The current film and television landscape is ripe with reboots and remakes, with countless more to be released in the near future. Yet despite their prevalence in contemporary media, very little attention has been paid to defining what a reboot is in relation to a remake. Frequently the terms have been used interchangeably, without giving enough thought into what each of them actually means and if there is a distinction between the two. Effectively, both are forms of adaptation, which are traditionally connected to works of literary origin. When we consider some films, such as Star Trek (2009) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) we instinctively identify these as reboots - films that take an established multimedia franchise/narrative and start that story again from the beginning in an attempt to revitalize or capitalize on an already existing franchise and attract new fans. Star Trek literally did this by creating an alternative timeline to distinguish this new film series from its previous canon. Unlike Pride and Prejudice (2005), which adapts a single classic story, reboots frequently draw from a larger catalogue of source materials. However, films like Casino Royale (2006) complicate this distinction as it is an adaptation of a novel and a reboot of an established franchise utilizing narrative and stylistic characteristics from the series. It is also the second time the spy novel has been adapted for the screen (third if you count the unrelated 1967 film).
How, then, do we classify a film like Len Wiseman’s Total Recall (2012), which is both a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film of the same name, an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” and the latest entry in a relatively small franchise consisting of the previous film, various forms of merchandise and video games, and the short lived television series Total Recall 2070 (1999). Is this film, as this shot by shot comparison suggests, a “Total Ripoff” (approx. 2:00) or is it more complicated than that?
While you can create a reboot that doesn’t directly remake a specific story, all reboots are inherently part remake and part adaptation. The merging of all of these characteristics, and what defines each of them in relation to one another, is something that needs further exploration. This week in IMR explores the reboot in its various forms across the contemporary and historical media landscape.