Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2017 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
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Friday, July 29, 2011

(Don't) Play it again, Sam!

          The subject this week is "Reboots."  This came about because my friends at Nerd Lunch have been discussing reboots, both those really in the works, and some they would like to see, for about seven weeks now.  I've been reading their work, and thinking upon the subject, and even though I had plans to look at another subject, I decided not to sit on this until it no longer relates to anything before I run with it.  Ergo, with a tip of the hat to those three amazing young men, I present my views on Reboots.
          I'd like to offer some definitions, at least as I apply them in my world.  If anyone, Nerds included, would like to argue with my accuracy, that is a discussion I would love to have.  A Reboot, in my definition, is when you take an existing property and present a new film/book/comic/game with the original characters, background, and situation, and you present a completely new story, then this new product is the new original.  If you tell exactly the same story, as with the several versions of Hound of the Baskervilles, that is a Remake.  If you send the original characters off into a completely new story, as J. J. Abrams did with his Star Trek movie, that is a Reboot, and that is what we're here to discuss.
          Next, I'm going to take the time to "out" some impostors.  Sequels are obvious, and are not attempting to fool anyone at all.  Lethal Weapon 2 followed the further adventures of Murtaugh and Riggs through another case in their careers, and no one would mistake that for a reboot.  But, let's look at a hypothetical situation, and see whether we think it's a reboot or not.  Wanted Dead or Alive was a classic western of the early 60s.  It starred Steve McQueen, one of the hot young stars of the era, as Josh Randall, a bounty hunter in the old west.  If you made a show or movie starring one of the hot young stars of the modern era, called it Wanted Dead or Alive, and set it in the old west, that would clearly be a reboot.  But what if you placed Josh Randall in the modern world, hunting outlaws from the back of his Escalade?  That is clearly not a sequel.  Is it a reboot?
The real deal
          There is another genre that can be mistaken for the reboot.  This is the group of wannabe storytellers whose chief talent is in ripping off someone else's work when they see that it's making money.  These aren't reboots, and don't pretend to be; each would have you believe that it is the original that is being ripped off.  Cases in point: True Blood, which made it's first appearance in September, 2008.  Two months later, Twilight burst on the scene.  September 2009, we find them joined by The Vampire Diaries.  A couple of things are apparent here:  First, even though True Blood beat Twilight onto screens by two months, Twilight probably didn't rip it off, because you can't put something like that together in two months.  Coming in a year later, The Vampire Diaries is the most likely candidate for ripoff-hood.  What all of these properties have in common is that they are vampire vs. werewolf stories with forbidden romances buried at the center.  My daughter, who is more aware of these things, tells me that people who follow one tend to look down their noses at people who follow the other two.  I hate to burst your little teenybopper bubble, but it's time to get a nose job; you're all ripping off the queen of the night, who showed up in 2003 to do a better job telling this story than anyone since.

Kristen Stewart as Snow White???
          Here are a couple of examples that require a discerning eye to sort out.  The "buzz" was put about Comic-Con this year about a movie beginning production called Snow White.  Everyone knows the story of Snow White.  She comes to us through the Brothers Grimm, although they did not originate her.  Snow White found herself in the cross hairs of a murderous queen when the magic mirror told the old bat that Snow White was prettier than her.  The young hottie was put into a coma with a poisoned apple, and remained thus until Prince Hotlips came along to awaken her with love's first kiss, whereupon the evil queen's head exploded because she failed to eliminate her rival.  I guess people had different priorities back then, but the point is, what you see in the picture is Kristen Stewart kitted up for the title role.  I know that I'm not the only one who sees the White Tree of Gondor on that shield.  Did she get that from the Lord of the Rings prop room?  Borrowing equipment from other shows is forgivable. Heck, Firefly, one of the most beloved SciFi properties of all time, borrowed the body armor from Starship Troopers, and no one held it against them, but, WHAT THE HELL IS SNOW WHITE DOING IN A SUIT OF ARMOR?  No one would have the gall to reboot Macbeth.  Now, Snow White isn't Shakespeare, but she isn't an episode of Manimal, either.  Snow White is a morality fable about the power of pure, wholesome love, not the power of an ass-kicking cheer leader.  What the hell are these people thinking!

Maria Bello as Det. Jane Timoney
          Speaking of ass-kicking cheer leaders, here's another example.  NBC is pushing a show in their fall lineup called Prime Suspect.  This show stars Maria Bello as Detective Jane Timoney.  I don't have much on the premise of this show, but that's all right, as this post isn't a show preview.  What I get from the trailers is that she is a young police woman who makes Detective, and finds herself assigned to a boy's club unit that shuns, belittles, marginalizes, and generally tries to minimize everything she tries to do.  She has to overcome all this from her position of powerlessness at the bottom.  Now, this is an interesting premise, and has the potential to be a superb show (if NBC gives it a chance to find its audience before they give up and pull the plug), but Prime Suspect it ain't.  If you've never had the chance to worship at that particular altar, let me tell you what you're missing.
          In the real Prime Suspect, Helen Mirren plays a middle-aged detective named Jane Tennison.  The first thing that happens to her as the series is getting underway is that, as part of the normal course of a successful career, she is promoted to Detective Chief Inspector, and takes command of a boy's club unit that resents her presence, and tries to undermine and marginalize, and in some cases, sabotage everything she does.  In this case, she holds the stick, and this makes opposition to her much more subtle, and the interactions much more nuanced.  Like I say, NBC may have a hot property in their "reimagining," but every time I see this swaggering, mouthy street cop running after crooks, engaging in knife fights, and just generally being a badass, I will be yanked out of the story by the simple act of remembering that NBC calls this Prime Suspect.
          It's obvious that I don't consider these reboots, no matter what the titles are.  So, what are they?  Simple.  They're examples of cowardice.  These two shows, and countless other books, movies, games, and so on, are examples of someone who has produced an original work, and is then afraid to put it in front of the public without gilding it in the mantle of something great, admired, or beloved, that it only bears the most remote relationship with.
          With all that ground covered, it's time for me to declare where I stand on the whole subject of Reboots.  Like I said, for the past seven weeks, I have followed the Nerds and their followers, as they've waxed poetic about the reboots of everything from DC Comics to Star Trek.  I have even nibbled at the periphery from time to time, though I haven't jumped in with both feet, because I'm diametrically opposed to reboots; at least, I thought I was.  My feeling was, if you don't have the imagination to tell an original story, then you need to go bag groceries, and let somebody with talent have a turn!  That exact phrase is in my handwritten notes for this post, but as I've been collecting material, my views have changed.
Personal friends, one and all!
          The conversation began with an isolated discussion of J. J. Abrams' Star Trek movie.  This is blasphemy, plain and simple.  I absolutely hated this movie, even though I never saw it.  Here's why:  I know Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and the rest of the crew.  They have the faces of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, and the rest.  They are the friends of my youth, my teachers of possibility, my guides and protectors through the vastness of space, the inspiration for my own feeble attempts to write adventure fiction, and nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to replace them in my heart, mind, or spirit; I consider it a personal insult that anyone would try.
Not so much...
          But, what if you'd never met Shatner, Nimoy, et al?  How offended would you be by these unknown characters then?  Probably not much.  They'd be no more unknown to you than Shatner's crew, and all you'd see would be the magnificent effects and the exciting story.  You wouldn't know them at all.  So, we have the First Premise for the "acceptable" Reboot:

          The subject must have been before your time, or otherwise have missed your awareness.

          Basically, if you didn't "love" the original, you don't resent the reboot.  But, that would seem to negate this phenomenon:  CT of the Nerds spent a lot of time and column-inches discussing the pending (maybe in progress by now) reboot of DC Comics.  He has stated that he grew up with the DC pantheon, Superman, Batman, and all the rest, and he must have loved them (feel free to substitute another word, CT), since he spent most of his life following them, yet he favors the reboot.  This flies in the face of the First Premise, so what corollary is at work here?  Let's try this for the Second Premise for the acceptable Reboot:

          The subject must exhibit some flaw that is perceived to need correction.

          Would CT tell you that Batman is flawed?  My guess, without asking him, would be no, but when a franchise has been around that long, little mistakes can add up.  It's like life; most of us aren't working in the profession we saw ourselves in when we were in high school.  Personally, I was going to be a career sailor, a sonarman specifically, a sub-hunter.  Then the little details come along, and one by one, they nudge you off course.  I got nudged into a Civil Service career as a fuel specialist for the Navy.  By the same token, a little decision here, a little decision there, and you wake up one day to find that Batman isn't where he ought to be.  Maybe that's what he's seeing that makes the reboot attractive; maybe I'm one-eighty out; maybe he'll check in and tell us, but I'll let this stand for now as a working premise.
          Some things that were huge and beloved never get remade.  Were they perfect?  Obviously, nothing is perfect, but Help never got rebooted, because who are you going to get to play the Beatles?  They aren't Shakespeare either, but they seem to be untouchable.  So, using them and Shakespeare as archetypes, we can postulate the Third Premise of the acceptable Reboot:

          There are certain sacrosanct subjects that cannot be touched.

          Shakespeare and the Beatles are examples; to me, original Star Trek qualifies, but the reboot was well-accepted and quite successful.  How do you tell what is and isn't untouchable?  I guess if somebody has the balls to do it, it's touchable.  More discussion needed here, methinks...

          I'm going to pose a Fourth Premise.

          A reboot is acceptable if the technology of the medium has progressed far enough to justify it.

          Doom 3 is the classic example here.  Doom and Doom 2 are beloved icons of the videogaming world.  They will have their own chapter when the history of gaming is written, but the technology has progressed far beyond those games.  With Doom 3, iD Software said, "Doom and Doom 2 never happened; the franchise begins here."  Of course, it helps that they nailed it!  Flash Gordon looks like a good candidate for a reboot.  The Buster Crabbe serial had space ships swinging on wires, and smoke from the exhaust rising in space.  Watch him try to keep the rubber octopus tentacles wrapped around him as he "struggles" in its tank.  Another one I'd like to see is Doc Savage.  Written in the 1930s and 40s, making it Before My Time, it was reprinted in the 1960s when I encountered it.  I enjoyed it, even though it seemed dated even then, and then in 1975, a perfectly horrible movie treatment was released, which activates both the Flawed Original, and the Advancing Technology premises.  This basically excellent adventure series cries out for a reboot.
          All that said, I remain basically opposed to reboots in general.  If you tell me something needs a reboot, I want to see a list of good reasons.  I still see it as a lack of talent, as in you can't do something original on your own, or a lack of courage, as in you have created something original, but are afraid to put it in front of the public because you can't face the risk of rejection.
          Let me tell you about someone with courage.  J. K. Rowling.  This woman created a unique world from scratch, populated it with a host of heroes, villains, premises, and cultures, and set it all in motion.  That done, she put it out on display to let it carry her to the heights or drag her to the depths, as fate would have it.  Well, fate favored her, and the tale of Harry Potter is history.  Another name is Robert Salvatore.  While not (yet) the subject of his own movies, Drizzt Do'Urden and his friends are beloved characters known to millions, including yours truly, and have been followed through 28 books so far, with at least two more on the schedule.
          This is what happens when you have courage.  Note to Hollywood: Find some!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interstitial Calibration

          My aforementioned vacation was, of course, strictly from this blog.  While I did go to a concert, play some games, write on my book, entertain my grandkids, and pursue my career, what I really did was try to reassess the point of what I'm doing here.  As well as being a recreational fantasy writer, I also contribute to our family blog, and have been trying to sort out whether I'm overextended.
          What I mean is, really, is this necessary?  Not much traffic comes through here.  It isn't just that people don't comment (and that last post about men vs. women should have pissed off half the population; 1 comment from a person who lives in my house...).  You will have noticed the NeoWorx counter in the sidebar.  The moment you arrive on this site, it counts you, and displays your city of origin.  Now, I have a few regulars in San Diego who are hard to sort out from my own maintenance visits, but really, can't I put this stuff on the family blog, and let everyone read everything there?
          After careful consideration, I still see a need for this material to be separated out.  I'll reiterate for anyone just finding this:  The family blog is for things that are current; newish movies, TV shows, books, music, things we've been up to.  It's alleged to be a happy place for the enjoyment of ourselves, and anyone who chooses to join in.  This is entirely different.  Here is where I bring anything that commands my attention.  I try to keep it non-controversial, though I don't always succeed, as the post about men vs. women illustrates, but so far, I have avoided religion and politics, as those are arguments I don't want to get into.  Religion (or lack of it) is something deeply personal to each individual, and I'm not likely to post a random sentence on a blog that will change the way you view eternity; politics is simply a waste of the limited time I have been allotted here, although if I miss a paycheck behind this debt ceiling pissing contest our elected jackasses are having, I may waive that criterion.
          No, this is where I come to talk about my favorite movies, most of which were made back in the '60s, my favorite books and music, how great it was to be a kid in the '50s, stuff like that.  Things that are meaningful to me, and folks of like mind.  Maybe I'm saying a primarily older audience.  The family blog is hip-hop; this is classic rock.
          So, I'm going to soldier on here for a while longer.  Here's the way it will work from now on:  Every fifteen days I will post some subject and solicit comments, hopefully even start a conversation, though my friends at Nerd Lunch, who deal with pop culture and have been at this for years longer than I have, assure me that that is a rare occurrence.  Anyway, fifteen days between posts gives me plenty of time to assemble more subject matter (and note that I will act on interesting suggestions), and my audience plenty of time to converse.  Two days before each "real" post, I will put up one of these Interludes in which I will answer the last post's comments, do a wrap up, and preview the next post, which will be going up two days later.
          Case in point:  Friday evening, I expect about 9:00 PM Pacific, I will put up a post about reboots in film and comics.  This is prompted by an ongoing series on Nerd Lunch in which they have, since June 10th, been discussing the rebooting of franchises, both real ones currently underway, and those they would like to see.  Having spent the last 6+ weeks reading a steady diet of this material, I have formed some opinions.  If you'd like to hear them, or discuss yours, drop on by.  I'll see you Friday.  Now, get out there and live life like you mean it!
- Jack