Deadline.com reports that Disney has begun the process of reviving the Indiana Jones franchise and it’s considering casting Chris Pratt to play the role Harrison Ford made famous in “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”—one of the few flawless movies ever made.
If you’re not sure who Pratt is, you’ll soon see him in the “Jurassic Park” reboot and then in a remake of “The Magnificent Seven” (the original was a reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”) where he’ll costar with Denzel Washington, who’s coming off a remake of “The Equalizer.” Because why waste a good story.
My impulse, whenever I hear one of my cinematic heroes is being “reimagined,” is to reimagine the producers as Nazis engulfed in excruciating face-melting biblical fire. My social media feeds was in visceral harmony with this position. Some things simply can’t be rebooted. But then I remembered that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was not actually a sacred item passed to humankind on Mount Sinai and Steven Spielberg was not a god. River Phoenix did a fine job playing Indy—why couldn’t someone else do it? I also recalled that Indiana Jones was basically a reboot of 1930 serials that George Lucas loved as a child. And then I realized being annoyed by reboots was just perfunctory. I love reboots.
The first, and most obvious, reason is that it doesn’t really matter if the reboot stinks. I’m not sure there was a more exhilarating moment in my preteen life than the day I first saw the trailer for “The Empire Strikes Back.” Not even “The Phantom Menace” could stain that memory. I recently watched the first three Indiana Jones movies with my kids and, for me, it was as if “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” never happened. When we finally got around to the fourth movie, they didn’t perceive much of a difference in quality or entertainment value. And maybe there isn’t much. Actually, there’s probably a strong argument to be made that “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was a more entertaining film than the “Temple of Doom.” Anyway, for a generation of young people, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is “Star Wars” (or as close as they’re going to get to it in the days of multiple blockbusters), which means Chris Pratt is Harrison Ford.
Second: reboots, remakes, sequels, and reimagined franchises are not only often technically superior to the originals, but they tend to bring a level of storytelling sophistication that outdoes them. It can be overdone, no doubt. Watching the impenetrable “Prometheus,” a quasi-prequel reboot that exists in the same mess of a universe as the Alien films, felt like auditing a class on quantum physics. But Daniel Craig’s James Bond saved the franchise from the too comedic or too formulaic or too infantile and replaced it with a hard-edge that contemporary audiences can enjoy. “Skyfall” (featuring a glimpse into the origin story, no less) does not make “Goldfinger” any less enjoyable to watch.
The best balance was probably offered by J.J. Abrams, whose recent Star Trek films restarted familiar storylines in fresh ways without losing the essence of the original. Abrams has promised that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will not only honor the characters of the original but avoid relying too heavily on CGI in favor of locations to create aesthetic continuity, as well. I’ve been waiting since 1984 to know what happens to these people. And Star Wars will also produce one-offs about Boba Fett and a young Han Solo…. so, please, reboot at will.
And they are. The slate of forthcoming remakes and reboots is pretty amazing. Here are some just a few from a quick scan of the Internet:
“The Fantastic Four” (the first trailer looks tedious)
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“Blade Runner” sequel (rumored with Harrison Ford)
Another “Terminator” film
A “Goonies” remake
Many of these will not work. A good story gives a franchise the malleability and possibilities to be interesting and worthwhile. “Terminator” seems like one such franchise, though it often fails, as does “Highlander” and “Westworld” (an HBO series coming soon) because the central premises offers so many promising roads to go down.
On the other hand, “Ghostbusters,” which will be rebooted with all female leads, was idiotic. Funny, because of the pitch-perfect performances from Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and the rest of the impressive cast. This matters. It’s the difference between “Caddyshack” and “Caddyshack II.” So it’s not a sexist, I hope, to point out that Melissa McCarthy is not Bill Murray. Because Matthew Perry is not Jack Klugman and he’s certainly not Walter Matthau. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the “Odd Couple” reboot (the new TV show based on the old TV Show that was based on the movie*) is likely to be nearly as catastrophic as remakes of the “The In-Laws,” “The Out-of-Towners” or “Arthur”—all superfluous because they were great solely because of the actors involved. It’s hopeless to reclaim a role invented by someone like Peter Falk or Alan Arkin, as Arkin could probably tell you when he tried to play Peter Sellers in a Pink Panther reboot in 1968. Unfortunately, no one had the decency to inform Steve Martin. Twice.
On the other hand, Dirk Benedict isn’t exactly integral in propelling the “Battlestar Galactica” storyline. And the primary plot of that 1978 series, as it turned out, was ripe for development, and the reboot became one of the most intriguing television shows ever. Perhaps one day the same will be said about TV reboots like “12 Monkeys” or “Fargo,” which is already on its way (and it’s coming back this year).
It’s true that viewers are often turned off by reboots because we tend to romanticize and overrate the movies and actors of our youth. Every generation believes that their music and films and books are the most powerful and important ever. But I have little problem arguing that Tom Hardy is as talented an actor as Mel Gibson ever was. And hell yes, I want to rebooted Superman to square off against sullen Batman. Because Christopher Reeve was unconvincing and Tim Burton’s Batman was sort of silly. I want to know what happened to Rick Deckard. And I want to see where Indiana Jones goes next. Because it’s better than the alternative.
*Which is a remake of the play.