I miss nostalgia. That’s right. I have nostalgia for nostalgia. Remember when you could look back fondly at things from you childhood and think about how awesome they were the first time you laid eyes on them? Maybe you had a pony you loved. Now, you probably don’t remember having to clean up after her, groom her, or pay for her vet bills and boarding. You just remember all the fun you had petting her and riding her for hours on end. Well, now you’re an adult and she’s been dead for twenty years, but you still have those fond memories of the time you spent together. But what if I told you that you could have Mrs. Muffinstuff back? Wouldn’t that excite you? Okay! All we have to do is dig up her lifeless corpse, gut her like a tauntaun while you watch, and then—I SAID WATCH!–and then drape her loose skin over a different horse and staple—DON’T YOU LOOK AWAY!–staple the edges to the new horse and Mrs. Muffinstuff is as good as new! Yes, I know the new horse is a boy and he’s much darker and bloodier than you remember, but he’s much more marketable this way.
Now, don’t get me wrong–some reboots work out better than others and there are many valid reasons to haul something out of obscurity for another round. There is a whole new generation that never got to experience these things the first time around. I wasn’t there to see the glory that was the Batman television show in the 60’s, and although I jump at the chance to binge on the remastered Blu-ray version, I never thought I’d get to experience new stories in a serial format the way my parents did. Enter: Batman ’66 by Jeff Parker. This is a comic series set in the world of Adam West’s Batman and it makes sense for a number of reasons. Firstly, a reboot of the television show with the original actors would be impossible (that’s not a dare, Hollywood) because all we have left are Batman, Robin, and two Catwoman. Secondly, the comic is able to portray stories and villains for which the show never had the budget. This can backfire if it is over-utilized, in that it can take away from the campy draw of the original, but Parker does a decent job of staying grounded. Thirdly, and most importantly, it is playing off of the imagined nostalgia of a generation that wasn’t there. The show has become, in hindsight, something greater than the sum of its parts. Much like the Old West or Medieval times, it is much more valuable to our culture as a romanticized version of itself, devoid of all of the baggage carried with the reality (and smells) of history.
Conversely, when various media attempt to adapt properties that existed during the lifetime of their target demographic, things get a bit more sticky. This is when fanboys demand that justice be meted out for the rape of their childhood, when in fact, their childhood has merely been reaped. Following the success of Batman ’66, DC announced the comic adaptation of the 1970’s Wonder Woman show starring Linda Carter, aptly named Wonder Woman ’77. This was also a moderate success, so, as media is wont to do when they find fertile ground, they did their fair best to strip mine it by pitching Batman ’89. This series would have been set in the Tim Burton Batman/Batman Returns universe. Now, whether Burton’s Batman is good or enjoyable is certainly up for debate, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not an accurate representation of the character and, for that reason, it simply does not bear repeating.
There have been countless interpretations of the Dark Knight throughout his more than 75 years of continuous publication. Batman has ranged from noir-style Sherlock Holmes stories to cartoonish slapstick to self-referential tongue-in-cheek camp and back to a gritty psychopath. Each of these seemingly drastic changes happened fairly gradually and were a reflection of, or reaction to, the times. Some writers choose to include different pieces of Batman’s past as needed for their narrative goals. Writers like Grant Morrison acknowledge every single iteration of Batman as valid and valuable while admitting that in order to craft a coherent story, one cannot be a slave to continuity. So why is Burton’s Batman any less valid than other versions? Simply put: Tim Burton is not interested in Batman. He doesn’t care about the Caped Crusader’s storied past or the long and winding path Batman’s character development has traveled in order to get to 1989.
To put this in perspective, Kevin Smith has recently come under fire following the announcement that he will be directing an upcoming episode of The Flash on the CW. Fans of the show are afraid he’s going to blaspheme this highly lauded series by adding his brand of off-color humor and flowery-but-vulgar dialogue. Smith has assured fans that he will be respectful and faithful to the show’s tone and the creators who have come before him. He has stated unequivocally that he is playing in someone else’s sandbox and that the episode will not be in the style of his movies because the show does not belong to him. Interestingly, Tim Burton and Kevin Smith actually have a bit of a history. In the ’90’s Burton fired Smith as the screenwriter for Superman Lives, a failed attempt at a Burton directed Superman reboot starring Nicholas Cage. Smith also relates a story in An Evening With Kevin Smith in which Burton responds to being jokingly accused of stealing an idea from Smith’s comic, Chasing Dogma, by stating that anyone who knows him (Burton) knows he would never read a comic book.
Now, I would never claim that Tim Burton is without talent. I enjoy the sets and costumes in his movies quite a bit. However, Burton is interested solely in worlds and style, not stories or characters. H. R. Giger was an artist with a very specific style that was largely used to build the world of Alien, but Ridley Scott told the story, because Giger, although a phenomenal artist, was not a storyteller. My issues with Burton stem from his insistence on taking these beloved characters and forcing them to play in his world instead of taking the opportunity to play in theirs. I’m not going to pretend that Barbie never had an adventure in my Technodrome, or that Starscream and Lion-O didn’t have a few epic jousts mounted on My Little Ponies, but certain vehicles are made for specific figures, and they don’t necessarily fit together in a satisfying way. Batman’s use of a machine gun mounted to his Batwing, sleeping upside down like a bat, the wanton revealing of his identity, blatant murdering of criminals, and the flagrant disregard for characters like the Penguin and Jim Gordon are but a few instances of laziness in researching the source material is passed off for “creative license.” Burton’s type of glaring disregard for character and story is never as obvious as it is in Alice in Wonderland, where he constantly refers to Helena Bonham Carter’s Queen of Hearts character as the Red Queen, who is an entirely separate character appearing in the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. The Queen of Hearts is modeled after a playing card, while the Red Queen is created in the likeness of a chess piece.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if someone has the opportunity to revive, reboot, revamp, or revisit an intellectual property, their first priority should be to service the essence of the story and the characters that comprise it. This is not to say there is no room for creative freedom. Liberties can be taken as long as the integral pieces that define a particular icon remain intact. There’s a reason that a property has been around for as long as it has, and one does themselves and the original creators a disservice by forgetting what made it great in the first place. And for the record, nothing that has been around for more than thirty years gained it’s popularity from its special effects budget (talking to you, Mr. Bay). So, please, by all means, mine the past for new takes on old ideas. Reboot franchises that died too young. Remake movies that previously lacked the technology to do them justice. But remember this: your name will be attached to the final product for all eternity, and in an Internet age where it’s impossible to hide from the millions of fans who never forget, be a Nolan, not a Schumacher.