Friday, September 04, 2009

Era of the Reboot

I think it can hardly have passed notice that the world of cinematic and TV science fiction is going through a strange phase at the moment. I say strange, because it at once both highly creative and innovative while at the same time being tied somewhat pathetically to its antecedents.

Look at some the major science fiction films of the last eighteen months - Star Trek, Terminator Salvation, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and The Day the Earth Stood Still etc. All either remakes or reboots or sequels. Or on recent TV - Stargate Atlantis (a spin off to a TV show that was spin off to a film), Enterprise (the fifth spin off series from the original Star Trek), Battlestar Galactica (a reboot of a short lived seventies/eighties series), Doctor Who (a continuation and re-boot of a the longest running TV science fiction series on Earth) and Torchwood (not only a spin off of Doctor Who, but an anagram of that show's title!), and finally Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles (another spin off from the expanding Terminator franchise). And while Joss Whedon's Dollhouse stands alone as the most original show to have arrived on the scene in a few years, that is only thematically (and even then it has borrowed heavily on ideas from Joe 90 and Dark City to name but two obvious sources). However, structurally (at least to begin with) it was all too tied to the formula of a weekly sci-fi/spy show.

But this trend is not all bad - the new Star Trek film not only brought life and energy to a tired old franchise, but re-booted it in a way that gives infinite room for story progression. Battlestar Galactica remains one of the stand out shows of the noughties, standing up there with The Wire, West Wing and The Sopranos as one of the most innovative, engrossing and compelling television series of any genre. Some old ideas are worth re-visiting and improving upon.

Meanwhile Doctor Who continues to go from strength to strength on both sides of the Atlantic (and indeed, globally). Even it's initially weedy daughter show has at last found its stride with the five part Children of Earth mini series, but at the cost of killing off most of the characters and destroying its base of operations (a fourth season is still rumoured, but no yet confirmed).

Dollhouse may be finding its own original voice after an uneven first season, but at least has the virtue of coming from a (mostly) original idea that is not an attempt at a remake. But it is no Firefly (at least, not yet - the expectation on Season 2 is huge). And while Fox did grant it a second season, it did so at the cost of a third season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which had suffered from a very slow and uneven second season after a lean and engrossing first.

The less said about Terminator Salvation the better - maybe that franchise is finally ready to be laid to rest. Please! Ditto The Day the Earth Stood Still.

What does this all tell me? Maybe that there is a need to play it safe in US and British TV producers minds. Go with what we know will sell, rather than risk something different or new? That may be true, but there are genuinely innovative shows out there that give a lie to such an easy conclusion.

It may be that there are few writers willing or able to come up with something original? Or of a generation so raised on TV and cinema science fiction that they will not raid the treasure trove of ideas in literary science fiction.

However, there are some breaths of fresh air - Cameron's forthcoming Avatar looks set to revitalise the genre, not just through state of the art effects, but also through a premise that draws heavily on classic literary science fiction ideas. And there is District 9, with it unique setting in South Africa (at last, the aliens are not landing in New York or London, but Jo'Berg), and the recent Moon with its original and intelligent premise couched in references back to classic '70s science fiction films. But overall, I fear that TV and cinematic science fiction is in a state of decline in new ideas and innovation. Maybe we need a new generation of writers willing to branch off in new and unexpected directions. The creativity is out there, I am sure, I just hope it gets to see the light of day.

1 comment:

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