Subjecting our beloved stories to current Hollywood trends can be a heart-wrenching experience. We fear the story we know and love will be done away with in favor of story elements that developers consider more important or visually impressive.
On the other hand, adaptations can look a lot like Facebook format changes — we resist things that are different and unfamiliar. Hear me out, though. Adaptations and reboots can be terrible (I’m looking at you, Exodus: Gods and Kings), but they have amazing potential.
Movie and television show remakes, if done well, take the core values of the original (i.e. teamwork, power of the human mind, the love of a family, etc.) and make them relevant for an audience living in a different setting, usually a different time. This model also means that these new adaptations have great potential for on-screen diversity and representation.
Elementary, the CBS primetime drama starring Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller, used their adaptation to play around with the Sherlock Holmes story, setting the city in New York instead of London and casting Lucy Liu as Doctor Joan Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick, a role traditionally played by a white male. The show also combines the role of Sherlock’s classic arch-nemesis Moriarty with a woman in the Sherlock Holmes books, Irene Adler, creating a completely different villain.
Though Elementary runs simultaneously with the current London-based BBC television adaptation of Sherlock the shows are two distinct stories. The shows differ in more ways besides genders and races of their actors, though the factors certainly contribute to telling two distinct and entertaining adaptations.
A lot of adaptations will latch onto a different part of the story. For example, Doctor Who is in its twelfth incarnation of the titular Doctor character, but each actor has chosen to play up a different aspect of the Doctor. Each incarnation of the Doctor falls somewhere different along respective spectrums of eccentricity and moral alignment. However, the overall concept of the show remains the same — a well-meaning, seemingly immortal alien has adventures traversing time and space.
Reboots and adaptations fail to realize their potential if they continue to tell the same story within the same parameters. One of the many problems with the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings movie is that it’s telling the Hollywood Moses story over again (and that includes the blatant racism apparent in the fundamental elements of the movie, like the casting). It’s interesting, that remakes often seek to push the boundaries of a genre but still think within the representation box. Visual effects and movie technology can only add so much. Character drives a story, and there is a lot of untapped potential in remaking television series and movies.
Television and movie reboots provide a great opportunity to expand classic stories and make them accessible to diverse audiences. Audiences get involved with stories that are relatable, stories that have the power to take an experience and communicate it to a diverse audience of different ages and backgrounds. I’m on board with the reboot train, but instead of trying to push technical boundaries, we should try to expand our personal boundaries. That way, the reboot doesn’t have to be seen as a tired push for quick money. It can become the valuable storytelling tool that it has the potential to be.