The Curse of the Golden Reboot

I see that NBC has officially announced an upcoming Miami Vice reboot, while the CW is making a new Dynasty (this time with less homophobia!). There is also apparently a Hellboy reboot in the works—a reboot, mind you, of a series whose last entry was made in the dim dark faraway year of 2008. There is also evidently an effort underway to remake The Lion King, and next year they’re coming out with a Tomb Raider film that evidently functions as both a reboot of the 2001 Angelia Jolie vehicle and as the movie version of the video game that acted as a reboot for the original video game series.  So there’s a lot going on in the entertainment industry these days.

There are some very strong motion pictures and television series being made today. But there is a great deal more dreck, and much of it rests firmly in the reboot category, a nostalgia-soaked genre that functions mostly as a kind of masturbatory pop culture exercise for millennials and generation-Xers. There have been whispers that a Neverending Story reboot is in the works—the Neverending Story, a profoundly weird and silly movie of genuinely low quality, the remake of which could only be justified by appealing to the VHS-tinged sentiments of a thirtysomething’s childhood.

We are at an odd pop culture crossroads. To be sure, the latter half of the 20th century had its own share of reboots—Baby Boomers had Still the Beaver, an authentically unnecessary remake of the 1950s classic with very possibly the most grueling opening sequence in television history—but we are experiencing a glut of these things these days, with reboots in some cases separated from the original films by only a few years. For some reason our cultural creators are feeling compelled to revisit the same stories over and over again, and with an increasingly more narrow refresh rate. Probably there is already a reboot of the Tomb Raider game series based on the reboot film based on the reboot series.

It’s not just movies. There is apparently a rather large market for comeback Super Nintendos and Nintendos, those staples of 1980s and 1990s video gaming. These are both extraordinary game systems, to be sure, but it is a mystery to me why these all-in-one reboot packages are so wildly popular: it’s not as if you can’t get all of those games on Nintendo’s Virtual Console already, which is to say that the remade SNESs and NESs constitute a sort of gaming reboot of the original systems and a spiritual reboot of the virtual systems contained within the modern Nintendo Wii systems. There are levels of meta here that are difficult to comprehend, sort of like the ending of Total Recall (oh, they rebooted that a few years ago, too).

A great deal of this is surely motivated by millennial nostalgia, a profitable if rather stupid artistic vein to tap. But there are ways to do it right. Stranger Things, a quite wonderful Netflix original series, told a fairly interesting and captivating sci-fi story using a 1980s milieu as the backdrop for a fairly high-quality period piece. It would seem that the upcoming remake (of course) of Stephen King’s IT will do the same thing, placing the first half of the story in 1980s Downeast Maine. You can successfully leverage the environment of a particular time in a way that’s both tasteful and useful. But that’s not really what our current reboot scourge is after: many of these stories have been updated to take place in contemporary times, rendering the idea of a bygone setting moot (it is astonishing to me that Still The Beaver was as successful as it ended up being, given that its principal plot device—the bucolic 50s pleasantry of Mayfield—was nullified by its contemporary 80s backdrop). It looks like even Miami Vice will be transported forward to take place in contemporary times, a mystifying artistic choice, given that virtually all of Miami Vice‘s charm comes from the fact that it looks like a cross between a 1984 exercise video and an Art Deco revival guidebook.

As I said, there are plenty of good things being made today. But the market seems to be increasingly saturated with junk we’ve already seen before, to the point where it’s hard to know if you’re watching a genuine reboot or a reboot thrice times over. In a way, I get it: it’s fun to revisit a re-imagination of stuff you’ve already come to know and love. But surely there is more to art—even lowbrow art—than that. Once upon a time, even if a movie or a television show was crap, it was still likely to be fresh crap. Now you’re more likely to encounter stale crap warmed over twice in a retro microwave.

I mean, for goodness’s sake, they’re rebooting A Nightmare on Elm Street *again.* The first reboot was bad enough; the second one will likely be worse. I will let you know one way or the other when I see it…because surely, inevitably, I will.

One comment

  1. Robert Riley

    One recent (relatively) show that I would recommend is Dallas (2012). It isn’t a remake, but a show that picks up, 20+ years later, on the original world of Dallas. To my mind they got everything right, including how they used the original cast/characters. It all just really worked, and worked well, and was unfortunate that it didn’t continue on past the 3rd season.

    No doubt, however, if it WAS still on today in 2017 they would have been forced – by protest and sponsor boycotts – to make it more “diverse” and less “heteronormative,” and one of the main cast would have to “come out” as not just gay (no … no in 2017) but transgender. And that would be the end of that show as far as I would be concerned.