 2012’s 21 Jump Street, when Nick Offerman’s Chief Deputy states: “we’re reviving a cancelled undercover police program from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. You see, the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.”
From Spiderman, Superman, Batman (I see a theme here), Robocop, Mad Max, Annie, Godzilla, Planet of the Apes, Dracula, Maleficent, and Cinderella, Hollywood reboots are a common flick on the box office. Even television reboots such as Hawaii-Five O and Arrested Development have received a lot of attention. Reboots are considerably easy in the pre-production stage – characters are already developed and the film or series already has an established fan base, so drafting a plot and mocking up a script is simpler and quicker. Reboots are a safe bet financially too. They will usually always draw large crowds, are often all-star casts and are attached to big-name directors and producers.
The reboots for the Star Trek franchise follow this template perfectly.
There are eighteen years between the final Star Trek: The Original Series (ST: TOS) film in 1991 and the J.J. Abrams Hollywood reboot in 2009, almost enough to have an entire generation grow up in between. And with the success of the new and alternative universe of these reboots, Paramount developed Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) and have begun writing and casting for Star Trek 3 (working title) to be released in 2016.
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot different about the two films and the two universes. With J. J. Abrams universe, Captain Kirk (Chris Pike) is twenty-five when he first takes command of the USS Enterprise, and is still a cadet at Starfleet Academy. Alternatively, in ST:TOS, Shatner’s Kirk spends ten years working across Starfleet before taking up the post. Hollywood, as Hollywood does, has made each character around a decade younger and insanely successful – Pavel Chekov is the Russian seventeen-year old engineering genius as opposed to the modest twenty-two year old Ensign on the Enterprise in another universe.
The introduction of Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as Spock’s predominant love interest also raised considerable eyebrows. In ST: TOS, Uhura is a lieutenant on the Enterprise with few love interests, dedicated to her job and the first African woman to be a reoccurring main character on a television show. No doubt big boots to fill and the actress does a sound job, the 2009 Star Trek has a solid 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an 8/10 for IMDB, an all-star cast and grossed more than $257 million in the US box office. Action, adventure, romance, a blossoming friendship, a cheeky badass and a sarcastic doctor and of course, time travel, this movie undoubtedly has it all and the kitchen sink.
But at what point does a reboot of a franchise go too far? When do you know you’re pushing the barrier of an already existing franchise, fanbase and culture just a little too far? For many, Abrams did that. His universe is completely new, alternative and doesn’t fit into the standard canonical timeline. Instead it has sort of a vague definition – it’s an alternative universe canon, not exactly the same but not entirely different. For many people, what Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have created is fanfiction. Albeit, really really super successful fan fiction that was transformed into a film and made hundreds of millions of dollars.
Personally, I don’t prefer one Star Trek over the other, to be fair – there are merits in each universe. However, people do and that is completely fair. When you make a reboot, you have to be fair and consider that not everyone is going to like it the way you’ve decided to make it. As reviewer Jason Chandler on IMDB says, “this is not your father’s Star Trek“.
In a similar way that Star Trek was revived, 21 Jump Street’s resurrection with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill made every 90s teenager cringe with fear when it was announced. Why, ‘why did they have to touch such a treasured, iconic role for Depp?’ everyone said. ‘Why can’t they just let things stay as they are?’ like it is a big metaphysical and philosophical debate about the human condition. Tatum was the broad-shouldered, attractive yet goofy love interest in She’s the Man, the ‘dancer’ in Magic Mike, the actual dancer in Step Up and Jonah Hill just wanted it in and around his mouth. To be fair, I doubted it as well.
But 21 Jump Street works. It rose like a Phoenix on drugs in the ‘Fuck Yeah Motherfucker’ stage through the ashes of its reboot competition like Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and The Bourne Legacy (2012). 21 Jump Street has a sound 7.2/10 for IMDB, an 85% fresh rating for rotten tomatoes and grossed a cool $138 million in the US. The movie works for no other reason than it was wonderfully written, hilariously funny and, most importantly, didn’t deny that it was a reboot. It knew it was coming from a super-successful place, a cult-classic television show, threw two typical Hollywood actors in to revive the programme, and hoped they didn’t screw it up to much. The storyline is linear, with the Jump Street programme having been shut down between the end of the television show and the film, making it canonically sound.
The crème of the crop is no doubt the cameo by Depp and DeLuise, which ties the entire film together with its predecessor. These little things in reboots make the world of difference and they’re what define a successful reboot from a cringe-worthy box office flop. Star Trek was infinitely full of them, from the sarcastic Dr. McCoy and the always logical but slightly smartassed Spock, the Vulcan neck pinch, the classic phrases and the small jabs to a time in television long ago, writing these gestures which saturated in popular culture allow the viewer to connect the dots over a chasm of time and space.
Sometimes filmmakers think they’re doing what’s best by you and the film company. It’s like you are two children in a playpen and the director hopes you will play nice, but more often than not, the film company wins out because they’ve got the money. This is when you get nipples on your batman and women in your refrigerator and a really bad Green Lantern film.
So after all of this you still want to write a Hollywood reboot? Good on you. Stay away from iconic scenes and classic actors (you wouldn’t dare write a Breakfast at Tiffany’s reboot, would you?). Stay away from films that are too recent (see: the Amazing Spiderman debacle). Romantic comedies sell the best and are the cheapest to make, plus there are so early romantic comedies from the 1920s and 1930s you can try out and (please) give them a bit of a feminist spin.
Remember Fun With Dick and Jane (2005) sans Jane Fonda (1977)? A 6.1/10 on IMDB for the Jim Carey and a 29% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes, not because Jim Carey is not a funny man or Téa Leoni, now star of CBS show Madam Secretary is a bad actress, but because it attempted to be a straight reboot of the same film, with just different jobs, different house, no cute little story book introduction at the start and no Jane Fonda! The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) only showed us that John Travolta was not a menacing criminal with or without a flavour-saver. And I don’t even want to think about the conversation that movie executives had when they considered Clash of the Titans (2010). Don’t become these films.
So make your Hollywood reboot. Make it good. But respect the hard work that has come before you by the people who pushed for the show or film, who worked tirelessly on the original script, who acted, who directed, who produced and ran that show and read those first film reviews after the premier all before you even consider opening a new Final Draft document. Because you can have an original film flop at the box office pretty much no problem, it happens, but you screw up a reboot of an amazing show, film, comic, book or game, hell hath no fury like a fanbase scorned.