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Monday, October 22, 2012

The Psychology Behind Fiction/Film Reboots: Smart or Smarmy?

To reboot in fiction and film is to discard all previous continuity in a series and start anew. You rarely have rebooted character personalities, usually just a similar character placed in a different universe or updated time period. Sometimes everything is subject to change.

But TV series, comics, and books are being rebooted at a rapid rate. Here's a list of a few that I can think of off the top of my head:

Beauty and the Beast (2012) just kicked off it's first season, and it's nothing like good ol' Linda Hamilton and animal-human hybrid Vincent. Beauty's a kick-butt detective and Vincent (yes, name remains the same) is a former medical doctor-turned-soldier after 9-11 who was injected with something that makes him like the Incredible Hulk when he's mad.

Elementary (2012) might be the most interesting reboot Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been through yet. Lucy Liu plays Watson, a surgeon-turned-"companion" to addicts, namely, one Sherlock Holmes. They live in New York, and he consults with the rather slow police detectives and wows them with his powers of observation, deduction, and reasoning. No doubt there will be romantic tension eventually between the two.

James Bonds is still alive and kicking, with Skyfall, the 23rd official movie, set to come out in November. Very similar to the reboot of Batman, starting with Batman Begins in 2005. I can't begin to recount the number of recent fairy tale remakings, but here's just a short list: Mirror, Mirror; Snow White and the Huntsman; Beastly; and Red Riding Hood for films and Grimm and Once Upon a Time for television series.

Comic reboots for both Marvel and DC have abounded with Man of Steele, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Arrow.

And of course fiction utilizes plot conceptualizations all the time. Jane Austen's books have to have been the inspiration for more retellings than any other author alive. I just finished The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark, which was a fresh retake of My Fair Lady. Melanie Dickerson writes portrayals of fairy tales in her series, with her Snow White retelling set to release this December.

I've made my case for the vast amount of literature being regurgitated in various arenas and ways. It's not a question of whether it's smart or smarmy to reboot. The biggest advantage is that you have a built-in audience who will buy your work simply because they love the concept behind it. They are loyal to the origins of your inspiration, and are happy enough to pay homage to their heroes through reboots.

The real question is this: Is it smart or smarmy to reboot a classic the way YOU want to do?

The stakes are higher when rebooting due to the possibility of disappointed expectations. People expect a Pride & Prejudice retelling and that's what they better get, only in some infinitesimal way, it's got to exceed their expectations. No one truly thinks that the story can be told better than how Jane Austen if you're going to shoot for the stars, be prepared to land hard on your rump if you miss.

Let's Analyze

What reboots can you think of that landed on their rump? Fiction, film,'s the limit. Which reboots were exceptional? I'd like to offer Melanie Dickerson as a wonderful example of how to reboot and more than meet reader expectations.