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Hollywood has reboot fever!
Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane in "Man of Steel." - photo by Jim Bennett
A lot of big movie news landed this week. The new Fantastic Four trailer hit the Internet, previewing a movie that bears no resemblance at all to the first two movies that bore the same name or the Fantastic Four comic books. That happened on the same day that director Paul Feig announced the cast and release date for his all-female version of Ghostbusters and rumors began to swirl that Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt was first in line to replace Harrison Ford as the new Indiana Jones.

Hollywood is in the throes of reboot fever.

As anyone who has ever used a computer knows, the way to solve any digital problem is to unplug the machine and start the whole thing up again. True, everything youve been working on will be lost, but when it comes to restarting faltering movie franchises, thats sort of the point. Bill Murray refused to make another Ghostbusters sequel because [n]o one wants to pay money to see fat, old men chasing ghosts. So the studio decided that the obvious solution is to pretend the original movies never happened and replace the fat, old men with young women.

Great idea, right? Well, maybe. With both movies and computers, reboots are a drastic measure that dont always deliver the desired results.

Then again, there are some that do. Im not one of the die-hard fans that insist that all reboots are desecrations of their original source material, nor am I the snob who insists that re-using familiar characters, titles and plots always demonstrates a dearth of imagination. As with most generalizations, those two premises each have a grain of truth to them, but I think there are plenty of exceptions to both rules. Each project needs to be judged on a reboot-by-reboot basis.

The most successful reboots, in my opinion, are the ones that recognize and respect what has gone before while, at the same time, charting a new course. The 2009 Star Trek reboot threaded this needle better than any other franchise in recent memory by using a clever time travel device to set up an alternate timeline where Captain Kirk and crew could have new adventures that didnt erase the old ones. (They then proceeded to drop the ball with Star Trek Into Darkness, but thats another story for another day.) It also helped to have Leonard Nimoys Spock on hand to pass the torch to the new cast. Should they decide to put Harrison Ford out to pasture and hand his whip and fedora to Chris Pratt, Disney would be wise to handle any Indiana Jones reboot in a similar way.

Yet respect for the past isnt always a recipe for success. Superman Returns (2006), which was slavishly devoted to the original Christopher Reeve movies and a bloated retread of his first film, wasnt nearly as good as 2013s Man of Steel, a hard reboot which wiped the slate clean. And did we really need a shot-for-shot recreation of Alfred Hitchcocks 1960 masterpiece Psycho in 1998? No. We did not. However, we did need to reboot James Bond when Daniel Craig ably assumed the role of the superspy in 2006s Casino Royale. Over 40 years of Cold War-era baggage was weighing down the character, and the fresh start reinvigorated the sagging franchise and made it relevant for a modern audience.

So there are no hard-and-fast rules for making a reboot work. The key, as always, is in the execution. If youre telling a lousy story, it ultimately doesnt matter if its old men or young women who are busting ghosts.