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Published: Sunday, 7/15/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Reboots & Remakes: Hollywood sees green in recycled stories

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Movie remakes have been all the rage the past few years. Movie remakes have been all the rage the past few years.
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Marvel Comic's first Spider-Man movie set box-office records when it debuted in the summer of 2002.

Only a decade later, the Web Crawler is in theaters again in the studio remake The Amazing Spider-Man, featuring a different cast and director and the same origin story of how nerdy Peter Parker became a superhero.

Cynics would say Sony's new Spider-Man exists for reasons of pure profit, while those involved with the film would say it's a different artistic vision. As with most things, it's a bit of both for The Amazing Spider-Man, the latest in a movie industry trend of revisiting popular films and film series.

Director Sam Raimi was remarkably successful in shepherding the comic-book hero to the big screen, cultivating and growing the product beyond its core fan-boy base. The first Spider-Man trilogy made nearly $2.5 billion worldwide in six years, making it the most successful of the studio's film series. Why would Sony Pictures allow that revenue source to disappear when clearly there is an audience demand for the movies? They wouldn't.

So the studio turned to director Marc Webb.

Webb was a music video director with a single feature-film credit to his name, the 2009 indie romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. Critics generally favored Webb's movie with an 87 percent approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site, but there's a demonstrable difference between handing a 16-year-old driver the keys to your Ford Fiesta or to your Ferrari.

Sony was impressed with Webb's pitch about making a younger, edgier (read: brooding) Spider-Man, and the studio's gamble worked, to the tune of a record-breaking Tuesday opening of $35 million and a first weekend total of $140 million.

"This was never modeled or was never meant to be Spider-Man 4," Rory Bruer, Sony's head of distribution, told the Associated Press recently after the film's successful debut. "This was always a relaunch with a new cast and different stories to tell, and quite frankly, it succeeded beyond our imaginations."

It's no surprise that the studio also announced The Amazing Spider-Man marks the beginning of a new trilogy.

Just as Spider-Man is reborn, another superhero series comes to an apparent end.

Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, which concludes Friday with the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, stands alone as the paradigm for a relaunch, after the critically bludgeoned Batman & Robin in 1997. Consider this: Nolan's first two Batman movies grossed nearly $740 million domestically, while the four other Batman movies grossed a combined $705 million. Given the expectations for The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan's trilogy should cross the billion-dollar threshold for the North American box office.

Reboot vs. remake

The Dark Knight series and the upcoming Spider-Man trilogy are the latest examples of what the entertainment industry calls a reboot, a franchise remade based on source material other than a movie, typically a comic book or novel.

Marvel Comics' Incredible Hulk first appeared on big screens in 2003. But The Hulk, director Ang Lee's artsy take on the Green Goliath, failed to impress fans and generate expected revenue, so the film was transformed into The Incredible Hulk with a new director and cast in 2008. Last summer's Conan the Barbarian was supposed to reboot the Conan series from the 1980s, but given its $22 million domestic haul with a $90 million budget, a sequel would appear less likely than another makeover.

A reboot is not to be confused with a remake, which is usually a new standalone film based on an older film.

Filmmaker Gus Van Sant made a shot-for-shot remake of Psycho in 1998, nearly 40 years after the original, and in 2005 Adam Sandler remade the 1974 classic sports drama The Longest Yard starring Burt Reynolds.

In fact, the notion of remaking a film is nearly as old as movies as an art form.

Filmmaker D. W. Griffith made his 1914 silent drama Battle of the Sexes and again in 1928 with sound.

Cecil B. Demille made his original The Ten Commandments as a black-and-white silent film in 1923 and again in 1956 as the Technicolor epic.

David O. Selznick's 1937 classic drama A Star is Born starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March was remade into a beloved musical starring Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, and as a drama-musical with the overly hyped and quickly forgotten 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

The Thing from Another Planet and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, two classic horror films from the 1950s made as political commentary during the Red Scare, have also been remade -- the latter on three occasions. Horror films appear to be the most popular genre for remakes; Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street are three recent examples, though an argument could be made that each of these movies was intended to be a franchise reboot for a new generation of slasher fans.

Outside of films

The phenomenon is hardly limited to Hollywood. Video games are remade to take advantage of improved technology and gamer nostalgia. Last fall's Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary for the Xbox 360 and the God of War Collection for the PS3 are examples. Long-canceled TV shows are resurrected to cash in on audience familiarity: Hawaii Five-O, Battlestar Galactica, Beverly Hills 90210, and within the last few weeks Dallas. Even DC Comics wanted a fresh start for its superheroes with "The New 52" relaunch in August: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and The Justice League, among many other titles.

"It's always been the case, there have always been remakes and revamps and so on," said Jeffrey Brown, an assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University. "What's going on is nostalgia in a post-9/11 world. We're still in a weird economic and political situation and this is a way for Hollywood and the entertainment industry to provide comfort food for us."

Does this trend bolster the arguments that the entertainment industry has run out of fresh ideas -- particularly Hollywood?

"In some regards it's true," Brown said. "It's the same business model to go to things that make money. On the other hand, coming up with new stuff all the time just doesn't hit the mark as much as a remake or something we know and love and gets a lot of attention.

"Hollywood can come out with new things, but we get excited about how will Ridley Scott go back to Alien with Prometheus."

Contact Kirk Baird at: kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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