Just a note to let everyone know what I’m doing, a few thoughts on some contemporary issues, and some thoughts about writing as a process.
I wanted to jump back into the prompts right away, but Mike Arnzen is kicking my ass by a more direct method right now. Currently he’s teaching the course on pedagogy for my MFA program at Seton Hill University and the reading list goes on for miles. It’s why they call it graduate school, kids.
Now, while a lot of my friends went to see the new Ghostbusters this summer, I did not. And, for the record, it wasn’t because of politics or some childhood hangup, but because I just don’t go see movies anymore. I stopped after the last Star Wars flick. The toothless heathens that sat behind me and gabbed throughout the whole film finally convinced me I’ll never see a film in peace ever again. People don’t know how to just sit back, shut up, relax, and enjoy the film, so I’ve given up on cinema. I mean, I didn’t even go see the new Star Trek and I’m an old-school Trekkie who actually enjoys the newer movies.
So, while I didn’t see the new GB, I followed the action online and watched with mixed emotions as the film flopped at the Box Office. (And for the record, it did flop. The film cost $144M to make and raked in $217M at the Box Office. But Box Office numbers are always halved because the theater companies get 50%, so the new GB only managed to rake back ~$109M leaving the film ~$35M in the hole. The merchandising may be a factor, but so is the almost $100M advertising budget. Exact numbers are hazy, but the BO receipts don’t make the case for a sequel.)
I don’t take glee in the failure of the new GB, but it gives me some measure of relief. This has nothing to do with politics but with what I perceive to be the end of the era of laziness in Hollywood. At long last, the age of reboots, restarts, reimagining, and reality TV could be coming to an end.
For ages, the reboot found its way into cinema and TV through the popularity of a franchise existing almost exclusively outside of those formats. Case in point: Batman. The character came from Detective Comics and soon found a home in movie theater serials. Then, Batman became a TV series and a cartoon, a comic movie based on the TV show, a darker movie in the late 1980s, a series of movies, then a second series of movies, then a third with crossovers into the equally well represented Superman and Wonder Woman franchises. The canonical Batman remained ensconced in comic books, while other adaptations came and went without much thought. The writers of Batman came and went and the character changed accordingly–every incarnation of the Caped Crusader served the issues of an age. But the character in the movies always finds his origin in the book.
But in recent years, the reboot of any movie franchise sees itself not as a derivative from the initial source, but as a reboot of the previous movie franchise. Batman’s costume and Batmobile change, but not frequently enough. His enemies remain true to their archetypal depictions. Alfred waxes and wanes. Sometimes there’s a guy playing Robin or an actress depicting Batgirl. Sometimes (most of the time) he’s doing it alone. But more often than not he looks and sounds like his most immediate predecessor, his previous incarnation–like some anarchistic version of Doctor Who that always wears a scarf….
In short, Batman drones the unoriginal rune. As does Superman. As does Ghostbusters. As does Star Trek. As does Star Wars. As does Doctor Who. As does MacGyver.
It seemed cool when Battlestar Galactica came back because the times caught up to the plot of the original TV miniseries from the 1970s–you don’t have robot-initiated nuclear genocide without subsequent existential despair and nihilistic longings for ego-nullifying apotheosis. And it was cool when BSG came back because it meant we, as a society, could handle darker themes and heavier plots delivered in a format that many thought less than accommodating to such weighty stories. Because the initial BSG with Lorne Green and Dirk Benedict suffered from market demands (including the need for cute kids and disco dancing) that derailed the show’s stories more often than moved them forward, the grittier reimagined BSG felt more authentic and truly captured the spirit of what had been the show creator’s initial vision. That is, the reimagined BSG effectively fixed something broken in the execution of its precursor.
But not everything in Hollywood is broken. There was nothing essentially broken about the original Ghostbusters and there was nothing overtly sexist about it (they were all men because they were a reimagined version of the Three Stooges.) The new GB wasn’t a prequel or a sequel. It didn’t correct a significant flaw in the original writer’s vision or address a need to re-execute the premise because the director got it wrong. It didn’t do anything but change the gender of the lead roles. So what? Why bother? Who cares?
And here’s the problem I have with the new GB: That’s just lazy writing.
In theory, we can now remake Beverly Hills Cop with female leads. We can now remake Spies Like Us with female leads. We can remake any number of films that featured male lead roles, do a gender swap, and call it new, call it bold, call it anything other than what it is–good product turned to crap. Like New Coke, if you can recall that atrocity.
If we want to see more women in lead roles, we need to look at successful spec-fic franchises that feature women in successful lead roles. Wonder Woman comes to mind, as do The Hunger Games, Resident Evil, and Tomb Raider. In each of these franchises, the heroine comes custom-made, that is, she has a full backstory that explains her skill set and her motivations. In each of these franchises, the heroine is original. Wonder Woman isn’t based on some pre-existing Wonder Man. Katniss isn’t following the lead of Kevin who came before her. Alice doesn’t need some dude to hold her hand as she battles zombies, killer robots, and an insidious corporate agenda. Lara Croft–OK, she’s Indiana Jones, but that’s still cool because until Crystal Skull came out, that franchise was cool and she didn’t let us down like that….
In a similar way, when the latest incarnation of Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu manifests as a gay man, George Takei took a dim view of the change. Sulu was always portrayed as heterosexual in the original series, in the cartoon, in the movies, and even in Voyager. Making Sulu gay effectively erased his backstory and removed the continuation of Trek further away from canonical sources. Also, it allowed the writers to get out of creating a new gay character.
And that’s the problem, really: Creating is difficult.
Hollywood’s approach to project creation has been lackluster for almost three decades and it has progressively gotten worse. Reality TV essentially required nothing but a tank full of hissing cockroaches and people willing to eat said roaches while wearing spandex. Movies came out–and came out again–then came out again–only to be outdone by the video game based on the second iteration’s villain. New series come complete with the personalities of previous series, especially in SciFi where nearly every show since Star Trek: The Next Generation has featured some variant of the warrior-society representative or Worf-type. Everything old is new again.
Yet even as TV and film suffer in the Doldrums of Rehash, compelling stories are being written and sold as novels. At least one novel-based TV series, A Game of Thrones, proves that originality can command a large and loyal following. True feminist novels–not merely man-bashing trash heaps of burning excrement, but actual novels about women characters doing exciting things–are hot among readers of both genders. Right now, in truth, it’s a very exciting time to be a writer as long as you’re not working on screenplays.
The new GB didn’t flop because it was a bad movie. It didn’t flop because of sexism. It flopped because people are getting tired of Hollywood dishing up the same thing every year and calling it new. It flopped because the original GB wasn’t broken. It flopped because retrofitting characters, altering backstories, and revising canonical lore does nothing but insult the viewer. It flopped because it was an example of Hollywood taking the path of least resistance when art is always an uphill struggle.
Soon this trend must cease. We can only invest ourselves in the same things so many times before we begin to hate them. With any luck, the decision makers at the major studios realize this and respond accordingly.