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Monday, July 11, 2016

Film Land - 10 Series that should be Rebooted

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As we continue to burn our way through one of the most disappointing summers in recent memory (seriously 2016, get your act together) the subject of reboots has re-entered the popular forum of discussion.  At this point asking “the reboot question” has become something of a yearly tradition, with volleys of think pieces and lists fired off seemingly ever year with each new triumph or tragedy.  This year the reboot question is much more on the back burner, with most of the summer’s big hits and big failures being sequels. 

We’re still getting a few major reboots this year like WB’s disastrous Legend of Tarzan and the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot that inspired me to write this article.  We’ve had enough reboots over the last six years to know that sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t and there’s no easy way to know which, so I decided I’d throw together my top 10 series that should be rebooted.  Before we dive in, I’ll just clarify that this is only drawn from TV and movies and that by “reboot” I mean “an attempt to restart the franchise while actively distancing itself from the source material through modernization.”  With that said, here are my top 10 series that should be rebooted.

Calling the Haunted Mansion a “series” is a bit of a cheat from but it is a brand name, and when it comes to spooky Disney it’s probably one of the most well-known elements of that aesthetic wrinkle alongside Nightmare Before Christmas.  What’s more, the actual Haunted Mansion ride remains one of the longest running parts of the park and is one of the few rides pretty much everyone knows the name and theme of.  Given all that, it’s amazing to me that the only attempt from Disney to monetize this brand was a terrible Eddie Murphy movie right at the tail end of Murphy’s relevance.

Seriously, the spooky, ghouls and goblins visual aesthetic filtered through the iconic designs of the Disney whimsy factory is the perfect combination of elements for a high concept blockbuster and the unique blend of scary and silly gives you a lot of options.  The original came out in the Disney doldrums of the 2000s but given their modern premium on wooing teen boy audiences and the fact they made three pretty good movies out of the Pirates of the Caribbean rides I think they could pull this off. 

Even though Disney’s “Boy brand” efforts like Tron: Legacy, John Carter, and Lone Ranger didn’t work out they are still the biggest name in fantasy films right now, with a trilogy of pretty popular hits in Jungle Book, Cinderella, and Maleficent.  Given that, and the fact they’re going to run out of base fairy tales eventually, it’d be easy enough to adapt their high production values and creator freedom to the spooky world of the Haunted Mansion, especially if they could entice Guillermo Del Toro back to the project.  

For those not in the know, The Shadow was one of the first superheroes.  He fought crime with a pair of guns and the mystic ability to cloud men’s minds and render himself invisible.  The Shadow was a staple of radio and comics for a nearly a decade before Batman, who borrowed judiciously from the Shadow to inform his character. 

Seriously, the whole “wealthy man about town who secretly trained in the Far East” set-up that Batman has is ripped directly from the Shadow.  I was a huge fan of The Shadow as a kid through the radio plays and the 1994 live action movie they made starring Alec Baldwin.  Back in the ‘90s, there were a lot of movies made out of pulp comic strip heroes like The Shadow, the Phantom, and Dick Tracy after Tim Burton’s Batman was so big. 

Since then The Shadow has been pretty silent, but I think he’d be a great character to bring back now, though he should probably still be set in the ‘30s.  Thanks to big hits like the X-Men films or Captain America people have become more and more acclimated to the idea of period superhero films and that’s something that more producers should capitalize on.  The unique blend of pulp and noir aesthetics that could be achieved through a period setting in the ‘30s or ‘50s would be a great gimmick and help the Shadow stand out as, even though he’s still a great character, he is a fairly simplistic one in the realm of superheroes. 

What’s more, I feel like the 1994 movie still holds up pretty well aside from still being unsure how to handle the weird “Mystic Orient” stuff in the Shadow’s origin.  But, if some industries hero was to recast the Shadow with an Asian actor that’d be a good way to get around the problem and could honestly make for a much more engaging experience, especially if you got a Chinese martial arts star that would also guarantee a big box office haul overseas. 

This one is another bit of a cheat as it might be happening.  If you’ve never heard of it, Charmed was a WB genre show that sprung up in the wake of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer’s success.  This was the era when the monster of the week storytelling, girl power, and random genre elements made up the perfect gumbo of network TV filler, and the show was very successful, running for eight seasons and bleeding into the early days of the CW.  The show revolved around a trio of sisters known as the Charmed ones who were the heirs to incredible mystic power and had to defend their home in San Francisco from all sorts of witches, warlocks, devils, demons, and fairy tale monsters. 

The show isn’t anything special to watch, in fact, it’s decidedly terrible, but that core concept is great and in today’s era of heavily syndicated stories, season arcs, and world building a reboot series could be something special.  We’re still hurting for girl power shows and genre series directed at women have only receded since Charmed’s day and age.  Building a new show out of the core family relationship and the California setting with an eye towards a broader world of witchcraft, sort of a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by way of Bewitched with a liberal dose of Harry Potter and maybe some Thelma and Louise in there; it could be a winning combination.  What's more, CW is great at genre show so I think they’d do it justice. 

To be clear: I like the Saw films.  I’m not a huge fan and I happen to think the series peaked with #2 but I like how concerned the series is with its internal mythology, the traps are great gruesome horror fun, and Jigsaw is one of the truly legitimate horror icons of the modern era.  Also, the fact that the films introduced the world to James Wan, master of horror, is a pretty big point in their favor.  The problem is that as good as the films are they’re incredibly dense with circuitous plots that double down on contrivance and obfuscation with no real sense of where things were going. 

However, all those things are problems of execution and the fact that the Saw films weren’t working from a planned storyline.  Streamlining the core story points like Jigsaw’s death, the battle of his apprentices, the perversion of his work, and the return of Dr. Gordon, you could compress the series into a really strong horror trilogy.  

What’s more, reviving the series in a rebooted form could allow new creators to be more imaginative with the traps and schemes on hand.  Jigsaw was always just a super villain without a hero to face down so taking his traps and schemes to bigger sizes, like striking at whole buildings worth of people or the like, would be a great way to amp the stakes even as the films cover old ground in the story and mythos.  Sure, it wouldn’t recreate the impact of the original twists, but at least it’d make sense and be understandable. 

Like The Shadow, I’m speaking less regarding games and more focused on the film and TV shows Mortal Kombat has been adapted into.  It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time in the ‘90s when Mortal Kombat felt like the face of video games but, like many ‘90s gaming heavyweights, its star has seriously faded in recent years.  The franchise isn’t as tarnished as Sonic or Duke Nukem, but it certainly feels like a good long while since Mortal Kombat was at the heart of gaming culture.  However, this means that the mythology has had time to relax and simplify and even though Mortal Kombat hasn’t been keeping its tip up the world that’s shifted around is more inclined towards the franchise now than anyone understands. 

Firstly, the fantasy genre is an absolute mess at this moment in time.  After peaking a few years ago Game of Thrones’ influence on the genre has begun to recede while the predicted heavyweight newcomers like The Hobbit and Fantastic Beasts have been cultural non-starters.   Meanwhile, even though dozens of people have been hacking away at the action fairy tale genre, only Disney has been able to make it stick and even then it’s such a disparate fashion it's filmed really can’t guide the cultural conversation.  In this space, the unique and aesthetically focused nature of video game adaptations could dominate the landscape and lead the genre going forward.

Additionally, the core elements of Mortal Kombat are perfect for this moment in cinema.  The ultra gory nature of the franchise would necessitate a hard R rating but thanks to Deadpool we’ve all been reminded that R-rated flicks can still make tons of money.  Meanwhile, the oriental designs of the universe and characters would be a great pitch for the Chinese box office, especially if they cast big name Asian stars for the characters wearing masks that westerners weren’t going to recognize anyway.  Warcraft already made a bundle in China as uniquely designed fantasy video game epic, think of how much more a film that’s catered to that market could gross. 

You had to know there was going to be a weird one on the list.  Space Precinct was an incredibly short lived 1994 sci-fi cop show created by Gerry Anderson, a pretty big name in English television that most Americans have never heard of.  Seriously, even though names like Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet don’t mean anything to Americans they’re pretty major works in Britain and have made him a fairly large looming figure in their television history. Also he liked using puppets a lot.  In any event, Space Precinct was about exactly what it sounds like, a police precinct operating in space. 

So, it’s the year 2040, and the human race has expanded into the galaxy and encountered a bunch of alien species.  By the time the show begins most first contacts and establishments are already completed, and the show follows a former NYPD cop who moves to another solar system to be part of the space precinct, investigating human and alien criminals alike.  It’s the kind of weird, high-concept genre idea that usually killed in the ‘90s but unfortunately the show never got any traction. 

The premise is still fantastic and could be lent plenty of additional weight now in a climate where issues of immigration and foreign integration have come to the forefront of the societal discussion.  The biggest trick of adapting the show would be bringing the cop portions of the premise more in line with modern trends as, even for the time, Space Precinct’s conception of police procedural aesthetics was decidedly outdated.  It was an Adam-12 show for a Law & Order world, though I think the success of other modern high-concept shows like The Expanse, The Strain, and the return of Star Trek speak to the viability of this project.

Most folks are probably familiar with this but if you’re not Night Gallery was the show Rod Serling put together in the ‘70s after the conclusion of the Twilight Zone.  As much as I love the Twilight Zone, it’s central story points have become such an engrained part of the nerd lexicon at this point it’s hard to argue there’s anymore meat on that bone, especially after three shows and a movie.  

Night Gallery is nowhere near as explored in subsequent adaptations, to the point I dare guess that most folks knowledge of it might come from the parody of it in The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror IV.  The set-up was to package 2-3 horror stories and vignettes together each episode, with the stories emerging out of artwork introduced to us by Rod Serling in the titular Night Gallery. 

There’s always been a long and storied relationship between horror stories and artwork and in today’s TV landscape littered with horror shows Night Gallery could be a real winner.  It’d be pretty easy to the concept in a meta-direction, with the Night Gallery existing as a place within the larger world of the show that moves from season to season.  

That way the show could capitalize on modern horror anthology set-up of altering the setting and horror aesthetic from season to season, but honestly, I’d prefer something more traditional.  Keeping Night Gallery squarely focused on single episode stories would be a nice change of pace and help it stand out in the TV landscape.  Also, it’s not like this set-up is unheard of in modern horror, as we’ve seen it used to great impact on Black Mirror as well as Darknet. 

I originally wasn’t going to include this one but after reading Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s Flintstones comic for DC, I’m more convinced than ever that the modern Stone Age family is primed for a return to our lives.  Something people tend to forget about the original Flintstones show is that it was aimed at adults.  It was the first animated series in prime time and, as such, no one expected children to be watching it. 

The new comic takes the series back to those roots, blending its sincere affection for the original show’s animal and Stone Age technology jokes with a more adult style of storytelling.  The book still exists as a recreation of the life style and misadventures of ‘60s sitcoms; scheming bosses, homemade distractions, gadget culture, men’s clubs, etc. only now it’s filtered through a harsh lens of reality to inform those elements. 

Fred is still a lovable everyman who gets into things over his head, but he’s also a veteran of the Bed Rock Wars who clearly killed people.  It’s a bizarre blend that a lot of folks have likened to Mad Men with cavemen, and that’s spot on.  Adapting this set-up to an animated show or even something live action would be incredibly easy and make Flintstones a culture force to dominate the landscape once again.  Plus, in a world where stuff like Bobs Burgers and Bojack Horseman are pretty big hits I think the world is ready for a more serious and adult animated Flintstones series. 

Call me crazy but I honestly feel like there’s still stuff left to do with Highlander.  This goes back, again, to how completely unmoored the fantasy genre is at this moment in time.  In the history of fantasy blockbusters, this is one of the only times we’ve been without a central, looming success story that everyone else’s movie has to exist in reference too.  

Without that kind of restriction, a bizarre fantasy concept like Highlander could find its feet once more, especially if creators went into it with the benefit of the franchise name to shape their ambitions.  If you’re not familiar, Highlander was a cult ‘80s urban fantasy flick about a secret race of immortals living and fighting among humans.  They can only be killed by decapitation, and when they kill another immoral, they absorb all of that immortal’s skills and memories.  They’re all waiting for the day of the Gathering, a mystic calling point where all Immortals will fight until, in the end, there can be only one. 

It’s a great fantasy premise that could produce loads of films but got unlucky in that the first movie took place during the Gathering and thus at the end of what should’ve been an epic saga.  After that great first installment, the series never managed to regain momentum, cranking out terrible entries each worse than the last and failing to fix the core problems with continuing a story past its conclusion.  Starting the series over from scratch, keeping in mind the limited timeline of availability, as well as some of the cooler ideas they introduced, could be a great way to redeem this franchise and capitalize on the lack of direction in the fantasy blockbuster genre at the same time. 

Even looking past my many, many problems with the X-Men franchise as a whole there’s no getting around the fact the films are running in place at this point.  The series has been squatting at the same level of wrought mediocrity, happy to crank out new installments devoid of direction or ambition that is just repeating the same old tired plot points and ideas ad nauseam.  If you like the modern X films fine but just because we like something doesn’t make it good (see every Godzilla film ever made) and the X-Men movies are a great example of that. 

The central metaphor of mutants as a marginalized group doesn’t hold up in the slightest, despite touting themselves as the “smart” superhero films no ideology other than Xavier’s is even given token discussion, the broad ensemble cast is constantly boiled down to Wolverine, who is dull, and Mystique, who is dull and straight-washed, and the movies are always so drab, dull, and washed out it makes a mockery of the vibrant palette and high concept ideas that made this franchise worth turning into a ton of movies. 

That is having been said there is stuff to be salvaged from the series.  I like the idea of a more intellectually engaged superhero franchise and if the films were willing to give its stories discussion rather than dictation that’d be something.  Maybe explore the idea that humans are right to be afraid of mutants or that Xavier’s goal of peaceful co-existence has failed to foster real change, anything to develop the concepts at hand.  

What’s more, the period settings have been a real knockout and First Class’ approach of telling a golden age spy flick that happens to star the X-Men is an inspired move that should’ve defined the series going forward.  Finally, adopting a brighter and more engaging visual design along with an ensemble set-up would offer the studio a chance to break finally from being defined by a handful of performers that are growing increasingly done with the franchise.  Plus it’d give them another chance to do Storm finally right so that’d be nice too. 

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