My first thought upon learning that J. Michael Straczynski wants to remake Babylon 5 was to get holy water, a crucifix, an old priest and a young priest to stop this demonic activity in its tracks.
This is an abjectly awful idea. JMS claims that while he liked the finished product, it wasn’t true to his original vision. Maybe that was a good thing. If we’ve learned one thing over the last few decades, it’s that “original visions” of iconic films can be pretty crappy.
Trying To Repeat A Fluke Play
If you think about it, art and sport are very closely related. Both favor those with innate talent and require extensive preparation before the actual performance – which can deviate from the script in unexpected ways. It is this spontaneity that makes both so compelling. Indeed, despite the advent of recordings, there is a reason why people still flock to see a live performance. You never know what can happen.
The same is true even in scripted, recorded sessions. One can have the story plotted out, carefully select the cast, rehearse the scene exactly the way the director wants it, and yet get a finished product that far exceeds anyone’s expectations.
That’s what happened with the Star Wars trilogy, and why – despite total creative control, years of planning and effectively unlimited budgets – every attempt to recreate its success has resulted in abject failure. I would argue that it was precisely because of these elaborate preparations that the successor films feel dead, completely without any energy or life.
Cast changes, budget struggles and need to improvise often provide the vitality necessary to make a production work. There is a clear relationship between behind-the-scene energy and what we see in the final cut.
To put it another way, the fact that JMS had to bend and turn his plot is what made Babylon 5 feel so real.
Battlestar Galactica Reboot Redux?
Yes, this column is a twofer – I’m checking both my Star Wars and my Battlestar Galactica boxes. I’m doing this because the other glaring problem with doing a remake is that times change. The culture has moved on from where it was in the 1990s. Back then, outrage was a good thing. Entertainers went out of their way to get someone to declare a boycott because that meant more attention and therefore eyeballs. Now it will get you canceled.
Whether JMS wants it or not, Babylon 5 will be made woke. His original vision of the Minbari as a “strange alien race” that can change its sex will of course be hailed as totally wonderful – until it isn’t. Who will play the part of gender-bending Delenn? I mean, it can’t be anyone other than a “trans” actor/actress, right? And why aren’t there any “Minbari of color?” Clearly, JMS is racist.
The rebooted Battlestar Galactica was the forerunner of all this nonsense, where plot and casting decisions were based on current political needs, not the story. What was supposed to be “Wagon Train in the Stars” back in 1978 became “West Wing in Space” in 2004. Okay, it started as “West Wing in Space” but turned into “Guess Who’s a Secret Cylon?” by the time it finally ground to a halt.
Obviously, I’m not a fan, but people I know that were fans found re-watching it to be painful. It already feels more dated than its 1978 predecessor and that’s because instead of using big, timeless themes, entertainment is increasingly about micro-trends of the moment, especially “breaking boundaries” that, once broken, look pretty feeble.
Death by Duplication
For those of you keeping score at home, we’ve already got a second attempt at a live action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the third iteration of a Dune movie, and we’re strip-mining the Indiana Jones franchise.
There is nothing original or interesting about any of this. These aren’t stories so much as time-wasters to provide background noise while scrolling through social media.
At least those jaded efforts are bringing in different (and likely inferior) creative talent to script and direct them. Babylon 5 is the same show done by the same guy. The only reason I can think of for someone to tune into it is to see just how bad it is.
While I understand how a creator might want to go back and fix some mistakes, there’s a difference between sending in additional corrections for one of my typo-plagued books and simply writing the whole thing all over again.
It’s not that I don’t think anyone would care, it’s that I’d find the do-over crushingly boring. Heck, I’m now 8 years behind on my sequel to Battle Officer Wolf. I was supposed to finally tackle it in 2020, but instead I wrote a book on the Spanish Civil War because I wanted to do something new.
Hollywood loves sequels and prequels and remakes because they assume there’s a guaranteed minimum return. That may have been true in the age of celluloid film, but one now can browse through Hollywood’s entire back catalog while waiting in line for toilet paper. The whole notion of revisiting an old story for a new generation falls flat when they can simply watch it on their phone. (Then again, Hollywood is also cranking out sequels 30 years too late.)
That’s why I think these really will be just background buzz in an already overloaded retread market.
The sad thing is that JMS has a great deal of creative talent and if he wanted to explore some of his original ideas, the way to do it would be to create a new show. He can let people know that it’s more of what he wanted without the baggage of wrecking an unjustly overlooked work of genius.