Reboots are sign of short attention spans

The movie world lately has had reboots on the brain. Although it’s exciting to see a favorite superhero or story brought to life again, where is the limit? Browsing through the list of movies coming in 2011 and recent announcements for 2012, many of these films seem, well, familiar.

For some, Spider-Man reboot may not be the best thing yet. | Creative Commons

What’s on tap? There’s (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb’s Spider-Man reboot, with Andrew Garfield taking over for Tobey Maguire as a teenage Peter Parker. Also in the loop is Zack “300” Snyder’s restart of the Superman franchise,just a few years after the successful Superman Returns.

Then there’s Rise of the Apes, both a prequel to and reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise  and a new Spy Kids movie, which boasts a whole new cast and apparently shot for an audience unfamiliar with the series.

Why are there so many continuity reboots in the works? Were the last films of the franchises not successful? Surprisingly, most of them were actually hits, which makes Hollywood’s restart obsession incredibly strange.

Some reboots have been extremely successful, such as Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman series. Not every modern take is an attempt to make things “grittier,” “more realistic,” or to pander to “modern audiences.”

At times it makes sense to relaunch a franchise. Sometimes long-running series just run out of steam. This often results in a decline of interest and soon enough, the continuity-heavy stories fade into obscurity.

A new version can allow audiences without any familiarity with the original storyline to rediscover stories and characters. This worked for franchises like Batman and even James Bond.

The rising popularity of reboots in Hollywood is more disturbing than the concept of constantly recreating classics, however. Having run many franchises down with endless sequels, it seems that the studios are continually crafting new arrangements of the same idea, and only a few years after a similar movie premiered.

The answer to why the rate of reboots has gone up so much in the last decade seems to be a response to today’s information overload.

Modern movie audiences are bombarded with constant waves of entertainment options, with multiple streams and ever-changing content. There are more television channels than ever, each producing its own shows. The Internet offers endless articles, archived videos and original material.

At the same time, these info streams are reaching new audiences. Formerly niche, cultural movements are expanding into demographics that might not previously have known them.

Music genres are reaching across regions and traditional cliques. Characters and concepts like superheroes, coming of age stories and sports stars are now crossing over in popularity and awareness and are no longer subset interests.

Ask anyone who Iron Man is — chances are they will answer correctly.

With that level of information overload, it is harder than ever for people to stay focused on one thing for long. In the cinema realm, viewers are experiencing a form of ADD with what they watch.

Why follow one story for many years over multiple installments, when a new version can come out every 10, or even five years?

Hollywood is fighting to keep people in movie theaters and keep viewers’ attention focused on cinema and not any other entertainment stream, and it’s employing whatever tricks it can.

Such tactics might involve adding gimmicks like 3-D or dusting off popular characters and bringing them into a contemporary setting, no matter how recently they might have last appeared.

But how soon until this trend goes from acceptable to offensive? Will reboots still be tolerable when the studios decide that audiences need a darker and edgier adaptation of The Godfather, starring a young teen heartthrob as Michael Corleone?

Or perhaps audiences need to see Harry Potter, but this time it should be closer to the books. Or instead of Harry, Ron and Hermione being best friends, let’s change up the dynamic of things and make them rivals. And Voldemort won’t be a wizard supremacist, but a Machiavellian businessman from Gringotts. After all, corporate greed resonates much more with today’s audiences.

Continuity reboots aren’t inherently bad, and some have been for the better, but why do audiences need to see the same story over and over again, especially if it has been successfully told in the past?

Hollywood must stop trying to regurgitate a familiar yarn and consider investing in a new one. If Nolan’s Inception is any testament, people still respond to originality, both with their minds and their wallets.

Nicholas Slayton is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Age of the Geek,” runs Fridays.

2 replies
  1. Seriously
    Seriously says:

    “The answer to why the rate of reboots has gone up so much in the last decade seems to be a response to today’s information overload.”

    Nicholas, I do not believe you got this one correct. The audience is not to blame for Hollywood’s lack of creativity. It all boils down to dollars and cents. If Hollywood invests $30+ million on a film, they better get that much and then some in return. They look at what sold well in the past and regurgitate a new form hoping it will do well at the box office again and again and again. Example: Plan on a 3D re-release of Titanic in 2012 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking. It’s no wonder the audience is hungry for new, creative forms of entertainment outside a movie theatre.

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