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.