Sci-Fi Fridays, Episode 11: Reboots vs. Sequels Part 1

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After a rumor came out stating that the next Indiana Jones film was to be a reboot instead of a true sequel — citing the potential casting of Bradley Cooper in the titular role as evidence — fans were floored and demanded answers. Producer Frank Marshall instantly squashed the hearsay, claiming that such talk was completely “ridiculous.” As an Indiana Jones fan myself, I can see why people would have a very difficult time letting go of Harrison Ford in the role of a heroic archaeologist that has a phobia of snakes. As Indiana Jones, Ford’s iconic swagger and incomparable heroism cannot be replaced. I get that. But what people don’t realize is that a reboot — a good reboot, that is — doesn’t replicate but instead re-imagines. Bradley Cooper is not Harrison Ford; he doesn’t have his cocksure mannerisms or inherent bad-ass credibility. Playing the character the exact same way only leads to side-by-side comparisons of which the outcome is always the same: disappointment. Look, the studios are going to do what they feel they must in order to make a profit. That’s inevitable. So rather than resist, I suggest it’s better to separate oneself from the familiarity of the franchise altogether and put it in the past. Latching on to the promise that a reboot must feel like an Indiana Jones film — the same goes for Jones himself — will only set you up for disappointment. Rest assured, nobody is going to tamper with John Williams’ score — that will be the constant that can hook every viewer in, new or old. In order to begin the process of reboot acceptance, I want to posit a few “what if” situations in order to demonstrate why sequels aren’t always the best solution for a franchise.

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What If…Batman Begins was Batman and Robin and Batgirl?

We all know what a disaster Batman and Robin was. Those gross nipple suits, the campy performances, the horrendously awful dialogue? Horrible. Joel Schumacher’s sleazy direction nearly buried the Batman movie franchise to the ground. However, the film did end with the possibility of a future sequel. Poison Ivy and Mister Freeze are still at large (Arkham Asylum is no prison, folks…merely a pit stop for villains), and Barbara Wilson as Batgirl is now ready to fight crime alongside Batman and love interest Robin. Schumacher himself expressed interest in undoing the damage he had wrought on the franchise, and Warner Bros almost agreed except they were more interested in a dark, Frank Miller-esque interpretation that would eventually turn into 2005’s Batman Begins. But just think: had fans been treated with a direct sequel, they would have continued to see Batman be further sidelined to make room for Robin and Batgirl, neither of whom are interesting enough to help carry a Batman flick. Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone would have returned — not Clooney, who at that point was on the precipice of major stardom — which means whichever new actor would play Batman would have to force a chemistry that had already been established in the prior two movies.

Plus, if rumors were true that The Joker and Scarecrow were to be the primary antagonists of the Batman and Robin sequel, we’d see Jack Nicholson stealing the limelight from whoever would play Scarecrow. Part of what makes the Batman mythos so enjoyable is seeing these villains come into their own. As we saw from Batman and Robin, Bane — as scary and powerfully strong as he was — was relegated to the henchman role and did nothing except grunt and throw punches. The same level of sidelining could have happened to the maniacal yet weirdly fascinating Scarecrow, but thankfully in Batman Begins Christopher Nolan allowed that character to fully blossom before a last-minute switcheroo of power. Furthermore,without the dark and gritty overtones of Batman Begins, the franchise would have further devolved into a farce that only the most comic book-daft could appreciate.

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What If…the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was Battlestar 1981?

Sometimes it takes a long time to realize that what you once idolized wasn’t really that special after all. This is very true in regards to Battlestar Galactica, a run-of-the-mill TV series with gorgeous visuals and characters whose interactions recalled the lovable banter among Star Wars’ cast ensemble. Conceptually it’s quite solid but the Cold War analogies and Star Wars ripoff tactics lessen the value of Battlestar Galactica as original property. Once the show got cancelled, fans became upset and demanded more, not realizing what they really wanted was another Star Wars sequel. After endless write-in campaigns to bring the series back to life, ABC finally granted fans their wish by developing a spin-off series known as Battlestar 1980. When that too tanked — relying mostly on cameos and other fan-servicing nonsense — the series soon drifted off into near-nothingness, waiting for a creative revival of any kind. It may have taken 24 years, but the wait was definitely worth it. Not only did the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series correct all the mistakes of the past but it ended up certifying itself as “go-to” science fiction for those who cared about characters and deep themes, not visual fluff.

“Third time’s the charm” came true in the case of Battlestar Galactica, but it might not have if a sequel series to Battlestar 1980 had been developed as a last-ditch effort to appease obsessive BSG fans. The show would have spent too much time wrapping up the arcs of characters from the past instead of reinventing itself from the ground up. Visual gimmicks would have taken precedence, and once again the accessibility of the series would have only applied to those remaining fans still holding on by a foolish thread. Thank goodness a re-imagining — and not a sequel — was postponed until the technology had finally caught up to the series’ ambitious concept of a colonial invasion by a human-built robot race, out to destroy the last of humanity before they rediscover Earth. To think that the female characters of Starbuck and Boomer — both males in the original series — wouldn’t have existed if not for the long hiatus between shows is pretty surreal if you ask me.  Whenever any ignoramus becomes enraged by a person of a different color, gender or sexual preference playing a pre-existing character or role, all anyone has to do now is point to Starbuck or Boomer in Battlestar Galactica and state matter-of-factly that there’s no such thing as a set-in-stone character, no matter how popular they are. As long as they are fictional entities, interpretation is up for grabs and if you don’t like it…please stay far away. This is why I support fan fiction and other alternative methods of re-imagining various texts. The author created their “world” for the public to access, right? If they didn’t want fan engagement, they would have kept their work private, in some locked up journal perhaps. It’s sad that ego-driven authors forget this so often. They want all the love and financial benefits of being a publicly recognized storyteller but damn the fans if they engage with the text any way they choose to!

I’ll be back next week to discuss more “what if” cases where a reboot was actually preferable in the long run to a sequel. Don’t worry, I’m a firm supporter of sequels as well but I find that reboots get stomped to the ground when history has shown they’ve mostly been worth the effort. Sound off below in the comments!