The Munsters and the Problem with Reboots

SPOILER ALERT – the following review/rant includes minor spoilers for the new Rob Zombie film The Munsters now available on DVD and Netflix.

Okay, I haven’t really posted too many reviews of movies or television shows on this blog but one has come along that I feel I must comment on. Rob Zombie’s version of The Munsters.

High Hopes

I was really looking forward to this reboot. I so badly wanted it to succeed. I didn’t even give up hope after the trailer was released.

I am not familiar with Zombie’s other films or even his music but I understood he was a fan of the original series and that usually bodes well for a film as I suspected that the source material would be treated with some reverence and respect while adding a modern sensibility to a childhood (and adulthood frankly) favorite series.

I was wrong.

Hopes Dashed

After watching Zombie’s version of The Munsters I questioned if he had actually watched the original series. While there were some obvious nods to the first series, most notably Lily’s brother Lester and a cameo by Zombo, a lot of this movie just did not ring true. I will admit that he got the house right and the look of the characters was nearly spot on. Though I was surprised that The Count, aka Grandpa, had a mustache I finally realized that this may have been because in Bram Stocker’s novel Dracula had a mustache (or so I heard, I haven’t gone back to check).

I was not thrown off by Zombie’s directing style or the look of the movie. The acting was solid and fit the nature of the style that Zombie was using. Though truth be told, I wasn’t terribly impressed with Jeff Daniel Phillips (Herman) or Sherry Moon Zombie (Lily). Both seemed to be trying to do an impersonation of the original cast (Fred Gwynne and Yvonne DeCarl0) and missing the mark. They would have been better off actually just making the characters their own.

I had a minor issue with make up and Lily’s hair – the stripe is supposed to be down the middle of the scalp not on the side and I thought Herman’s green was a little over the top. Otherwise the costuming was spot on.

I also wish that the script had a better plot. After Herman and Lily finally got together the movie just kind of kept going aimlessly and moved the family to America in a forced and illogical way.

The Problem with Reboots

Lost forever?

But my biggest issue with the movie was that Zombie, who is also credited as the writer, chose to re-write Herman’s origin and to a lesser degree Grandpa’s as well.

In the original series it was very clear, at least to me, that Herman (and his twin brother Charlie) was one of Frankenstein’s monsters. Not THE Frankenstein monster, but the culmination of Victor Frankenstein’s experiments. The success as it were. Maybe it has something to do with rights as a previous reboot (Mockingbird Lane) also changed Herman’s origin so that Grandpa had built him as a mate for Lily. Zombie chose to introduce a random mad scientist along with a sidekick instead and have Herman built in the present day instead of back in the early 1800s.

Similarly, Grandpa’s origin was tweaked and I had the impression that he was supposed to be the original Count Dracula (aka Vlad the Impaler) instead of A Dracula as was hinted in the original series where Grandpa was known as Sam Dracula.

The difference in the origins to me is significant to the characters. In Herman’s case instead of being Frankenstein’s success he becomes Dr. Wolfgang’s (Richard Brake) failure in a gag taken directly from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. In The Counts case it means that the kindly Grandpa we grew up with was now a predatory, ruthless creature of the night.

Which brings me to what I think is too often a problem with reboots of so many movies and television shows. The desire to make something new out of something old often leads to changes in the character that are so drastic that they change the dynamic which made the characters successful in the first place.

Creative License or Re-Writing History?

Now, to be fair, I get it. As a playwright I’ve taken some old properties and told new stories with them. Most notably Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. However, I believe I was able to tell new stories without changing basic things that made the core characters who they were. In the comics “what if…” kinds of stories are told all the time but usually with more success. Regardless of the “universe” the stories are set in Superman is rocketed from the doomed planet Krypton, Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed in front of him, Wonder Woman is an Amazon, Peter Parker is bitten by a spider, the Fantastic Four…well, let’s not talk about the Fantastic Four.

And I think there was a very interesting and amusing story that could have been told about how Herman and Lily met by following the original series’ “canon.” Based on the original series and the movie that followed (the underrated Munster Go Home) after Herman was assembled he left Germany to go to the United Kingdom where he was “adopted” by a family named Munster – not just given the name by a lab assistant in an offhand comment- and then he moved to Transylvania where he eventually met Lily and they then emigrated to the United States. Plenty of room for, dare I say it, an epic quest and love story.

Instead we got a jumbled mess, set in an unknown time period (now? the 1960s? who knows…), with characters who don’t act like they should based on the origins they’ve been given.

Oh well, there is a reason that this film went directly to video and Netflix. If there is ever another reboot maybe we’ll get the story of why Herman wandered from country to country so much before finding his way to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. I guess I can take some solace in the fact that The Addams Family doesn’t seem to be faring much better these days.

Fortunately, Disney gave us the sequel to Hocus Pocus so the season isn’t entirely lost.

I’d love to know what you thought of The Munsters and think of reboots in general.