Ask a Dork: Reboots – What is the Appropriate Window?

“What do you think of reboots? What is the appropriate window for a reboot (time, quality of previous entries, etc)?”

Reboots have become almost as prevalent in modern culture as sequels. Numerous IPs have been picked out of obscurity to have a new video game, feature film, or novel – usually to find commercial success. Not all reboots are made equally though; for every excellent reboot (i.e. True Grit) there is about five correspondingly awful reboots that completely miss the point of their source material (Wild Wild West, Psycho, The Pink Panther, Land of the Lost, and Planet of the Apes all come to mind immediately). It would be fair to say that I like reboots at a conceptual level (bringing back cherished franchises to appeal to a new generation and build on the mythos), but execution and timing are usually how these titles falter in my opinion.

Any movie/video game/book can be bad (in the same way that any movie/video game/book could hypothetically be good), but only reboots are penalized by the marketplace for the window of time they are released in. More than one reboot has suffered by not understanding the age demographics of their audience and the perceptions they might have. To demonstrate, let’s examine three reboots: One being released shortly after a previous series entry (The Amazing Spiderman), another released long after its source material hit the marketplace (Syndicate), and finally, one released in what I consider to be an appropriate time-frame (Star Trek).

There’s no denying that Spiderman has a dedicated following. Thanks to hundreds of comic books, some decent video games, a string of successful cartoons, and three very high-profile feature films, he has become perhaps the most recognizable hero under the Marvel banner. The Spiderman films are known far and wide for two things: starting the Marvel movie renaissance  where previously unpopularized heroes (Daredevil, Thor, Iron Man, etc) would be featured in extremely well polished film adaptations and making a stupid amount of money (the series grossed $2.5 billion worldwide and broke box office records with each release). Naturally, Sony Pictures was intent on continuing the series and Spiderman 4, 5 & 6 were in pre-production as of the summer of 2009. Series director Sam Raimi would return to direct, Maguire and Dunst would be reprising their roles, and James Vanderbilt was to flush out the script. Raimi stated that he was interested in expanding on the Lizard’s backstory and at one point Bruce Campbell was attached to the project. So, why aren’t we seeing Spiderman 4 this summer? As disagreements between Sony and Raimi threatened to push the film off the intended May 6, 2011 release date, Sony Pictures announced in January 2010 that plans for Spider-Man 4 had been cancelled due to Raimi’s withdrawal from the project. Raimi reportedly ended his participation due to his doubt that he could meet the planned May 6, 2011 release date while at the same time upholding the film creatively. He supposedly went through four iterations of the script with different screenwriters and still “hated it”. With Raimi leaving the project, Sony announced that the franchise would be rebooted with a new director and cast. The Amazing Spiderman is now slated to be released in the very near future, but are audiences really as excited for a reboot as Hollywood thinks they are? The buzz surrounding this reboot has never been about the film’s gritty visual style or its innate quality, but rather mumblings about how it’s “too soon” for a reboot. Until its theatrical release (and likely in subsequent reviews) people will continue to cite the fact that the series’ previous entry wasn’t that long ago and that its studio might have jumped the gun. Do I think the Amazing Spiderman will be a good movie? Of course – all recent Marvel films have been conceptually sound, well paced, and have featured strong acting, but the fact that its audience sees it as being “too soon” doesn’t work to the film’s advantage.

Syndicate was a isometric real-time tactical computer game released in 1993 by Bullfrog productions while they were still graced with Peter Molyneux’s many talents. Gameplay involves ordering a four-person team of cyborg agents around cities displayed in a fixed-view isometric style, in pursuit of mission goals such as assassinating executives of a rival syndicate, rescuing captured allies, “persuading” civilians and scientists to join the player’s company or simply killing all enemy agents. It was a big name in PC gaming, but until this year its name has been absent from the video game landscape. Starbreeze’s recent reboot takes the setting and base concept of the original while thrusting it into a FPS mold and adding hacking elements. I’m okay with the gameplay for the most part, but there is a high focus on FPS platforming, co-op multiplayer, and shooting, with tactical maneuvers taking a backseat to bland action. The reboot was considered by EA to be a commercial failure. They had released an FPS into a market that craves FPS games and it had failed to live up to the sales potential of the series, leaving EA executives scratching their overpaid heads. Any outside observer probably could have told EA that the original title’s market existed 19 years ago and the brand recognition was gone. Most people who play modern FPS titles probably wouldn’t recognize the Syndicate name and those who do would probably want to egg EA’s building for destroying a cherished tactical series with visual bloom and mundane shooting elements. At the end of the day, Syndicate was a reboot that suffered because it had been “too long” since another entry in the franchise had been in the consumer conscious.

Star Trek was an excellent science fiction TV show turned movie franchise, comic book, video game series, spin-off series, and now reboot. There have been numerous pieces of media attached to this franchise, but as time went on fans became less-and-less enchanted with the series. Star Trek: Enterprise was as uneven as it was unnecessary and all of the Next Generation films had major consistency issues. After the commercial and critical flop that was Star Trek Nemesis and the cancellation of Enterprise, the keepers of Roddenberrry’s legacy had the good sense to back away from the franchise for a while and prepare for the series’ next steps. As it turns out, its next steps would actually mirror its first steps. J.J. Abrams took the characters, setting, and structure of the original Star Trek and tweaked them enough to appease many hard core fans while still attracting a new audience (a major feat). Not everyone loved what Abrams did with the characters or the timeline implications attached to the film’s plot, but he managed to breath life into a well-established series in a timeframe where we were ready to welcome the franchise back into our consumer conscious. It’s a great film on its own, but it wouldn’t have made the same impact if it was released just a year or two after Nemesis.

To answer the question regarding “appropriate windows” and conclude this article, if a piece of media is of poor quality it’s likely that audiences won’t be prepared to crank out their cash on a subsequent reboot. That said, I feel like the appropriate window for a reboot is about 7-10 years after a previous entry in the franchise. That way the brand of the series is still noticeable, but doesn’t feel like it’s harassing its audience.

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