Thursday, May 7, 2009

Re-imagining a Reboot: Tyrrany of a Construct

This movie summer we are faced with the imminent release of several movies that are essentially a re-imagining of a previous franchise. Coming soon is GI Joe: The Movie. This is of course a re-imagining and a reboot of the previous GI Joe toy line and cartoon/comics franchise. Of greater trepidation is of course the new Star Trek movie coming out in a few short days.

Both of these movies are an attempt to reboot a franchise that has either had a different focus (GI Joe, mainly kid oriented) or languished due to running out of steam (the case of Star Trek). The thing about reboots is that how good it can be is entirely dependent on how much you liked the old series. The vast majority of people don't care about either Trek or Joe, and more than likely will find anything escapist to be of value. It's the fans I am talking to here.

One of the chief conceits of a reboot is to take a good idea and for a creator to put their own "spin" on it. Battlestar Galactica is a classic example of this. The original series, which came out in the late '70s had the issue of being very much a product of its time. In other words, watching it today some 30 years after it first aired, one cannot escape the kitch and corny-ness of it's '70s outlook. It has not aged well. With the "re-imagining" of the series much more recently (2000's, assuming this blog is read by people decades from now!) took the core concept (caravan to the stars, refugees looking for "paradise") and changed it to fit their vision. This is a conciet, and the new BSG series owes nothing (no legacy, no continuity, etc) to the original. There might be a few nods here and there, but that's about it.

The thing of it is though: old BSG was corny; new BSG was so much better.

We've seen it before: the old Batman movie series descended into its own camp death-spiral (unavoidable in my opinion, since the first Keaton Batman movie was campy in its own way). With the franchise reboot recently (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) the first movie tenatively shrugged off the campiness te franchise had been afflicted with, and the second movie is, in my opinion, probably the greatest, most intense, and otherwise best depiction of Batman on the big screen.

But then this does not always work. Lost in Space ended with one movie, which was mediocre despite the awfulness of the original TV series.

With GI Joe, it doesn't matter so much, and the reboot might breath new life into the series. I fully expect it to be nothing more than another Transfomers style movie -- popcorn for the brain. The original cartoon was pretty campy and aimed at kids, just like Transformers. So perhaps it might get better.

Star Trek, however, has a much greater legacy to live up to. I will go on record by saying Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the best Trek movie to date, and probably one of the best SF movies ever made. Looking past the terrible costumes, it has the elements to classic speculative fiction: the Mystery, the Exploration, the Conflict, and of course the Resoution. For those bored with the V'ger fly-bys, get the Director's cut. Similarly, movies like Wrath of Kahn rank up there in the minds of a lot fans (and not just Trek fans) as one of the greats.

Abram's Trek has to live up to this.

One of the most common arguments I've seen with regards to the critcisms of the new Trek movie (uses time travel to an alternate universe, so that the director can "reboot" the series and do whatever he wants with it) is that its just a movie, watch it and judge it on its own merits. Here's the thing, and why this is such a worrisome time for a Trek fan: any sort of fandom requires a large investment in time and money into the franchise. Star Trek had 10 movies, 5 TV series, one cartoon series, hundreds of novels and other supporting media. For someone to really be a fan, this is a huge investment into the franchise. While there is nothing wrong with a new "entry level" movie to get fans into the series, by effectively ignoring all that past material, it essentially says that the fan's efforts were wasted and all that material doesn't matter anymore. Sure, you can go back an re-watch TMP, or the original series, but that's it: if the new Trek movie is a success (and everything indicates it will be), that previous continuity, legacy, and materials is effectively "dead." There will be no more. Perhaps it gets revisited in novels or comics, but no more movies, TV series, and the like.

I'm intending to see the movie with as open a mind as possible. But the film already has 2 knocks against it (time travel, one of the most overused plot devices in Star Trek, and here we get it again, and the fact that there will be a cameo at least of every single original crew that it feels like its going to be Trek Babies; this sucked in the Star Wars prequels (C-3PO just happened to have been built by Anakin-future-Vader?). That being said, it better be good...not just for the general public, but for the fans as well.

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