Earlier today, science fiction author John Scalzi unveiled a long-standing project that he’s been working on for a while, a sort of reboot of a novel called Little Fuzzy by H. Bearn Piper, entitled Fuzzy Nation. While the book is still being written and shopped around, it’s likely going to hit shelves at some point in the near future – Scalzi is a Hugo-award winning author, written a bunch of good books, has an insanely popular blog and is a creative consultant for SyFy’s Stargate Universe, a reboot in and of itself. The idea behind this book is that it’s a complete reboot, using elements of the original, but in and of itself, is an entirely new story.
Scalzi’s announcement earlier today is an interesting one in the current state of the entertainment industry, where sequels have largely been changed out for reboots: taking old subject matter and updating the story, characters and other elements that are familiar with an audience. Most recently, the movie Clash of the Titans has been released to theaters, a take off of the original story, with its own elements updated, with modern actors and special effects to provide audiences with a fairly mindless pre–summer blockbuster.
The major reboot of our time, which likely started up this process is SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica, where Ron Moore took on the major story elements from the original 1978 television series and reworked everything: the titular ship, some of the characters and background elements remained, but the larger story grew on its own with changes to other characters, the tone of the series and so on. The result was fantastic: the original show, which has been largely seen as something between Star Wars and Mormons in space, has taken on an entirely new mythology, message and feel that has not only brought the show to modern audiences, but has done so successfully.
There is a quote from a television series regarding art (the show was Law and Order: Criminal Intent – the context doesn’t diminish the significance here), that fits with this situation: Art is a product of the time that it is created in (paraphrased). This is something that can be applied to any number of paintings, films, television shows, and now, books.
The purpose of a rebooted franchise or singular film is not necessarily to improve upon the original, but to bring it to the attention of modern audiences. While in some instances, this could be achieved by merely bringing out the film in a big sort of re-release on an anniversary, oftentimes, there are things that have become dated in their visual effects and/or stories. As stories are created within their own time, they are influenced by a number of other elements surrounding them: global politics, the state of their country of origin, and so forth, and as such, these stories, which might have been relevant at the time of their creation, become dated because the context in which they are relevant is no longer around.
One very good example of this is the Star Wars franchise, wildly popular from the beginning, with allusions towards World War II, Vietnam, good and evil, all within a specific time and climate in which the United States maintained ongoing hostilities against the Soviet Union. It was a time where there was a very clear-cut picture that could be painted, whereas nowadays, the picture is far more convoluted, with any number of problems cropping in. As such, when the prequel films The Phantom Menace, and Attack of the Clones hit the big screens in 1999 and 2002, they entered a very different world, and societal context, and as such, the stories suffered. Revenge of the Sith was somewhat of an outlier here, where there were some more relevant themes throughout the film, and because of that, the film was stronger than the prior to. Another notable example of where a major franchise has failed is the recent Superman Returns, where the creators attempted to bring around the nostalgic feel for the classic character. It just didn’t work in the modern day.
Battlestar Galactica, on the other hand, demonstrates where an established franchise can be improved with time. With the modern version came a much darker attitude, terrorist bombings, secret agents, all elements borne out of the feelings in the United States after September 11th, 2001. Galactica transitioned well, because it was an entirely new story, but because of the major changes, it succeeded. For that reason, the proposed sequel shows likely would have failed.
Essentially, there is a major difference here between bringing back a show for nostalgic purposes, and for bringing back a show or established franchise to essentially wring more money out of a fan base, and even to resurrect an old story because there is some genuine elements to it that can stand to be updated for a modern day and age. Star Wars largely failed on the story front because it was too caught up in trying to bring back the original feel and themes behind the original. The new Star Trek succeeded because they captured a modern look and feel that younger audiences could identify with, and Battlestar Galactica fell in with a fantastic look and feel, in addition to a very good story.
Scalzi has experience with reboots already, with his work on Stargate Universe, which is arguably a reboot of the Stargate franchise, of the two preceeding shows, Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, which is, in and of itself, a great case study within a franchise. SG-1 worked well, for a number of reasons – great cast, momentum, fun stories, and so on, while it was cancelled because it stuck with the formula for too long. Atlantis failed for the same reason: it was too much like SG-1. This new show, Universe, has succeeded thus far because it takes a step beyond the safe territory by taking cues from Galactica. Thus far, it’s largely worked, and the show is easily stronger in the story department than the original show.
This brings in the question of reboots as superior to their originals, which is a fairly ridiculous notion to begin with. Inherently, films are different because they have different stories, characters, attitudes and contexts during production that makes them largely different entities, especially where reboots are concerned (less so for Prequel/Sequels/Threequels). Because a reboot seeks to bring back an old story, but different, there really shouldn’t be any sort of expectation that a prequel has been brought in only to be better than the original: it should be brought back to update the characters in a very different context, which will hopefully in turn mean that the story is more relatable to a modern audience. Hopefully, Scalzi will be able to transition this into the literary world: it should be interesting.