Remaking Science Fiction

IO9 pointed me to a couple of interesting articles published by the LA Times over the weekend – Hollywood remakes sci-fi classics.

This is nothing new, by any stretch of the imagination. (You’ll get the pun in a second…) As I’ve talked about before, franchises are very good things for the Science Fiction industry if you want to make money. It guarentees a fanbase and can really bring together a huge community of people (with deep pockets, at times, especially collectors). What these articles bring up is a bit of a paradox that this presents the Science Fiction genre – for a genre that often is associated with the future, things that are new and unheard of, having sequel after sequel of some franchises seems to be hypocritical at best.

The future looks very familiar. Science fiction, by its nature, is a celebration of the new, but you wouldn’t know that by watching Hollywood’s space operas. “Star Trek,” for instance, is on the way back to theaters next summer in hopes that moviegoers will still want to boldly go where millions and millions have gone before. And it’s been more than 30 years since “Star Wars” made film history, but the Force is still very much with us — whether we like it or not — with a seventh film in theaters this past summer, one of the year’s bestselling video games and a new weekly animated television show (there’s also talk of a live-action series in the next year or two).

And that’s just the tip of the meteorite.

The “Terminator” and “Robocop” franchises are being revved up now for more mechanical-man mayhem, and classic films such as “Forbidden Planet” and “When Worlds Collide” are in the remake pipeline, while the new take on ” The Day the Earth Stood Still,” starring Keanu Reeves, opens Dec. 12. Even ” Battlestar Galactica,” which began as a small-screen “Star Wars” knockoff in the 1970s, has been revived with spectacular results and will break new ground in 2009 with the TV movie “Caprica” on Sci Fi, with a series to follow.

This has really never occurred to me, mainly because of the things that I’ve grown up with, but also because I happen to agree with William Shatner when he talks about the subject:

“Science fiction should be about ideas and what it means to be human, it should always be about the new and the challenging”

While I think Shatner can be a bit of an arrogant twit, he’s hit the nail right on the head – while a lot of science fiction property exists as franchises, this isn’t necessarily at odds with the subject material. Battlestar Galactica certainly proved that you can take a much older franchise and turn it into something both new and relevant to today’s society and culture. It’s the content that matters, and what makes the best series and works easily accessible, relatable and relevant to modern society.

The classic books, such as Dune, Ringworld, Foundation, Neuromancer, (to name a very few off the top of my head), are still widely read today because they have messages that readers can go back to. The same thing goes for films and television series, such as Babylon 5 and Star Trek. These shows are still popular, and will likely remain so because of the messages that they have. One point that can be taken from some of these franchises being remade and redone is that they still have a lasting message, one that can be updated for the times or done in new ways. While this obviously doesn’t work out all that well for some places, I think that it still speaks to the longevity of some stories.

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2 thoughts on “Remaking Science Fiction

  1. Here’s the thing… I agree with you in the idea that you can rehash the same sci-fi as long as the ideas and questions are relevant, particularly in the way classic sci-fi like Dune, Foundation, etc, have hung on. I think the same applies to the classic Star Wars trilogy–it will carry through. I have actually been grappling for a little while with whether or not I think the prequels will hold on in the same way. Do I think they won’t just because I didn’t like them as much as the originals? Or was I able to pull my bias out of my analysis and do I think that they won’t have the same staying power for valid reasons? (I like to think the latter.)

    But where we come into these issues of rehashing old sci-fi franchises as relevant or not… Well, honestly, I don’t think Robocop or Terminator will bring much in the way of stimulation. Like Transformers, they will be fun, but ultimately more of cash cows than honest refreshing sci-fi bringing in the ideas and questions that make sci-fi so great. BSG definitely did that (though I am on the fence about whether or not I think it will have staying power; I hope it does), as you mention, but I am not sure about many of these others, and I think that’s where the sort of eye-rolling “ha, sci-fi sucks at looking to the future!” mentality is coming from.

    As you cover, it’s certainly true that franchises can be good. I guess I just get frustrated with things that seemed so great to me turning into what is obviously and transparently purely for the sake of the money, not for any effort to do anything else beyond that.

  2. This comes down to content, and that will depend on the screenwriters and actors who can either provide the right messages or the wrong ones, with will have different implications when it comes to longevity. Despite its flaws, the prequel trilogy has its moments, and it certainly carries a number of messages within it. The same can be said for other Lucasarts projects, such as Indiana Jones (Compare Temple of Doom to Last Crusade, for example) and a number of other franchises.

    This is why I think that Batman Begins and the Dark Knight (which is out today!) has been so successful, because they have had screenwriters who have been awake and instilled the film with a good message or messages. This really makes the films stand out. The upcoming Terminator films I have high hopes for (which shouldn’t exist after T3, but there you go) given the actors signed on to the film and the media that I’ve already seen. Terminator itself is a very strong franchise. Galactica will as well, I suspect, because of the enormous amounts of critical acclaim that has been thrust upon it, and we’re already seeing people dressing up as the characters at conventions.

    The problem is that all franchises are really designed to earn money. Along the way, they might be good or even great, but it’s also how well they are able to distract viewers to that fact.

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