Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How 2001 was a film game-changer III: Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes 'reimagining' invents the modern reboot.

This is one of a handful of essays that will be dealing with the various trends that were kicked off during the 2001 calendar year, and how they still resonate today.

At the time, the term 're-imagining' was ridiculed and mocked in the entertainment press.  20th Century Fox, Tim Burton, and those involved with the 2001 redo of Planet of the Apes refused to call it a remake, instead calling it a re-imagining of the classic 1968 sci-fi adventure that itself was a groundbreaking venture in several important ways (it was the first ongoing continuity-laden franchise from a major studio, the first sci-fi franchise, the first to do an 'origin' story, the first prequel, etc).  While the film was massively successful, the critical aftertaste (read - mixed/negative reviews quickly turned into general dissatisfaction) caused Fox to do, what is now a rare thing.  They quit while they were ahead.  They took their $362 million in worldwide grosses (off a $100 million budget) and closed shop on the Planet of the Apes franchise.  Despite a near-record opening weekend ($69 million) and a $180 million domestic gross, Burton was openly annoyed at the final result (it was among the first films to earn Fox a reputation as a micro manager among the big studios) and vowed not to return for a sequel.  Audiences too didn't care for the somewhat flat narrative, the blank-slate Mark Wahlberg performance, or the seemingly arbitrary shock ending.  Anyway, the film was a smash hit, but it was a classic quick-kill blockbuster that closed the book on the franchise until this very week, when 20th Century Fox is releasing Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Positioned as part-prequel, part quasi-remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the film is indeed a reboot of the beloved franchise.  Because reboots are all the rage now...

Slight digression, I dislike the film but love the ending, both because it's somewhat similar to how the original book ended, and because it merely existed to piss people off and leave audiences scratching their heads as they drove him (it does kinda-sorta make sense, but it requires lots of presumptions).  Anyway, while most people trace the reboot-madness back to Chris Nolan's Batman Begins in 2005, Burton and 20th Century Fox were the first to try what we would now call a 'reboot'.  It was a redo of the first picture of a given series, with the intent of restarting the franchise with additional sequels that would or would not mimic prior entries.  If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck... After Batman Begins we got Casino Royale, which was a quasi-reboot for a series that really didn't have a hard-and-fast continuity in the first place (you could argue that the 007 franchise rebooted every time it changed lead actors).  In 2009, J.J. Abrams's Star Trek tried to have it both ways, rebooting the franchise with fresh actors and a modern sensibility while using time travel and various parallel universe theory to keep the previous 40 years of continuity more-or-less intact (I wasn't a big fan of the film two years ago, but I've grown to appreciate it).  Those successes, combined with sky-rocketing budgets and executives afraid to lose their jobs over the failures of wholly original properties, has led to a mini-wave of reboots, and a big-studio culture that would rather spend $150 million on a reboot of an established property than $50 million on a new franchise or new story.

In the last few years, we've had countless reboots, threatened or actualized, of any number of classic or not-so classic franchises.  In the next few years, we'll be seeing a reboot of The Crow, a rehash of Daredevil and the Fantastic Four, and yet another origin story for The Amazing Spider-Man.  Warner has already announced that it will immediately (?) reboot the Batman franchise as soon as The Dark Knight Rises completes the Chris Nolan mythology.  Warner is threatening a remake of Lethal Weapon, and there has been much discussion over whether or not this summer's superlative X-Men: First Class was a prequel to the Bryan Singer/Brett Ratner trilogy or a reboot of the whole X-Men mythology.  And just yesterday we heard word that Warner is starting from scratch and 'rebooting' the Green Lantern franchise after a single disappointing film.  I wrote about reboot fever last week, arguing that we may be in for a long period where every studio simply dusts off their old properties and reboots them over and over again.  Most people blame Chris Nolan and his successful Batman reboot for this unfortunate trend.  But, like some of what Chris Nolan gets credit for in regards to the Batman franchise, Tim Burton did it first.

For better or worse, Tim Burton gets the credit for another major trend in mainstream movies.  The man who crafted the first preordained blockbuster with his first Batman (with the first monster opening weekend), the man who accidentally scared studios out of putting adult content in PG-13 mass entertainments (Batman Returns), and the man who indirectly started this whole wave of fairy-tale adaptations (albeit more paternalistic ones as opposed to the comparably feminist Alice in Wonderland) also is the man who created the modern reboot.  Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, released a little over ten years ago today, was the first of its kind.

Scott Mendelson                         


Quoc Lieu said...

You're articles are so well written and thought out. Truly, more people need to be following this blog.

Heather said...

Ugh not looking forward to a Batman reboot after Nolan is done. Yuck.


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