While the ongoing COVID19 pandemic has temporarily ground much of the entertainment industry to a halt, there is still an abundant supply of reboots and sequels, with more on the way. I’m not going to rant against them, either. Yes, one can argue that reboots and sequels are a lazier way to retain a built-in audience without the risk of creating a new property, and that’s a valid point. But one can also argue that working within an established universe is also very risky. If a reboot or sequel fails, you risk damaging the entire brand. And just what truly qualifies as ‘original’ these days, anyway? Pretty much every fictional story currently in existence borrows, homages or rejiggers familiar story/character elements in one way or another. It’s an unavoidable result of life in a world of increasingly shared experiences (via Netflix, Prime Video, etc). Nearly everything on the menu is a recombination of leftovers, so let’s dig in…
Right off, there are, in my humble opinion, a few sci-fi movies and TV shows that should remain reboot-proof, either because they’re perfect time capsules of their eras, or because they simply can’t be improved upon in any meaningful way. First among those would be Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey”, one of my favorite films of all time. By its title alone, it’s already dated (its ‘future’ of 19 years ago), but as a piece of cinema, its imagery and layered meanings are still very potent. I had the pleasure of revisiting “2001″ cinematically two years ago, and it holds up very well, despite its time-stamped title.
It also goes without saying that 1977’s “Star Wars” (pre-“New Hope” subtitle) is a timeless classic that will continue to entertain new generations for ages to come. It altered my very DNA as I watched it unfold theatrically, at the age of 10 in the summer of 1977. Just about the only thing that dates it are the hairstyles (and perhaps a lack of diverse casting), but everything about “Star Wars” still works perfectly, and there is absolutely no need to remake it (especially since Disney is still making money hand-over-fist with ongoing sequels & prequels). The original “Star Wars” trilogy (1977-1983) will live on well beyond my lifetime, I imagine. My friend’s 8-year old boy loves the Star Wars saga as much as I did when I was a kid.
I would also leave the original “Jurassic Park” (1993) alone as well. I last saw it in a theater only a few years ago, and it held up beautifully, with arguably more realism in its visuals than the “Jurassic” sequels that followed. It’s a game-changing classic on a par with both “Star Wars” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” so there is no reason to remake it, since it still works so well today.
Some non sci-fi favorites of mine I consider ‘remake-proof’ would be “The Godfather” movies, 1975’s “JAWS” (which would be illegal today, since Great White sharks are now a protected species) and 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” (though I am a fan of 1985’s “Return To Oz” and 2013’s underrated “Oz the Great and Powerful”). Some classics are best left untouched. That said, I’m not against reboots that creatively expand upon their original concepts, or fix a nagging flaw (or flaws) that prevented the original from achieving genuine classic status.
Some sci-fi/fantasy properties have been remade or rebooted so many times that their very mention makes my eyes glaze over. Specifically the genre of superhero movies. There have been multiple passes at SpiderMan, X-Men and the Hulk (within a single decade), and if I never see Batman or Superman’s origin stories ever again, it’s too damn soon. I have nothing against a new superhero movie (the upcoming “Wonder Woman 1984” has me intrigued), but too many of them have a ‘been-there, done-that’ vibe (“SpiderMan: Into the Spider-Verse” being a notable, wildly imaginative exception). I’m pretty sure any superhero movie I could think of probably has a reboot or sequel in the works anyway, so for the time being, let’s just skip over discussing the entire superhero genre, okay?
One of the prompts for this piece was the rumor that NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock, is once again dipping into the “Battlestar Galactica” pool for a third reboot of the Glen Larson (“Fall Guy”) space saga. Gotta say, I adored Battlestar as a kid. In fact, the original series was one of my favorite TV shows at the tender age of 12, and I was heartbroken by its premature cancellation in 1979 (“Galactica 1980” only added insult to injury). In adulthood, I’ve had the chance to meet a few members of the cast in person at various conventions, including the late Richard Hatch (wonderful guy), Dirk Benedict, Herb Jefferson Jr. and Anne Lockhart. The original series was not without issues (most involved the rushed writing and overuse of stock footage visuals), but the warmth and chemistry of its cast, as well as its colorful space adventure made for must-see TV in the late 1970s.
My sentiment for the admittedly flawed original Battlestar was one of the reasons I initially viewed its 2003 reimagining with more than a bit of skepticism, but I decided to give the pilot miniseries a chance, due to the strength of writer/producer Ron Moore’s work on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999), one of my favorite Star Trek series. So in December of 2003, I watched both parts of Universal’s new take on my beloved childhood favorite…
… and I was pleasantly blown away.
The new show tackled the original’s premise of a cybernetic holocaust, but without flinching from the consequences. The new series had a top drawer cast, led by Oscar-nominees Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. New BSG would deal with the very real problems facing survivors of an apocalypse struggling to stay alive aboard a flotilla of random spacecraft. Boldly going into areas the more family-friendly original could barely touch, new BSG now had humanoid Cylons who acutely reflected post-9/11 paranoia of sleeper cell terrorism. The show also dealt with food rationing, limited fuel, interpersonal conflicts, dwindling hope and the ongoing quality of life issues within a refugee fleet. This was really dark stuff, but it also felt a lot truer to the original series’ equally dark (and largely unfulfilled) premise. The series that I loved at age 12 had now matured for my 35-year old sensibilities New BSG went on for four seasons, with the rag-tag fleet eventually making its way to Earth, but with very some clever twists along the way (and none of “Galactica 1980”’s flying motorcycles, either).
My biggest concern for the newly announced NBC Peacock version is that it really has nowhere to go. The 2003-2009 remake got everything so right, from casting to writing to execution. “Battlestar Galactica” had finally matured from grape Nehi into a finely aged chardonnay, so a reboot of this reboot is entirely unnecessary.
Okay, that covers some of the sci-fi properties that are best left alone. Now let’s delve into those sci-fi universes that I would really love to revisit…
Bucking The System.
Another series I enjoyed as a kid was “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (1979-1981). Battlestar’s Glen Larson reimagined the 1939 serial (starring Buster Crabbe), which itself was an adaptation of the 1929 Philip Francis Nowlan/Dick Calkins comic strip. While this NBC series borrowed extensively from the prematurely cancelled Battlestar’s treasure trove of leftover props, sets, costumes and spaceship miniatures, it had a much campier, lighter tone. Retaining the essential premise of a man named William (formerly Anthony) “Buck” Rogers (Gil Gerard), now an astronaut who is cryogenically thawed in the year 2491 to a post-holocaust Earth which exists as a combination of utopia and dystopia; with the gilded domed city of “New Chicago” existing only walking distance from the savage, radioactive wastelands of “Anarchia.” Later episodes of the series more or less dropped the Anarchia wastelands, as other cities seen on 25th century Earth (including a rebuilt New Orleans) were much more like the pristine, plastic/spandex-clad paradise of New Chicago.
The first season of the two-season series followed Buck and Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) on a series of secret agent adventures around the galaxy, with their trusty robotic sidekick Twiki (Felix Silla, voiced by Mel Blanc) in tow. Buck and Wilma received their orders from kindly Earth Directorate leader, Dr. Huer (Tim O’Connor). The shortened second season was retooled into a Star Trek-wannabe, with Buck, Wilma and Twiki now on the starship “Searcher” looking for lost human tribes from Earth, essentially continuing Battlestar’s aborted mission. While the first season was arguably better than the second, neither season ever really lived up to the ambitious, intriguing premise of a 20th century man waking up in an unfamiliar future. Buck always seemed unusually confident in his new surroundings, with little of the grief or melancholy a real person might experience in such a reality-bending circumstance. There were a few exceptions, such as the pilot movie “Awakening” (which was released theatrically ahead of the series’ September 1979 premiere) and “A Dream of Jennifer” (where Buck meets a woman who resembles his long-dead fiancee), but the series’ ambitions went largely unfulfilled in favor of secret agent shenanigans and subpar Star Trek stories.
I would very much like to see a “Buck Rogers” remake where Buck is much more humanized, and more of the series is spent trying to integrate him into this radically new century. Imagine a soldier from the American Revolutionary War waking up in the age of nuclear weapons, smartphones and the internet and you can see the potential for a remake. I could also see greater exploration of a future that is both utopia and dystopia, not too unlike our world today, with an ever-increasing chasm between the haves and have-nots. A new series could explore the outcomes of our current class and culture wars, which might result in a major bifurcation of the human race itself (as seen in the pages of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” with the Eloi and Morlocks). As Buck comes to grips with the duality of this ‘brave new world’, he also becomes aware of an external threat coming from the “Draconian Empire.” Instead of the Draconians being a race of extraterrestrials, I would reimagine them as a long-forgotten colony of humans who’ve flourished on another world, and now wish to extend their might to include their planet of origin… Earth. Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) could be retooled as a powerful rising warrior within her Empire, instead of a pouting, spoiled, horny princess who had a thing for Buck (who invariably betrayed her misplaced affections). Ardala’s henchman Kane, who was once “Killer Kane” in the 1930s serial, could be seen as more lethal and cunning than his bumbling 1970s incarnations (played by Henry Silva and Michael Ansara, respectively).
With a post-holocaust 25th century Earth sharply divided between radioactive anarchy and a progressive futuristic society living under domes, a new Buck Rogers could speak very much to our current 21st century. You’d also have the everyman hero who is more of a relatable audience avatar rather than, as star Gil Gerard once called Buck, a “Burt Reynolds in Space.” Casting for this new version of the series could also embrace more diversity than the primarily caucasian actors who populated New Chicago of 2491 (another logical outcome of currently changing demographics). As a nod to the 1979 series, perhaps Erin Gray could play a reimagined Dr. Huer (change ‘Elias’ to ‘Elaine,’ perhaps?). This would be a nice nod both to Gray’s role as a TV feminist icon as well as a nice nod to her late friend (and original Dr. Huer), actor Tim O’Connor. I’ve met Gray at many conventions, and she is a terrific lady. I’d bet she’d really sink her teeth into the role. The robot Twiki could now be a talking mobile device (ala “Siri” or “Alexa” today) or as a small hovering drone (ala “EVA” in “Wall-E”). A human-shaped, bipedal android would be both clunky and unnecessary, especially 400 years from now.
“Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” is ripe for a smarter, more timely reimagining.
The 1976 film adaptation of William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson’s novel “Logan’s Run” concerned a society of pampered youths who were forced to submit to mandatory ‘renewal’ (termination) at age 30 (instead of the novel’s age of 21) to maintain a balanced society unfettered by disease or decrepitude. While the movie embraced more of a aesthetic (with a large, modern Dallas shopping complex standing in for life within the domed cities), the original book had something vaguely more akin to the zones of “The Hunger Games”, where the crumbling, decaying remnants of the United States still existed, and were still sparsely populated.
In the movie (and book), ex-“Sandman” Logan-5 (Michael York) and his companion Jessica-6 (Jenny Agutter) flee the domed cities in search of ‘Sanctuary’, a place outside the cities where people could continue to live past their artificially imposed lifespans. One of the biggest changes from novel to book came in the character of villainous character, Francis (Richard Jordan), the tenacious Sandman who doggedly tails his former friend and partner Logan. In the book, Francis was, in fact, the hero of the story; secretly guiding his friend Logan (and other runners) to Sanctuary. It was also revealed that Francis himself was much older than 21, but kept his youthful appearance through secret cosmetic surgeries. Francis now had some of the qualities of the Old Man character played in the movie by actor Peter Ustinov.
Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of young people might (rightly) feel they are being cheated out of many things, such as school dances, games, going to movie theaters, graduation ceremonies and other youthful rites of passage. The pandemic has sadly put the kibosh on much of that, just as Logan’s Run prematurely ended the lives of its own youth. And as we saw with “The Hunger Games” and “The Divergent” movies, there is (or at least there was) an audience for youth-centered dystopia films. A new Logan’s Run, much like a new Buck Rogers, could also speak to the increasing disparity between the affluent, who live like fatted cattle within the domed cities, versus the scrappier survivors forced to endure a harsher existence in the wilderness outside.
Both Logan’s Run and Buck Rogers deal with artificial, glitzy utopias that exist within walking distances of hellish dystopias, not too unlike our world of today. Runaway climate change (instead of the movie’s forgotten nuclear wars) could easily explain the necessity for the movie’s domed cities. And, like a Buck Rogers remake, a new movie could also introduce more diverse casting as well. Neither Michael Anderson’s 1976 film, nor the short-lived 1977 TV series that followed, featured any significant roles for non-caucasian actors (though the crazed killer robot “Box” was memorably voiced by black actor Roscoe Lee Browne). In our changing world, such whitebread casting isn’t just racially insensitive, it’s also utterly unrealistic.
The essential story of “Logan’s Run” still has a lot to offer audiences of the 21st century.
Closer Encounters Of Another Kind.
Now it’s time to talk about sequels that I’d like to see, and my first choice may seem wildly unnecessary, but hear me out. 1977 saw the release of that other ‘big space film’, Steven Spielberg’s UFO classic, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. As I’ve said before in this blog, that movie was perhaps the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious experience in my life. Arguably the film has less a cerebral, more emotional appeal, with the final meeting between humans and extraterrestrials culminating in a music-filled love-fest. Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon tenaciously make their way to the Wyoming landmark of Devil’s Tower in time for the human/alien rendezvous. Dreyfuss’ “Roy Neary” is spirited away aboard the mothership, while Melinda Dillon’s “Jillian Guiler” character is tearfully reunited with her abducted son Barry (Carey Guffey). Barry is released by the aliens, along with other human abductees from across time (including the real-life “Flight 19” squadron of American pilots, who went missing near the end of World War 2 during a training exercise). The movie’s end credits sees the alien mothership fly back into the night sky, with John Williams’ joyous music playing.
The End, right? Well, not necessarily…
When I was 10 years old and saw “Close Encounters” for the first time, the nagging questions that remained in my awestruck brain after the film ended concerned the fates of the returned Flight-19 pilots, as well as others who remained behind, such as Jillian Guiler, whom we see taking photos of the alien visitors with her previously hidden pocket camera. What was the aftermath for Roy’s deserted family? What about the other civilian abductees who were returned to Devil’s Tower? Many of those people, like the Flight-19 pilots, were abducted from other times… how would they re-assimilate into a world of fast food, 8-track tapes and disco? Would they have lingering traumas regarding their abductions? Would they be forced to live in secret government laboratories for the rest of their lives, or would they be returned to their families? What about any non-American abductees? Remember, the pilots of Flight-19 didn’t age, due to Einstein’s special relativity. The alien’s mothership must’ve been traveling at near-light speeds to slow the humans’ natural aging to a crawl. When they returned to Earth over 30 years later, the pilots were still young men in their 20s. Luckily for young Barry Guiler, the kid was returned only days after his abduction, so his lack of aging was hardly significant. But what about all of the others we saw returning from the mothership?
While some may not see the returnees’ story as worth revisiting, I’ve always felt it could make for a deeper psychological exploration of post-alien contact. Granted, such a film wouldn’t be the grand, visual-effects laden epic that was Steven Spielberg’s original movie. I see a potential sequel to “Close Encounters” more as a lower-budgeted, psychological drama. Dealing with the returning abductees’ stories could make for a fascinating, “X-Files”-type TV series as well. A movie or TV series could be set in the present-day, with older actors playing the 1977 abductees, or as a late 1970s period piece, with freshly returned abductees being tentatively released into a very different world than the one they left. Maybe it could flashback between both times? Perhaps an aged Jillian Guiler, with her now middle-aged son Barry, finally come forward with their stories, as well as her photographic proof (she took photos of the aliens at the end of the film). Granted, many people wouldn’t believe her (and photos are too easily manipulated these days), but what if she inspired some of the surviving personnel who were stationed at Devil’s Tower to come forward with their own stories? The floodgates to this 40-odd year old coverup could come crashing down. This sequel would have the earlier movie’s events (and coverup) as its prebuilt mythology.
Imagine being taken into space by a gargantuan starship for at least several months away from your home planet. You are eventually returned, but due to special relativity, you find that several decades have now passed here on Earth. Many of your friends and loved ones would be dead. You would be returning to a world that is, in some ways, almost as alien as the the mothership from which you just left. Could life ever return to something resembling normalcy? Would you be left permanently traumatized? I still remember that haunted, far-away look in the eyes of the Flight-19 pilots as they came down from the ramp to greet Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) and the others. That look of theirs stayed with me long after the film ended. A followup could delve more deeply into the returnees’ post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt or other lingering difficulties from their experiences. Perhaps some returnees might even try to compulsively reconnect with the aliens (similar to the madness that drove Roy Neary to repeatedly recreate Devil’s Tower in his imagination…and eventually in his living room).
This sequel movie (or TV series) could have a lot of stories to tell.
Total Recall 2: Electric Boogaloo.
The Paul Verhoven sci-fi adventure flick “Total Recall” (1990) was ultra-violent, wildly paranoid, and audaciously entertaining, but it was also just a little bit ahead of its time. Using the late Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” as a jumping off point, the movie follows disgruntled Earther Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to the planet Mars on a secret-agent adventure, which ultimately leads to Quaid melting the planet’s icy core, using a top-secret alien terraforming device. The core meltdown gives Mars a newly thickened, oxygen-rich atmosphere, which liberates the colonists from the tyranny of their governor (and oxygen-miser) Cohagen (Ronny Cox). The ending of the film sees Quaid in the arms of his girlfriend Melina (Rachel Ticotin) wondering if the entire experience all just was part of his falsely implanted dream vacation…?
The movie’s ‘facts’ about Mars are hopelessly outdated, even during the time in which it was made. But none of that would matter if the entire experience of the first movie had been, as suggested earlier, nothing but Quaid’s falsely implanted ‘dream vacation’ on Mars as a “secret agent” (the “ego trip” special, as promised by the pushy Rekall salesman).
Before Quaid underwent the implant procedure, we overhear a technician comment on the memories Quaid is about to experience. The technicians clearly says, “Well, that’s new…a blue sky on Mars”, foreshadowing the movie’s ending. Another Rekall technician also talks Doug into purchasing implants about “alien artifacts” (which Quaid uses). Quaid himself requests a virtual female partner who is ‘brunette, athletic and sleazy’, just like Martian resistance-fighter/hooker, Melina. In short, the movie becomes everything that Quaid was promised in his Rekall getaway package, including the “blue sky on Mars.” So what if the 1990 movie was just a dream?
A sequel could see Doug Quaid, years later, lobotomized or permanently insane. Seeing our former ‘hero’ like this would mean that all bets were off. It would also take the 70-something Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the action and allow for a very different kind of movie. Perhaps the Rekall Corporation is now being used by nefarious baddies to manipulate the memories of world leaders, or even beam a version of its memory implant signal throughout the internet (or whatever the future’s equivalent) to alter memories of the population en masse. This could have a lot to say about the dangers of today’s age, where disinformation is rampant on social media platforms. We’ve seen foreign adversaries successfully manipulate unwitting populations into acting against their own interests, via cleverly seeded disinformation on Twitter or FaceBook. This isn’t a conspiracy theory or some spy thriller movie; this is now a matter of public record. The dangers of Rekall’s technology could be revisited in either a sequel movie or a “Westworld”-style TV series, which might allow for a greater in-depth exploration.
Granted, there was a short-lived, not-so-great “Total Recall” TV series in the 1990s (“Total Recall 2070”) which was basically a low-rent cop show set on Mars. There was also, of course, the joyless, humorless, Mars-free 2012 “Total Recall” remake starring Colin Farrell. Neither of these versions would need to be referenced in a direct sequel to the original film.
Those are some sci-fi reboots and sequels I’d like to see. What are some of yours? Please let me know in the comments thread below.
To Be Concluded…
“Total Recall” (1990) is available for safe-distance streaming rental on Prime Video for $3.99 (US). “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Logan’s Run” are both available to rent on Prime Video streaming for $2.99 each (US). Sadly, “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” is not currently available for legal streaming at the moment, but it is available for DVD purchase on Amazon.com and eBay. “Buck Rogers” has, at times, been available for streaming on Hulu.com, so you might check in every now and then to see if it returns.
To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. For the time being, please practice safe-distancing, wear masks in public, and avoid unnecessary outings as much as possible. Take care!