Talking Heads: What’s the Key To Making a Great Prequel or Reboot?

Every week, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius log on to their favorite chat client of 1996 as TheManFromWaco andTeenWlf2 in order to discuss some topical topic of interest.

This week, the pair questions what separates the wheat from the shit when it comes to reboots, prequels and movies capitalizing on name recognition in order to get ahead in the marketing game.

What makes a prequel great? How can a reboot really succeed?

Landon: So we’ve been inundated by remakes, reboots, reimagining, retreads, redos – whatever the spin doctors want to call it – lately. While most of these franchise reboots feel like blatant cash grabs, occasionally there are inspired films that come out of it.

My question to you is, in terms of reboots, what qualities separate the wheat from the chaff?

Cole: I imagine that Spin Doctors reference is a subtle tie-in between their song “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” and the new Superman reboot.

Landon: Oddly enough, I think it’s what the former band members actually do for a living now.

Cole: Everyone has to sell out eventually.

As for the question of reboots, I don’t even think we have an accurate, direct definition of the term yet. Is it simply taking an anchor (like a brand or character) and filling the same world with new actors, directors and writers? Is there a real difference between a reboot or a remake?

Landon: I think that’s part of the problem, as lines seem to blur between the terms. Something like Star Trek, Casino Royale, or Batman Begins is clearly a reboot, but X-Men First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes are prequels and a means to boot franchises all their own…

Then we have something like the sequel to Ghost Rider, which is ostensibly something of a “redo.” Or something.

Cole: So instead of getting lost in the phrase, let’s just look at some general rules for telling stories about the people we already know.

The obvious key is to keep what’s lovable about the characters or the world and expand on it without evolving it to death.

Landon: So in that way, “starting over” with properties like Christopher Nolan’s Batman work and a prequel like X-Men: First Class would qualify, as they take the same basic formula and characters but explore different aspects of the story’s universe.

Cole: Exactly.

So, that means two things: 1) The character and universe have to be interesting enough to play around with some more and 2) The tweaking either has to stay faithful to the core elements or be so radical that it ignores all of them.

Like Temple of Doom. We fell in love with Indiana Jones in the first movie, and we get to see a bit darker version of his past in the second.

Landon: So what, then, differentiates a good sequel from a good franchise relaunch? Because those rules apply to both.

Cole: A third rule I’ll propose is that the prequel version needs to show a profoundly different universe than we’ve seen before.

In Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, they shifted from shiny latex-clad modern times to the gritty leather-straight-off-the-animal-clad days of the ancient past. That’s a change within the world itself. In Batman Begins, we saw a Gotham that didn’t look or feel like Burton’s comic book pop up world or the more recent-at-the-time cartoonish abominations of production design from Batman and Robin.

Landon: I’d like to piggyback off of that by saying the best franchise reboots respond to changes in audience taste that have occurred since the last entry. They show a willingness to adapt.

Like Casino Royale switching to a grittier, Bourne-inspired Bond.

Cole: They take into consideration not only the character, but the new audience as well.

Landon: This I think distinguishes genuine inspiration in altering an old property versus a cash grab, and it’s also why audiences become suspect of quick relaunches in a way they don’t with quick sequels: new assessments of a universe implicitly requires time

Cole: Put that in the “Do Not” pile. You can’t truly “reimagine” something within 5 months of the last story launching.

Landon: It’s not a universal rule, but it seems to characterize the best of the bunch. That’s why movies that straddle the line between sequel and relaunch – like the new Pirates movie – seem so indecisive. It wants to change the story by getting rid of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, but do little more to establish itself as a new approach.

Cole: So maybe the lack of definition really is important – just not for us. It matters for storytellers that can get stuck in the middle between the freedom to revamp and the albatross of the old.

Landon: Exactly. The negotiated sweet spot between the new and the old necessary for a reboot to work is difficult to figure out.

Cole: On the other hand, the “No-no” list also includes swinging too far to one side. Paranormal Activity 2 was a prequel, but it was almost exactly the same movie. Which, if Hangover 2 criticism can be believed, can also be applied to movies that aren’t revamps or reboots.

Landon: Are there any examples that swing too far in the opposite direction? Movies that stray too far from the original?

Cole: In a way, yes.

Phantom Menace comes to mind. That particular universe is incredibly expansive, but we hang out with an annoying kid before a race. How is that at all like the other Star Wars films?

Which raises the next rule: Make sure that your characters are interesting enough to warrant exploring their background.

Landon: It’s like that Patton Oswalt stand-up routine. To speculate on how Darth Vader was as a kid might make for an interesting conversation, but it’s not what people really want in a movie.

As in, an understanding of what people really want to see, not just what might be hypothetically interesting.

Cole: Right. It ends up being like staring at Jon Voight’s ballsack.

Landon: Which is only interesting hypothetically.

Cole: What are some truly outstanding re-visitations (to add yet another phrase to the mix) that we can learn from?

I’ll take Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas as a given.

Landon: I’ll take it that “resoundingly bad” counts by reminding you about the Nightmare on Elm Street remake for one specific reason: reboots should feel like a big deal instead of yet another dig for gold.

What angers me most about bad reboots is that they’ve become so routine that they don’t feel like the “event” that they should. It should feel like a really big deal that we are seeing a new version of a classic or familiar character on the big screen.

Cole: So we’re promised a silver platter with trumpets and fanfare for icons, but we end up with shitty fast food on a ripped piece of cardboard.

That’s a gastronomical metaphor for people who don’t understand the core or soul of the character, and go wildly off target.

Landon: I often eat gourmet dinners while people are blaring brass instruments close by.

Cole: That’s what the plot to Transformers: Dark of the Moon is.

Ultimately, the core of the characters is the most important thing. It’s also the most difficult, but not understanding what makes the characters work is the first step on the wrong path toward revamping, booting, visiting, imagining, prequeling or anything else that’s probably now listed under Urban Dictionary as a sex act.

Landon: I think we can both agree that, 11 years on, there’s still a lot to be learned from Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.

Cole: This entire topic was just a ruse so you could reference that film, wasn’t it?

Landon: That movie died so that other movie franchises could live.

Join the discussion by leaving your two cents below and check out more Talking Heads every Friday

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The FSR Staff is an author similar to Hydra. Its articles have many authors. It has many heads. Please don't cut off any of its heads, we're trying to work here.

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