Reboots vs. Revisions
The genres of fantasy and science fiction, by their very nature, are ripe for remakes, reboots and reimaginings. Core stories about heroes and their journeys might remain unchanged, as ancient as language itself, yet the setting and scope is limited only by imagination. New worlds, new species, new universal laws—all can provide fresh dressing to tired old tales and, with the passage of time, allow each generation to spin new versions that hold up in their own right.
When I first read the Eye of the World (the first book of The Wheel of Time) I could not help but think it was simply Lord of the Rings dressed in a new coat. It has since grown into arguably one of the greatest fantasy stories of all time. Similarly, the original Battlestar Galactica was a cheap, television-based take on Star Wars which found success at the time (okay, well I loved it at least), and then greater success and critical acclaim through its own reimagining a generation later.
Unfortunately such success stories might have led us into a process of ‘safety first’ with storytelling, especially at the movies. No longer are we waiting even a generation to recount our version of our parents’ stories, but now we are retelling stories that have only just finished rather than come up with something new. Money is the driving factor, of course, but perhaps also a fear of the unknown.
Fantasy and science fiction suffer the dreaded ‘r’ words more than any other genre on screen. The Amazing Spider-man recently swung back onto our screens only ten years after Sam Raimi’s excellent original and only five years after the last of that series. Total Recall recently recalled very little of the fun of the original. Battlestar Galactica is said to be getting rebooted for the theatres following its television reimagining. And Batman has only just Risen, yet his boots weren’t even cold before talk turned to who might play him in the reboot, not to mention the Justice League reimagining of his character’s story arc.
Reboots? Reimaginings? Remakes? Many of us have grown to despise these words, yet perhaps there is one ‘r’ we should fear more than any other: Revisions.
Not long ago a million voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced when it was announced that George Lucas has tinkered yet again with the Star Wars series, prior to their release on Blu-Ray. Among the changes: a once stoically silent Darth Vader was provided with a(nother) wobbly ‘No!’ as he despatches the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi—ultimately ruining a defining moment for the franchise’s central character.
With changing Jedi cries and newly blinking Ewoks added to the mix, we can only count ourselves lucky that Han and Greedo still shot at all, and didn’t merely play cards and leave on good terms.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a big Star Wars and George Lucas fan. And I’m actually for many of the enhancements made to the original films in keeping with the man’s long-held need to perfect his vision. Splashier effects, more epic landscapes and robots and spaceships—all these things, in my opinion, are fine to play about with and improve where possible. If you have the ability to more fully decorate a world you could only hint at 30 years ago, why not?
Where I draw the line, however, is when character and story are changed. When the plot and people you fell in love with are revised before your very eyes.
As part of a recent move from Australia to England, I had to shed many a treasured book and DVD in an effort to cut shipping and travel costs. Among the possessions to go was my Star Wars box set.
“It’s fine,” I told myself. “You can upgrade to the Blu-Ray version now.”
Except that it wasn’t fine at all. High Definition High Schmefinition. It soon dawned on me that my link to a pre-voiced Return of the Jedi Darth Vader was now gone. If I wanted to experience the movies now, my only option was to submit to an altered version of what I grew up with.
Of course, then I had to acknowledge that the box set I gave away was the Special Edition, the films of which were themselves altered versions of the originals I fell in love with as a boy. Not to mention that arguably the best character-defining moment of all time—Han shooting first (or only)—had already been changed for the worse.
The originals now exist only in private VHS collections, garage sales and in our hearts and minds.
Stephen Spielberg recently went on record stating that he regretted his own masterpiece tinkering, swapping shotguns for walkie-talkies in E.T. This was not a major change by anybody’s standards. Yet still he recognised that perhaps if it wasn’t broken to begin with there was no need to fix it (and thankfully he has unfixed it for the Blu-Ray release!).
With all the derision of remakes, reboots and reimaginings in the past few years, the great fear was that one of the big guns would eventually be remade.
“You can’t touch the classics!” we’d all shout. And then slowly the foolish director would step away.
But I can’t help but wonder now what is worse: a remake of a classic, leaving the original untouched for our viewing pleasure? Or the classic itself revised before our very eyes, until it becomes “more machine now than man…twisted and evil”?
One thing is for sure: fantasy and science fiction will continue to offer us film and television gems and you can bet your walking carpet’s furry behind they will get remade and rebooted and reimagined long into the future. But rather than whinge and whine, we should acknowledge that this is simply the way it is with these genres, sit back with our popcorn and enjoy a little variety. Who knows, we might actually find a new take on a well-loved story refreshing and fun.
And if we do, there’s no harm in that—so long as we can all agree to silently rise up to the evil idea of ‘revision’, toss it into a darkened shaft and ensure our beloved originals are kept safe for the generations to come.