How to (Re)Make a Movie

By  · Published on July 19th, 2016

Dear FSR

Don’t be the next Point Break.

At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

Can you tell us how to write an adaptation/reboot/sequel for IP? Ghostbusters and The Force Awakens or, to go a bit further back while still staying modern, Casino Royale and Godzilla seems to have gelled well with the formula, but there are many like the new Annie, Conan, Hercules, and Total Recall movies that miss the mark, and others that fall in the middle. How can screenwriters and directors make a successful film that has the right amount of nods to the original, but feels refreshing and new? I’d rather the Power Rangers and Universal monsters not suffer the same fate as the Smurfs and Point Break.


Remake Regulation Wonderer

Dear Wonderer,

While there’s been a trend to lean grittier and grittier with reboots, the ones that seem to do the best are those that understand the original story’s essence. This is a sort of meaningless term that people love to debate about, but it comes down to tone. You don’t want Smurfs making pop culture gags or super-serious Ghostbusters.

These characters exist in our memories not only as certain archetypes, images, and theme songs, but as feelings. Point Break shouldn’t just be about riding the high of each new X-Game sport, but the masculine love, admiration, and ultimately antagonist competition between its two lead adrenaline junkies. The same with James Bond or Hercules remakes. The character can be altered, retold, or rewritten, but they should still feel the same in order to recapture the same effectiveness that warranted their longevity in the first place.

So fidelity to narrative isn’t important. I don’t care if Hercules slays the Hydra as his second labor or if it was a trap constructed by Hades and his demons (like in the Disneyfied version), as long as the good-hearted champion must overcome unspeakable odds through both his physical strength and strength of character. And that Hydra better have a ton of heads.

Fidelity to tone however, both visual and narrative, is a different story. This is where the “gritty” reboot culture takes most of its flack. If audiences wanted rough-and-tumble versions of their childhood heroes, they should look to its grown-up influences. Batman took from detective novels and potboiler thrillers, but should Batman be a direct tonal corollary to his influences? This is where studios and the creatives trying to make an honest buck selling to them come under fire.

The studios understand that the people growing up with these properties, the Transformer toys and cartoon, G.I. Joes, etc, are now at the prime spending demographic: thirty-somethings with kids who want toys. If you can appeal to the parents, then you’ve got the kids wrapped up by extention. So you take something from a childhood and beef it up until adult audiences won’t deride its “campiness” (the same campiness they originally fell in love with), leaving you with a finished product whose heart has been replaced with a can of Axe body spray and a tribal tattoo.

And yet, there’s a second way to approach reboots that also works. You mentioned Godzilla, which could’ve been in the same “gritty” category as the superheroes or ’80s toys, but has a slight directorial difference. It’s not an action movie. It’s not a big campy puppet show. It’s its own animal. Taking a subject in its own new direction, not being beholden to any source content, can be liberating for a creative team. In its best moments Godzilla feels like a slow-burn art movie that features a giant monster. Another great example of this is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The ’50s version is film noir, simple, strange, and frightening. It was updated in the ’70s to be a much more paranoid thriller, stylized and creepy, with enough political subtext to transcend its literalism.

Some great ideas beg reinterpretation. That’s an entirely different concept than the crass rechurning of material for new Burger King deals. By either sticking to the concept’s core tone or branching into an entirely new style, reboots can add meaning and depth to stories. What you have to look out for, either as a creator or as a consumer, is something looking to feed off of pure nostalgia without adding anything back.

Kill your darlings,


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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).