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The Art of the Reboot

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May. 8th, 2009 | 11:00 pm

I began writing a post about the new (and utterly fantastic) Star Trek movie, but it spiraled a little out of control, so I'm splitting it in two for posting.  As a lead-up to discussing the film itself, I want to talk a little about the trend of franchise rebooting.  

"Rebooting" has become one of the major trends in franchise movie-making of late.  It is, in a sense, the third stage in the evolution of franchises.  Back in the day, when the ethos was, "Hey, it's just a movie," things were slapdash.  Does something in Tomorrow Never Dies contradict something in You Only Live Twice (I'll leave it to the Bond fans to figure out what it is)?  No problem!  It's just a movie!  The second stage paralleled similar trends in comics and TV series in the eighties.  By then pop culture was being hailed as a Serious Thing, and so writers, producers, and directors decided that they should try to be consistent from movie to movie.  After all, Serious Art is consistent, right?  Never mind the classical maxim, "Aliquando dormitat et bonus Homerus" ("sometimes even good Homer nods", a reference to inconsistencies in the Iliad and Odyssey--apparently there were fanboys among the ancient Greeks, too!).  We have to keep it realistic!

The third stage has begun over the last decade.  At some point it became clear that when you've got literally decades of continuity it becomes a drag on good writing and creativity.  Instead of trying to say something meaningful (or heck, even to make an entertaining story), writers were scratching their heads, wondering about minutia about Superman's cousins or the exact date of the foundation of the United Federation of Planets.  Also, there is the tendency for any long-running series to become stuck in a rut.  What is fresh and exciting becomes repetitious unless it can be retooled and re-expressed to speak to newer, younger audiences.  Thus, the concept of the reboot.  

The essence of the reboot is simple.  Look at the franchise and find what its most basic, most fundamental themes are.  What about it speaks to people, makes it interesting?  Then, find a way to express those fundamental qualities in a way that is fresh and that resonates with the current audience.  In the process, just get rid of any and all continuity necessary in order to express the old anew.  This is simple in principle, but harder than it looks to acheive.

The first major "reboot" was the DC Comics's multi-issue, multi-title Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the mid 80's.  It was controversial at the time, but over the long haul fairly successful.  Unfortunately, beginning in the 90's, DC began ever more frequent reboots, until it seems as if it does one practically every year now.  I have not read much DC for many years since you just about have to have a program to know what's going on!  In any case, beginning in the early years of this decade, the concept of the reboot spread to long-standing movie franchises.  Batman Begins revived the Batman movie series, being, in my opinion, the first Batman movie that ever got it fully right to begin with.  The James Bond series was also revitalized by the excellent Casino Royale.  Both of these movies were examples of how to do a reboot properly. 

On the other hand, the enormously disappointing Superman Returns, which never could seem to decide if it was a reboot, sequel, or what, is a good example of what not to do.  It cribbed shamelessly from the original Christopher Reeve movie, while altering certain things for no good reason and affecting a look that was a confusing mélange of 40's, 70's, and 00's.  Word is that they're working on another Superman that will actually be a reboot.  I hope they get it right this time. 

Anyway, enough said about all of this.  Let's talk Trek!



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