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Adapting: How to Be True to an Audience

Adaptations and reboots are huge right now. There’s no arguing it, and they’re here to stay. Studios are always looking to tap into the fan base of some existing franchise by bringing it back to the limelight. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it establishes an entirely new fan base while alienating the original. Therein lies the trick: establishing a new audience while keeping the original audience satisfied.

These are a few examples of films that did just that.

Star Trek (2009)

While some fans discount the new film, overall the reboot of the Star Trek franchise was a smashing success. Earning over $75 million on it’s opening weekend, Star Trek guaranteed at least a sequel and possibly a new TV series as well.

But how did they do it? Star Trek couldn’t have been such a hit if it hadn’t been for the original fan base coming out and supporting the film. A fan base that has supported five television series and ten feature films already. With the middling support of Enterprise (2001-2005), you have to be sure that the fan base was leery of another prequel. So how did they do it? One name: Leonard Nimoy.

The writer’s were well versed enough in Trek mythos that they understood the complexity of multiple universes. They also understood the basis of Trek science. If we know X is why we can’t do Y, then to do Y in Star Trek we need to have an X inhibitor. Basically they cheated. By sending Leonard Nimoy’s Spock back in time, they created an alternate universe. They weren’t rebooting the original Star Trek (1966-1969), they were creating an entirely new chapter in the franchise moving forward. That means all the effort that fans have put into previous incarnations has not been wasted, and doesn’t fundamentally change their understanding of the franchise.

Charlie’s Angels (2000)

A lot of rebooting a franchise has to do with timing. We’ve seen numerous reboots fail, not because of poor production but because of modern tastes. No matter how well you create a film, if it doesn’t mesh with the audiences conscience it won’t fly. A unique example in this article is the case of Charlie’s Angels.

When Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu got together to make this film, the timing couldn’t have been more right. We were in the heart of the modern feminist movement. Women were becoming more and more powerful everywhere, and they weren’t afraid to show it. We got shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) from this era, and we can’t forget the massive cultural concert series Lilith Fair (1997-1999). Women were kicking butt, figuratively and literally, at this time.

That’s what went into the film. It kept the traditional empowerment motif of the original, but modernized the sensibilities. The film was tongue in cheek, both a nod and a slap to the face of classic seventies exploitation. Over $40 million on the opening weekend confirmed the film was a hit.

What’s interesting about the case of Charlie’s Angels is that it has landed on both sides of the reboot coin. In 2011, a rebooted TV series was released. Drew Barrymore was still at the helm, but the moment had passed. Seventies nostalgia has moved on, and so has modern sensibilities. Much like a failed attempt at rebooting Lilith Fair in 2010, Charlie’s Angels was the wrong show at the wrong time and was cancelled early in its run.

The Muppets (2011)

It’s hard to characterize The Muppets as a reboot. The film fits with existing continuity, and carries on with all the familiar characters from the franchise. However, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller had to shake the dust off the legendary Jim Henson’s franchise to get it up and running again.

Sadly, this franchise didn’t fall off from simple disuse. It fell to the side from misuse, as evidenced by less than stellar reviews for more recent Muppet-fair. Thanks to this, the team putting together The Muppets had an uphill climb, an audience that was owed a strong showing, and a lot of hard decisions to make in regards to the movie. Would they continue in the tradition of previous Muppet movies by placing the Muppets in a real world adventure, or would they go back to the roots of The Muppet Show (1976-1981)? Over the years the Muppets have accrued a large cast of characters, how would they pay their dues to all of them?

What made this movie successful was the decision to ultimately prey on sentimentality. They ignored the more recent history of works like Muppets Tonight (1996-1998) and Muppets from Space (1999), and focused on the original Muppet Show. This struck perfectly. Adults who grew up with The Muppet Show can find all their traditional humor embedded in the film without the distraction of more recent characters, for the most part. Those adults bring their kids, who don’t know that they should wonder what happened to Bean Bunny and Clifford. Disney chose to focus The Muppets on the heart of the franchise, not the sum of its parts. From this, they have a hit and a revitalized franchise.

Those are just three successful movie franchise reboots, there are always more than could be talked about in one article. There are also plenty of failed attempts at reboots, we can look at how The Avengers (2012) will include our third incarnation of The Hulk. So what are your favorites on both sides of the coin, the good and the bad? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Also, I would be remiss to write an entire article on reboots and not include the opening credits from the classic kids show ReBoot (1994-2002). Enjoy.

Zac Hogle is a writer/director who has worked on several nationally broadcast series and documentaries. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/zhogle.

All images and videos are the copyright and property of their respective holders. No infringement is intended.

Box office numbers courtesy of Boxofficemojo.com

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Categories: Movies
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