Saturday, November 22, 2008

Revisionism: the good and bad

Every few months, we experience what has become the standard fare of Hollywood: find a successful past franchise , "update" it with modern (read: postmodern) sensibilities, characters, and themes, and then re-release it to multi-million dollar acclaim.

Some of these offerings have been excellent.  The Battlestar Galactica series is some of the best science-fiction television ever created, miles ahead of its contemporaries just as its predecessor was ahead of its own.  Virtually all of the updating is, in my opinion, a good thing.  The plots are more intelligent, harrowing, and even moving--addressing concerns lurking in the heart of modern America.

The new Batman franchise is a similar breath of fresh air.  While Batman Begins was an excellent film in its own right, many are saying that the Dark Knight has transcended the genre, become something more than any other so-called "comic book" movie before it.

These movies stand as great examples of how to do revisionism: take the heart of what is good about the original material, show respect for the franchise and its history, and then deepen it for the newcomer and fan alike.

Then there are countless examples of revisionism gone terribly wrong.

Planet of the Apes.  Dukes of Hazzard.  Scooby-Doo.  Psycho.  Wild Wild West.  Godzilla 2000.  Starship Troopers.  (Okay, that last one wasn't quite a remake of a movie or TV show, but a book adaptation that might be the worst ever).

Each one of these movies tried to take the trappings of their predecessors and sell them without understanding the heart of the original.  Worse, they had no respect for the fans of the franchise and what they considered to be its enduring value.

Two franchises that are awaiting judgment:  the new Bond series with Daniel Craig and the forthcoming Star Trek movie featuring characters from the original series.  The new Bond is very good, but it is definitely a re-visioning of Bond, his character, and his world.  This is not the Bond we know and love, but something new.  So far, so good, but it will remain so only if they figure out how to scale back the brooding and the brutality and make him fun again.  Bond is not meant to be a treatise on international relations and how they play out in the life of actual operatives--Bourne already did that.  Bourne ain't Bond.

And (thanks Shazammm for getting me all stirred up about it) the preview for the new Star Trek movie?  This looks like it might be in the running for worst revisionism ever.  At this point it is way too soon to tell.  I sincerely hope I'm wrong and they didn't have enough of the movie put together to do it justice in the trailer.  But is this really Star Trek?  Or anything even in its orbit?  We'll see.


James Wood said...

I like the steampunk reference.

I don't know about the Star Trek movie - I'm cautiously optimistic. It's similar to the Bond franchise (and Batman for that matter) in that there have been some terrible movies that make me doubt the sanity of the people making the films. Star Trek IV was awful. The newer one where Picard fell in love and time stopped: horrible. Yet I still watch the films.

There is something about the heart of the original material that keeps me coming back with (childish) hope that this time they might just get it right. That's why I watched and continue to watch everything coming out of Lucasfilm - there have been some travesties, but there have also been some jaw-dropping, life-changing moments. I'll endure Jar-jar for the chance to touch that feeling of watching "A New Hope" for the first time.

Anonymous said...

Similarly for me ... I await the new Star Trek with anticipated angst. Because I am a fan, I will go. Because I am a fan, I will make remarks about how untrue they are to the "original" ... however, my wife and I watched a little bit of an original and thought "I enjoyed that?"

Tim Lewis said...

If you have never made a movie you're not allowed to critique it. No critiquing anything! Especially UF!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tim for making a good point here. To piggyback on it though, I really take offense at Jason using the term "brooding" to describe anything other than UF. It's just not right and I think all the readers over at VampireLoveFroums, BloodsuckerLitFic, and the Hunky Dead Lords newsgroup will agree. Have I mentioned our numbers? There's lots of us. And we own the night. Hocus Pocus! I am a bat!