With J.J. Abrams now confirmed as not only producing and scripting but also directing 2008’s Star Trek XI, the buzz has begun on the latest reboot of a beloved franchise. As one might imagine, fans of the series have been divided over whether or not this has been necessary, a debate we’ve all heard before.
The entire notion of a reboot is an interesting one because, looking back, reboots were largely throwing ideas against the wall to see what might stick. While there were fans of The Flash, there was certainly no groundswell of support demanding DC Comics bring Jay Garrick back. Instead, management created Showcase as a title to try new things and after three issues of straight-forward adventure, they thought it was time for something different. As legend has it, someone thought the time might be right for a new super-hero and all heads turned to the last editor with any success as characters without S-shields and bats: Julius Schwartz.
Instinctively, Schwartz knew Jay Garrick and his mercury-helmet felt too dated. Things in the 1950s were fresh and new, sleek and shiny. He kept the name and the powers and recreated from the ground up, perhaps pop culture’s first reboot.
Numerous beloved concepts, series and characters have since then gone through the reboot process whether they needed to or not. Julie was asked to reboot numerous characters until 1964 — his track record convinced management he needed to do this with Batman. At that time, the character had drifted so far away from his roots that it was an absolutely necessary change.
When he tried the same thing with Superman in 1971, it flopped with readers and licensees. Why? One reason may be that it didn’t need anything as dramatic as swapping the Daily Planet for Galaxy Broadcasting. Another might be that some things have become so ingrained in the public’s mind, they are resistant to anything radically different. Look at every television and motion picture incarnation since – the Daily Planet, maintaining the kryptonite device, and so on.
Since then, entire genres have received the reboot treatment as times and tastes change. Julie’s success with a single character led Stan Lee to reboot the super-hero with the Fantastic Four. The latest is David Milch’s brilliant new take on the western, avoiding all the tropes and conventions people grew comfortable with through the years, his Deadwood reimagined frontier life and probably came closer than all that came before at capturing what it was really like.
Are reboots necessary? They weren’t initially. Today, with risk-adverse entertainment companies looking for every spare dollar in our pockets, it has become vital. When a beloved franchise, say the James Bond films, begin to run out of creative or commercial steam, something needs to be done. Rather than simply recast Pierce Brosnan, it was decided the entire franchise needed a boost and they stripped everything away and went back to the first novel and began anew.
This is much different than simply replacing Christopher Reeve with Brandon Routh and continuing the Richard Donner film vision of Superman. That’s an entirely different commercial decision, which had mixed results. The Broccolis were more influenced by Christopher Nolan’s decision to go back to Batman’s roots in Batman Begins, a more creatively satisfying and commercially successful film.
We also have to look at each reboot to determine if a reboot is really just that, taking the core concepts and refreshing them for a new age or just fancy window dressing around the same concept. Was James Rhodes replacing Tony Stark in the Iron Man armor, a reboot? I would think not. Same with Star Trek: The Next Generation.
People on the one hand crave the familiar and will accept new actors in beloved roles or buy continuations of books by people other than the original author. Yet, it has to be faithful enough to satisfy those fans and broad enough to attract those who drifted away or never tried the franchise to begin with. Putting Jessica Simpson in Catherine Bach’s shorts was not a successful relaunch of the Dukes of Hazzard franchise.
In the case of Star Trek, it is once again being dragged about by forces it inspired. It can be argued that the series’ cultural significance encouraged George Lucas to indulge his sci-fi passions and make Star Wars. Its mammoth success finally spurred Paramount to get off their indecision and green-light a motion picture with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Similarly, Star Wars also gave us Glen Larson’s wretched series, Battlestar Galactica.
Flash forward and ex-Star Trek: TNG producer Ron Moore is given Battlestar to dust off. He rethought everything about the show except the core idea that humanity was being hunted to extinction by their Cylon creations. Here, the fans howled that Starbuck couldn’t possibly be a woman and Richard Hatch had to be Apollo. Then the SciFi Channel aired the miniseries and people watched in impressive numbers. Better yet, they liked what they saw. Recently, the series was renewed for a fourth season.
Paramount took notice and after the rejection by the core fans and the mass audience of Star Trek: Nemesis, they knew something dramatic needed to be done. Enter Abrams and company. What they proposed was the same thing: a reimagining of Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic future with the initial set of characters, but done with today’s technology and storytelling conventions.
Will this reboot work as successfully as Barry Allen’s arrival or Ron Moore’s Galactica? We won’t really know until we buy our popcorn and settle into the theatre come Christmas 2008.
Until then, the debate will rage across the World Wide Web… and in our hearts.