Sherlock: Anatomy of a Reboot

So, has anyone seen the new Sherlock?

What’s that?  You’re not sure whether I’m talking about the movie or the TV series?  Because there are two Sherlock franchises producing new content at the same time and both are quite popular?  Inconceivable!  

There hasn’t been an original idea in film since… well… ever, but eyebrows have been raised even more in recent years with the idea of “reboots.”  Unlike a loosely-related next-generation “sequel,” reboots can continue to profit from well-loved characters, or demand a redo for a franchise that failed.  Unlike a “remake,” reboots can have an entirely new take on the source material – in fact, it’s preferred.

Realistically we’ve had reboots for years – how many versions of Little Women do you think are floating around out there? – but now we have a snappy name for them.  Also, they’re particularly suited for serial properties – comics, book series, even TV, where we’re dealing with a memorable protagonist, but the actual plot leaves tons of room for interpretation.  All this to say that Sherlock Holmes (who’s even more or less in public domain – bonus!) is tailor-made for reboot after remake after new interpretation.

It’s still notable, however, that both the movie and the TV series are enjoying success at the same time.  So let’s say I want to make my own reboot – what factors should I consider while choosing my own property to reanimate?  As it turns out, in my opinion, there’s really only two:

Choose the character, not the actor

Some characters – typically ones that originated on paper instead of film – are their own entity, and actors merely breathe different aspects to life.  Others, however, are nearly inseparable from the actor who made them famous.  Can you imagine a from-scratch reboot of Indiana Jones?  Even if it were done marvelously, it would have a harder time finding success as long as the majority of people remember him as Harrison Ford.  Consider the Mummy movies: in many ways they carry the spirit of the Indiana Jones films, and they’re popular in their own right, but if you’d handed Brendan Fraser a hat and a whip it probably would have been a flop.

On the contrary, a character like Batman has been played by many, many actors over the years.  And since the comics have been ongoing, an actor can choose to interpret the character in nearly any way, find something in the massive source material to back it up, and it’s bound to resonate with someone.

So the idea is to pick something that’s popular or enduring based on the strength of the characters or the plot.  Hmm… boiled down it seems I’m just suggesting we find good source material.

Make a superior product

The reason the Sherlock movies and series can co-exist peacefully is that neither is really a pale imitation of the other.  It helps that they aren’t retreading the same material – one is modern, the other period, the interpretations of the main character are different – but both feature a charismatic lead actor with relatively clever writing.  They can each stand alone.

Similarly, the first two X-Men movies were pretty popular (even with extreme liberties in beloved source material) but the last few were simply stale sequels.  X-Men: First Class ties in with the original movies, but it’s essentially a reboot, taking the franchise in a different direction, with a completely new cast.  And the movie was so well-written and well-acted that most fans are more than happy to follow the new path (I, for one, will not be upset if we never see Halle Berry as Storm again).

So really, it doesn’t matter how much time has passed since the last iteration – combine a beloved story or character with excellent writing and superior acting and you’ll have a success!  Who would’ve thought?

Save a sleuth

As for myself, if I could choose to see any reboot, I’d love to finally see a good Nancy Drew movie.  I grew up reading the Nancy Drew mysteries, written in the 30s – and the rewritten ones from the 60s, and the Nancy Drew Files from the 80s, and Nancy Drew on Campus from the 90s… clearly the character resonates no matter what the era or situation.  Everyone loves the smart strawberry blonde with the good car and the boyfriend who’s more accessory than savior.  And there’s more than 70 years of material to work from!

And yet, the poor girl has never had one good movie with her name on it.  The most recent film aged Nancy down to 16, which might have flown in the 1930s but made it impossible to take her seriously today.  And before you tell me they were gearing the movie for children, that’s about as keen a move as gearing Superman for kids.  The whole point of the Nancy Drew books was that they weren’t patronizing.

So I’d like to see a cool, calm and collected Nancy who uses her brains to get her out of situations without being cutesy.  Who’s self-assured and physically confident without requiring superpowers or gymnastic martial arts.  Is that so much to ask?

What about you?  What do you think makes a good reboot?  What are some of the best, or worst, and what property would you like to reboot?  

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