By Darren Franich
Updated June 03, 2011 at 03:00 PM EDT
Credit: Murray Close; Attila Dory

Everyone knows what a sequel is. Everyone unfortunately knows what a prequel is. Everyone who doesn’t know what a reboot is will feel very confused at the multiplex next year. But in the nightmarish franchise laboratory of modern Hollywood, the Boys in the Back Room have created a horrific new subspecies that harnesses the power of the fourth dimension to pump new energy into a fading film series. The name of this monstrosity? The preboot (noun, origin unknown unless someone is stupid enough to claim it). Like the common prequel, the preboot takes place chronologically earlier than previous films in a series. But unlike a prequel, the preboot is not intended to lead directly into those earlier films. Instead, a preboot purports to restart a franchise in an entirely new direction.

By way of analogy, consider the end of the first Back to the Future, wherin Marty McFly learns that his chrono-meddling has turned his parents into far more attractive, successful, and well-dressed versions of themselves. Essentially, the McFly parents were an aging franchise — Star Trek, let’s say — and Marty was the hotshot young director (or “J.J. Abrams”) who went back to the franchise’s origin point to make the characters cooler, sexier, and more willing to punch people.

Time travel is often a factor in the preboot. Escape from the Planet of the Apes nonsensically shuttered future apes back to the ’70s. Star Trek took one character from previous films and sent him back in time, the cinematic equivalent of having your cake, eating it, and turning the cake into a wormhole. Terminator: Salvation was set in the chronological future, which was the narrative past of the first film, and it was supposed to start a new Terminator trilogy but turns out there is a god somewhere. Time travel, however, isn’t always essential. Fast & Furious rebooted a flailing franchise while purposefully carrying over a character who died in the previous film. This summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes purports to carry the Apes franchise back to its origin point.

X-Men: First Class represents a new pinnacle for the Preboot. While paying lip service to the previous X films, the movie retcons some characters into unrecognizable (albeit not unappealing) new variations: Suffice it to say that nothing about Mystique in the original trilogy makes any sense in regards to First Class. More importantly, First Class doesn’t necessarily feel like it has to lead into the X trilogy: One can picture a whole host of period-piece X films, plugging Mutants into every major American event of the mid-20th century. (Think Forrest Gump with superpowers.)

There is already an expensive television series being made about the preboot phenomenon. In Terra Nova, human civilization attempts to save itself by starting over, traveling millions of years backwards in time, back to a time when the land was more fertile. Of course, in Terra Nova, no one seems terribly concerned about the fragility of the space-time continuum, and the danger of the preboot is that it creates a narrative Möbius strip that leads backwards, forwards, and sideways, eventually collapsing on itself like a dying star, and our only hope is that John Huston will be there when the universe descends into entropy to guide us home (which is exactly what happens in Battle for the Planet of the Apes).

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

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