We Have the Power!

As of this writing, Jurassic World has made $1.6 Billion worldwide since its release in June 2015.  That…well…that is a whole lot of money, enough to make it #3 on the list of all-time worldwide highest grossing films.  This film, the fourth in the Jurassic Park series, caught on with viewers in a way that the previous sequel, 2001’s Jurassic Park 3 (which made a quarter of Jurassic World’s take), never did.  Reviewing Jurassic World isn’t my intention here, and is really fairly pointless in the face of its phenomenal box office performance.  I enjoyed the film more than I expected, but have to admit that it is basically telling the same story as the first film but on a larger scale.  Really, my favorite moments were the ones that called back to the original.  The visit to the ruins of the original visitor’s center made me way too happy.  I was pretty much bouncing up and down in my seat, much to the annoyance of my son sitting beside me. 

This was exactly the reaction the filmmakers were going for, I’m certain.  They played on my love of the original movie, and it worked not just for me but for millions of us old enough to have seen the first Jurassic Park.  Put more cynically, rather than creating a new experience for us to fall in love with, they used our own fondness for something from our pasts to elicit an emotional reaction.  It’s a nostalgia attack.

Obviously, Jurassic World isn’t the first project to try something like this.  “Reboot” has been the buzzword in the entertainment industry for several years now.  Other properties, such as the recent Star Trek movies and Jurassic World exist somewhere in the fuzzy realm between a sequel and a full-on reboot. 

Perhaps the best word is “continuation,” which is a term I’ve seen used for the 2005 relaunch of Doctor Who, and seems to be defined as resuming a property after a gap of many years.  Jurassic World comes 14 years after the previous sequel.  Meanwhile, on television, this Fall we will be seeing Heroes Reborn (Five years after the final episode of the original series) followed in 2016 by a new run of The X-Files (Fourteen years after the final episode) and Twin Peaks (Twenty-five years after the final episode).

In all of these cases, the events of the original films/series happened, and in many cases characters from the original are either starring or appearing in the new version.  Even in Jurassic World, Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm can be seen on a book jacket, and a statue of Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond stands in the new visitor’s center.

Back to the reboots, while the word has been thrown around a lot lately (The Amazing Spider-Man films and the upcoming Ghostbusters come immediately to mind), the concept is far from new.  Hollywood has been remaking films for almost as long as they’ve been making them.  A brief online search brought up The Great Train Robbery from 1903 that was remade the very next year.  Alfred Hitchcock remade one of his own movies, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and has had many of his other films remade by different directors (The less said about Gus Van Sant’s version of Psycho, the better). 

The reboot is similar the remake.  Yes, it usually takes on the same basic plot and characters but with different actors in the roles.  However, it exists not just to retell the same story but to launch a franchise.  Reboots aren’t about a single movie.  They are supposed to serve as a launch pad for bunches of them.  And in the wake of Marvel’s success, everybody wants to build a movie universe. 

The tricky part is finding the right property.  I’m sure some calculations are performed looking at past profits, etc., but it does seem to me that the pasts of the filmmakers and studio executives themselves must come into play at least somewhat.

Here’s what I mean.  Somewhere in the general realm of remakes and reboots, there’s a whole category of films that attempt to bring television shows of the past to the big screen.  I’m not talking about a situation like the pre-2009 Star Trek movies, the South Park movie, Serenity, or even Veronica Mars, where the film is really a continuation of the show with the same cast.

Instead, these are instances where a show from the past is redone decades later as a film.  The earliest example I can find in 1987’s Dragnet, starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks (Although, even this is sort of a continuation, since Aykroyd is playing the nephew of the show’s Joe Friday, and Harry Morgan appears as his character from the original series).  The 1990s, though, is really where this type of movie starts showing up more and more frequently.  That decade gave us The Addams Family, The Brady Bunch, and The Beverly Hillbillies.  At the time, there was also talk of big screen versions of Gilligan’s Island and The Munsters

Why those shows?  Why then?

I think it’s a simple question of age.  While television started in the 1940s, it didn’t really come into its own until the 1960s.  By the 1990s, the little kids of the 1960s were now the adults making movies and running studios.  They wanted to bring the shows that they loved as children back, so we get The Fugitive (Great movie), Lost in Space (Er…less good.), and Mission: Impossible (Which has become a massively successful film franchise).  Fast forward to the present, and the studio heads are now the kids of the 1980s.  Accordingly, we’ve seen The A-Team, GI Joe, and, of course, Transformers. 

I know money is at heart of most of this.  Studios are all owned by major business conglomerates now, and they see reboots, remakes, and whatever term we should use for making a movie of an old TV show as the least risky path to financial success.  There are going to be cash-ins that use an existing title but have no respect for the source material.  Based on the trailers, the upcoming Jem and the Holograms movie is looking like it fits in this category.

Still, part of me hopes that somewhere in the vast corporate machinery, there’s someone who genuinely loves these stories and characters and wants to do right by them.  That sequence in the original Jurassic Park visitor’s center in Jurassic World was beautifully done.  Care was taken to recreate the details of the place right down to the wall mural.  At the very least, they knew the buttons to push to tap into my nostalgia center. 

Part of me wants to complain about the lack of original content in all of these reboots and continuations, but the original Jurassic Park film was an adaptation of a book.  Other than older films and TV series, books and comics are the main sources of our current movies.

Instead, I find myself looking at the current TV landscape, particularly the shows my kids watch, and wondering which ones are going to be making the jump to the big screen in twenty years when their generation is running the entertainment world.  If my daughter has any say in things, you can bet on Psych: The Movie while my son might be trying to get a live-action Kim Possible going.  And they both can try to dodge calls from their father demanding to know when they’re finally going to make a movie out of a good show - like Sledge Hammer!

- Alan Decker

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