Friday, May 6, 2011

The Addendum Reboot

I’ve talked before about the problems with sequels and my displeasure with reboots. Today I want to talk about three recent “reimaginings” that add a whole new level of error to the remake industry. These unimaginings commit the sin of sucking the life out of the material they are remaking and then filling in the holes with pure filler. They are like addendums more than films. Specifically, I’m talking about: Halloween (2007), Final Destination (2009), and A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010). Blech.

The originals of these three films were all standout horror films over the past thirty years. Halloween (1978) essentially invented the slasher genre when it gave us Michael Myers, a silent, masked killing machine who returns to his childhood home to kill off every fornicating teenager he can find. Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) upped the stakes for slasher films by improving both the special effects and the level of creativity of these films with the introduction of Freddie Krueger, who kills fornicating teenagers in their dreams. And Final Destination (2000) injected a bit of Rube Goldbergism into the teen horror genre by forcing the teens to solve a series of mystery puzzles while death hunts them for wrongly escaping their destinies. . . and thereby kept them too busy to fornicate.

Each of these films spawned a bazillion sequels and each should have been pretty decent as reboots because they all offered excellent source material to work with. In fact, all you really had to do to make good reboots out of these would be take the original idea, modernize a few elements, come up with a new take on some aspect of the film, hire a bunch of teen hotties, and start rolling. Sounds easy, but apparently not.

Final Destination 2.0 is horrible and pointless. It's like a Cliff's Notes version of the original that misses the key points. The original Final Destination was an earnest teen horror flick which paid off in the clever and interesting riddles the teens needed to solve to save their sorry butts. They had to figure out why they were being killed off one at a time, in what order they would die, how to spot when death when it came for them, and how to cheat death. All of this involved a good deal of creativity and made the film interesting. Adding to this solid base, death would try to kill them in Rube Golbdberg-like ways which kept the audience guessing how each scene would actually play out.

The unimagining, however, makes a fatal error right out of the gates. It assumes you’ve seen the original and you don’t want to see the characters cover the same ground you already know. Thus, it gives a momentary nod to the parts of Final Destination that made the film so interesting as the characters self-consciously read summary-type lines that translate into “you know what’s going on,” before it jumps into the elaborate death scenes. But these scenes feel meaningless with no story attached to them. . . it's like listening only to song hooks. What’s worse, to hide the missing plot, they made the death scenes much more elaborate. . . which is like listening to 10 minute remixes of song hooks. Whereas the death scenes in the original gave you maybe a 30 second set up with a few twists and turns and no guarantee of how the scene would end, the new film gives 4-5 minute set ups with precise breakdowns of exactly what to expect. This gets old fast.

Nightmare on Elm Street 2.0 does something similar, only worse. This time they not only skipped the plot except for minor references to it, they added no new elements -- they even repeated some of the death scenes. Basically, this film offers a stripped down version of the original with new actors. In fact, the only thing that was noticeably different was the annoying dialog, which seems to have been stolen from other films without context or thought. I’m sure the writer would call this an homage if questioned by the writing police, but it sure felt like they thought they could just randomly take lines from other movies to fill in their own gaps.

Finally, we have Halloween 2.0, which actually tried to add something to the original film: a backstory for the Michael Myers character. But sadly, the backstory they offered was not only pathetic, but actually harmed the very essence of the film. What made the original Myers so creepy was his silent, relentless way of killing without purpose or emotion. We had no idea why he did what he did except that Donald Pleasance warned us that he was pure evil, and that made him interesting. The unimagining wipes all of this out by telling us that poor Myers is a victim of child abuse. Boo hoo hoo. And like that, a horror movie morphs into an afternoon special. Having neutered its monster, the film then adds nothing else new or interesting and leaves us with the distinct impression they only bothered copying half of the already very-thin original material.

Here’s the thing. . . if you’re going to remake a film, you need a reason. There has to be some element of the film you think can result in an order of magnitude improvement or that takes the series in a wholly new, unexpected direction. These films never understood that. Halloween 2.0’s big addition could have been done in a single line of lame dialog, and even then never should have been done. The other films not only added nothing, but they actively took away everything that made those films watchable. And none of these films grasps that a reboot must stand on its own, i.e. you can't just self-consciously point to the original and tell the audience "hey, you know the plot. . . and stuff." Even a lousy movie like Barb Wire (1986) understood this and turned out much better than it deserved to be because it knew enough to keep the portions of the original material (Casablanca), that everyone liked before it tried to add to those. This should be obvious!

So how do we explain these three films? I'm thinking the answer lies in a lack of respect for the audience. I'm thinking the filmmakers figured their audience was too riddled with Attention Deficit Disorder to sit through a remake, so they created Addendums instead of remakes, i.e. "films" that offer little more than a collection of new scenes to be watched in conjunction with your knowledge of the original material rather than films that stand on their own. Pathetic.

Please stop doing this.


rlaWTX said...

I haven't seen these and have n opinion.

However, I noticed your use of "afternoon special" - you're kinda dating yourself (ourselves?) I wonder how long before that is an idea that has to be explained???

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Don't waste your time on these. If you enjoy the originals at all, stick with those. These reboots/remakes add nothing, they're like watered-down versions of the originals.

Good question on the afternoon specials? I don't know if they still do those or not? Maybe one of our younger readers can fill us in if they still know what that is?

Tennessee Jed said...

while I readily admit this is not my favorite genre, I have seen all three originals, but none of there-boots. It does seem that a logical culprit to their sucking is the usual twin suspects, greed and laziness.

Let's face it, although there are some exceptions, the horror genre is generally dealing with the concept of getting younger viewers scared out of their wits. The cinematic version of a roller coaster ride at an amusement park if you will. My guess is the sequals are dictated by the business model. Oh the first one sold really well, let's milk it for two or three more, stop for ten years and roll out a nistalgia re-make.

Since, like ria, I didn't see the sequals, I can't say much with any degree of authority, I know you typically have thought the issues through thoroughly, and your points are most likely in or around the money

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Jed!

I think you're right that greed and laziness are at the core here. They saw this as a property to exploit and they didn't want to spend much time trying to do anything "out of the box" with it -- just get it on film with new actors and a new veneer and get it in theaters.

What I do find interesting though that is that unlike prior remakes which pretty much copied the originals, these actually turned out to be less than the originals. It's like they decided they weren't going to make a full movie, but would instead string a few highlight scenes together and rely on the audience already knowing the story from having seen the originals.

It's like a movie condensed to a long form of a trailor. And if this trend catches on, sequels/remakes/reboots will be unwatchable in a few years.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big horror movie fan (unless the film in question includes the words "alien" or "shining" in its title) so I haven't seen any of these reboots, nor have I seen any of the original Michael/Freddy/Jason films. I understand their significance but it's not my bag.

I did, however, see the original Final Destination in college. Not a bad little flick. And I came across Final Destination 3 on HBO one day (okay, it was the nudity that caught my attention). The scene in question took place in a tanning salon and you can probably figure out the rest (gruesome).

In response to rlaWTX, I'm 28 and I know what an after school special is, though my generation is probably the last to know about them. (I'm also of the last generation to know life before the Internet, too). :-)

I doubt they still exist. Besides, why do an after school special on gay youth (for example) when the Glee people have that covered? Much of what the specials talked about is much more known and/or common today, and I think we've also become a little more cynical and jaded as a society and I doubt kids would sit down for one of these shows today. (You know, unless Snooki was hosting it!)

I envy the generations before me who grew up with an assortment of TV movies and miniseries. Sure, we have HBO and a couple other cable networks who do that sort of thing once or twice a year (I'm not counting Lifetime movies!) but I can't see the broadcast networks doing anything as extravagent as Roots or Shōgun (neither of which I've seen) ever again.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Final Destination is really soft horror. It's not all that scary and not all that gross -- though the new one has really raised the level of gross.

My personal favorite in the series is No. 2, which is actually on my guilty pleasures list.

My real concern in the article goes well beyond the horror genre. It really applies to anything they turn into sequels these days because they could do the same with a comedy or an action flick as well. Basically, it probably sounds to Hollywood like a great way to guarantee a hit by just adding more to the original film. I think that's a horrible idea, but then they don't ask me. :-( And if this does catch on, then sequels are dead.

On the afternoon specials, I seem to recall you mentioning that you'd seen some. But I don't think I've seen one in years now, so maybe they are gone?

And you make a good point -- a point I know many other people have made -- that today's society misses out on things like "event" mini-series and films because of all the options available on television. That is true. More often than not, I remember the days after more than the films themselves because everyone sat around talking about it for days. That doesn't happen these days. Probably the only true event left is the Super Bowl.

DUQ said...

I love horror movies, but I agree with you that these were totally flat. It felt like they were going through the motions and they knew they were going through the motions. The whole time I kept waiting for the actors to turn to the screen and just say, "look, we're sorry, go watch the original."

Unknown said...

rlaWTX: Is "afternoon delight" also dated? I had to unlearn saying "the bee's knees," and "whatever happened to Beanie and Cecil?" LOL

Andrew: I kinda, sorta liked some of the originals. But the sequels to the dead teenager movies were ridiculous even for young'uns. When my son was twelve or thirteen, I caught him watching one of them (eminently forgettable) on HBO. What drew my attention was when he said to his buddy: "she showed her boobs--she's dead now!"

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Afternoon Delight will never go out of style, that was a great song from the 1970s! ;-)

I'm glad you unlearned the Bee's Knees thing. That's 1920s old school!

What's interesting about the whole slasher genre is that there is an odd strain of morality running through it, where the kids who misbehave are the ones who get killed. In that regard, it's really old time Fairy Tales. What's funny is watching the experts get upset about the intrusion of morality which they of course view as re-enforcing American values. . . the horror, the horror. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I'm sorry, I swear I responded to you. I too like horror movies. I think it's a fun and create genre, though it too often devolves to just pure nastiness -- like the slasher films. And these films are exactly like you describe, like the actors/director started out and then just gave up somewhere in the middle of it and said, "you know what, we can't do it, go see the original."

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I'll cop to having seen all four of the "Final Destination" films, each one worse than the last. I think young people find it fascinating to see punks (because the ones who die first are usually the jerkiest ones) get what's coming to them, preferably in the goriest ways possible. But while I like Final Destination 2 all right, none of the sequels make much sense--neither does the original, really, when you get down to it.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, That's true, there isn't much sense to be had there. But that's not uncommon for horror films. I like No. 2, but I'm not sure why.

I think you're right that people like to see punks get killed. As I mention somewhere above, these are essentially modern Fairy Tales and they follow the same rules as old school Fairy Tales -- those who break the rules die or get seriously hurt and those who follow the rules come through it all ok.

It's kind of funny to think of Freddie Krueger as the modern version of the witch in Hansel and Gretel, but that's what he is.

Ed said...

Andrew, Nice article. I saw these and I agree. I even went in with the idea these were just going to be lame summer films. Yet they found new levels of lameness. These were made purely for profit and I don't think they spent even a ten seconds thinking about them.

I haven't see Scream 15 yet, but I'll bet it's the same thing too.

Ed said...

Andrew, I just visited Red Letter Media. They did a review of the new Scream film and said something kind of similar to what you've said. They said that the film acted like it was "self conscious" about being a remake and it swung between pretending it was doing something new and winking at what it had done before. The guy on the left even said he didn't know if it was an intentional homage to the prior films or just poor writing. That sounds a lot like what you're saying here!

T-Rav said...

Andrew, that's a good point about the "Fairy Tale" nature of the films. They generally provide that service, such as it is--although at times even that breaks down. One of the things that bothered me about the "Final Destination" sequels was that in the end, everyone dies. The one survivor from the original died during the second movie. The third movie included an aside that the two survivors from the second movie had been killed, and everyone in that movie was killed off as well by the end. Same goes for everyone in the most recent movie.

These sequels have, unfortunately, stopped being about any kind of theme or lesson. There's no longer a plot; it's one part sheer nihilism and two parts pornographic violence. As someone who continues to watch the films whenever they're on, that nonetheless disturbs me.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I would be surprised if Scream wasn't the same thing.

(Sorry it took so long to get back to you, but I've been out all night.)

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I saw that the other day -- their Half In the Bag reviews. I have to say that so far I've found them both entertaining and highly information. At least, I trust what they say and I sympathize with their conclusions. I definitely recommend those to people.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, That's a good point. I think the first in the series on most of these very much follow the Fairy Tale rules and traditions. But the sequels (and especially the higher number sequels) just become excuses to show people getting killed, i.e. they have little redeeming value and any sense of a moral is long lost on sequels.

That's where the promise of a reboot lies, in the idea that they are going to take a fresh look at something and thereby return it to what it was before they started making the sequels on an assembly line. Sadly, recent reboots have shown that reboots tend to be little more than sequels that don't even both coming up with a minimal new plot, i.e. they just recycle the plot from the first one.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, well said. I've been typing a paper on and off tonight so I'm kinda too zonked to say anything deeper.

But off topic, since this is for all intents and purposes the weekly entertainment thread, and since Scott and others do these guest spots sometimes, I was toying with the idea of writing up a TV Review and submitting it for the folks here. Not now; maybe in a couple weeks once school's out. Or maybe I should wait a while until my credentials are more established. But reading these reviews and such has got my creative juices flowing, so I blame you. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I hope you finally got some sleep! :-)

Sure, I'd be happy to put up a review. I'm still working on fixing a few things around here, but I'm hoping to officially open the place in a couple weeks. At that point, I'm hoping to expand beyond just one post a week -- I'd even love to add a forum, but I'm not sure how. And I'd be happy to post a review.

Also, I'm glad to hear that my reviews have inspired you! That's kind of cool -- after all, the ultimate goal is to get people thinking about what works, what doesn't, how they would improve film/television! :-)

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Re: "event" movies and miniseries, I also envy the opposite of that as well: the generation of kids who were raised on sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films that aired on local TV. I've read countless bios of filmmakers like Spielberg, John Landis, and Joe Dante who would all rush home from school to check out the latest piece of schlock, or possibly classic Universal horror film, on their local channel 13. (And it would be hosted by some fun local personality.)

Today, we don't have that. I love that we have hundreds of channels, but it's not the same, and that's why I'm kinda skeptical when it comes to cable à la carte: if you can only choose the channels you want, what are the odds of stumbling across something at random? (Though, truth be told, if I could save money by ditching MTV and Lifetime, I would!)

Thankfully, Netflix has helped a bit in this regard.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, We used to have that in several places I lived -- usually the UHF channel (which made the Weird Al movie all the funner).

Bad King Fu on Saturdays (right before regional wrestling), science fiction nights, Star Trek in the afternoons, and whatever they could come up with on weekdays. I saw a lot of good movie, a lot of bad movies, and a lot of movies so bad they were actually pretty good that way. And since this was long before the internet, we had no reference material to figure out just what the heck "Kentucky Fried Movie" really was!

There was a lot to enjoy there and you just don't get that these days. These days few channels show the kinds of garbage the UHF channels used to show. Most are trying to show the same set of modern films or they make their own (like SciFi) -- which just isn't the same. . . they don't have the same heart.

I'd like cable ala cart because even with 500 channels or whatever, I only have around 50 programmed in -- the rest are just wasting bandwidth.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Scott, I loved the local hosts, even when they went national -- like Elvira. And I liked when USA came along and tried to duplicate that with Up All Night with Gilbert Gottfried. BUT, now several channels are doing that. . . jamming dipsh*t hosts onto the air between breaks. . . and I can't stand any of them because they're all just doing an act. None of them grasp what made the original hosts so cool -- they had no idea what they were doing, but they were determined to do it anyway. Today's hosts are all too serious, like self-centered, "hip" MTV hosts and they're too produced and their goofiness is too practiced.

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