Thursday, January 26, 2012

Storyteller's Rulebook #120: Reboots Must Re-Establish the Metaphor

Apes week concludes!
Relaunching a franchise has a lot of upsides:
  • You have old hardcore fans who are desperate to see more material, even though it might ignore previous stories.
  • You have semi-interested non-fans who recognize the name and will see this as an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a phenomenon they originally missed out on.
  • Most importantly, you have years of stories to pick and choose from, allowing you to take the best elements and jettison everything that no longer works.
But it’s also a minefield. As I said yesterday, ever great genre story is a metaphor. It’s an extreme situation that’s a metaphor for a universal emotion. The reboot must either re-establish the original metaphor or re-shape the material into a whole new metaphor.
The worst way to do a reboot is to simply make a skewed twist on the original idea: that’s an abstraction of an abstraction. An example of this was Tim Burton’s horrible 2001 Planet of the Apes remake. They simply put the original movie in a blender and served it back to us in a weirder, wilder, and more twist-y format. “You thought the original movie’s ending was mind-blowing? Well, we’ve topped that: our ending is mind-boggling!”The right way to do it was shown by the new Apes reboot: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The bigotry metaphor of the original movie, as brilliant as it was, is totally discarded here, in favor of a rich new metaphor about generational displacement, the limits of science and different varieties of infantilization.And why not? The original movie was a masterpiece, so you’re not going to beat it at its own game. But the specter of an ape planet is still fear-inducing, so why not find a all-new use for that potent imagery? 

Another great example is the recent version of “Doctor Who” starring Matt Smith. This was a “soft reboot” in that it kept (but de-emphasized) the original continuity, but new showrunner Stephen Moffat nevertheless felt the need to create an all-new metaphor for the basic concept. What he arrived at was this: “What if your imaginary friend came back to take you on more adventures as an adult?” Like so: Smith (the youngest to play the role) is the spirit of imagination, come to rescue you from the doldrums of adulthood. This is an entirely new conception of the doctor, never before seen in 40 years of stories. It took Moffat’s genius to somehow find new meaning in such a well-worn concept, and it paid off handsomely: instead of merely re-energizing old fans, his version has found an entirely new generation of fans, who never thought they would like “Doctor Who”.


j.s. said...

Reading Stephen King today and I chance upon this quote: "I have no quarrel with literary fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but both as a reader and as a writer, I'm much more interested in ordinary people in extraordinary situations."

Matt Bird said...

Ha! He has my back.

Beth said...

Would you consider the new Star Trek a good reboot? As a trekkie, I feel like it suceeded at creating a new metaphor, but I'm not sure what...

The second Star Trek Next Gen was (I think?)a metaphor for co-workers as family. But the movie seemed to more of a teen adventure squad?

Thanks for the great post.

Matt Bird said...

Nope, I wasn't a fan of the reboot. I loved the cast but I was horrified to see Star Trek reduced to a mere revenge story:

"He killed my dad!"
"He killed my mom!"
"Let's team up and kill him!"
"Yay! We killed him!"
The end.

As I grumbled walking out the theater, all that was missing was the ideas and the ideals.

Anonymous said...

Star Trek was a fucking mess:

"Pike is the captain."
"No, it's Kirk!"
"Wait, it's Spock!"
"Wait, it's Kirk again!"
"To hell with that! Where's William Shatner?"


Anonymous said...