Most folks who know me are also aware I’m a major movie nut. Specifically, movies of old Hollywood, whose time frame I must now admit extends into the 1970s when I began going pretty regularly to theaters and drive-ins (and having a car and a job to support it and my cinematic habit). I now find myself in the era of the “reboot,” the computer regeneration term now applied to new versions of films popular, in some cases, only a generation ago. Some reboots have been imaginative and successful, as in the new “Star Trek” adventures. Others are merely exploitative, such as those featuring the resurrections of Michael Myers from the “Halloween” franchise and Jason of “Friday the 13th” infamy to capitalize on whatever it was that built them an audience back in the ’80s. (If you like them, fine; despite my love of horror movies, I’ve never been a fan of theirs).
My only question is, in this time of seemingly re-everything when it comes to entertainment, whatever happened to originality? You know, that distinctive spark that makes a movie or television show stand apart from others of its kind. Or, some entirely new concept. Of course, it has always been a truism in Hollywood that nothing succeeds like success, so it was inevitable the enthusiastic audience reaction granted to the original “Halloween” in 1978 and “Friday the 13th” in 1980 spawned sequels and imitations exploiting the elements that made those initial efforts something new and different.
So after these series exhausted all of their possibilities — and weren’t making money anymore — the new century has yielded the reboot, repurpose or reinvention of established film characters and situations. They used to be called remakes, but it is also true that a new version of a film classic, with a few exceptions, usually fails to compare to the original. Thus it was with some suspicion I saw that “Kong: Skull Island,” on the surface another re-do of the 1933 monster epic “King Kong” that was officially remade in 1976 and 2005, will hit theaters in March.
But before dismissing the new film, I did a little research and discovered an answer to my question about the creative spark. In high concept, effects-laden productions such as this one, originality is directed to making an old idea acceptable to a new audience. It might be light years away from the story idea producer Merian C. Cooper and mystery novelist Edgar Wallace crafted in the early ’30s for “King Kong,” but in some cases, a little tinkering is not necessarily a bad thing. A quick read of the film’s plot description offers an insight into the producers’ building on a solid basis.
“Kong: Skull Island” is from the same production team that made 2014’s “Godzilla,” which I have yet to see but also sounds intriguing based on its synopsis, providing a more complex backstory to the iconic Japanese creature that’s thrilled moviegoers and TV watchers since the 1950s. This and “Kong: Skull Island” offer evidence that revamping an accepted movie idea works by taking a presold product and transforming it into a new and improved piece of merchandise. With the upcoming Kong movie, the producers had to be more imaginative in their approach because the Peter Jackson-directed “King Kong” of a decade ago attempted to capture the awe, mystery and sheer thrill of the original classic.
Ultimately, audience response will decide much of what follows, but the time has come to give such clearly thoughtful versions as “Kong: Skull Island” their chance. Besides, its producers at Legendary Pictures are reportedly planning a screen meeting of Kong and Godzilla for 2020 which ought to be interesting; Toho Co.’s 1963 pairing of the two great monsters was one of its more enjoyable projects.
So in the end, a reboot of a movie series works if a fresh and enterprising spirit accompanies its production. And the other side of the answer to my question about originality in Hollywood is in something evident for decades: lower-keyed studio movies and independent efforts have always compensated for big production value with unique, well-acted and yes, original stories that we don’t always see, but are well within grasp thanks to viewing choices technology has brought to us.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.