Thursday, July 21, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Reset II: Reboot vs. Reset

So, apropos of my post a little bit earlier on the end-of-episode reset, 99 Seats probes whether re-staging a show is the same as rebooting a comics franchise.

I'd like to draw a distinction between a few different things, because I think it actually illuminates a different audience relationship between themselves and the work.

Theater: A revival is a restaging of a previous work in a way that attempts to be faithful. In modern terms, this usually means matching the script, the choreography, and the interpretation as faithfully as possible; only the actors are given lee-way to adapt the characters to themselves. (In film we'd call that a remake, in the shot-for-shot remake way)

Comics: There's never really a reason to do a "revival" of a comic series because we still have the original comics. The 1967 run of Hair is inaccessible to us because it was a live performance, and it was over. The Fantastic Four comics made in 1967, however, are still with us, thanks to the tireless work of collectors. So there's no need to "revive" it -- if you want the original, it's still there.

What's the difference? The difference is that theater is "live", hence it shares the same root as "revive."

Theater: A reinterpretation is a chance for a new director to tell the story in their own way. Maybe it reaches the level of being an adaptation (e.g. Chuck Mee's Iphigenia 2.0), or is just a drastic restaging (e.g. when Peter Brooks directs a classic).

Comics: Typically, when an artist is given reign to retell a story, it's either part of a reboot or they reinterpret the story in a new storyline. Still, it's fairly common to let an artist take over a comic and make it their own.

Not much difference.

Comics: A reset in an episodic work is when at the end of an episode or an arc, everything returns to a "status quo" state. For instance, at the end of the Death of Superman arc, eventually Superman returns to life and mostly things go to roughly where they were at the beginning of the Arc.

Theater: Theater tends not to be episodic to the degree that comics or TV are. Although I can think of a few limited examples of really episodic feature films (e.g. the James Bond series, the Star Trek movies), I can't think of any equivalents in theater. Even classic comedies don't tend to "reset" at the end, they typically leave the characters better than the status quo at the start. The only really prominent reset I can think of is the mid-act reset in Waiting for Godot...

What's the difference? There's a whole different set expectations set on an episodic work (many comics, many TV) than on singular works (most theater and feature film). Whereas episodic works sometimes need to maintain a status quo to keep from jumping the shark (Simpsons, Star Trek, etc.), other episodic work forgoes the reset in favor of letting the changes accumulate (the Wire, Mad Men, etc.), and we tend to recognize the latter as more complex.

Comics: A reboot in comics or other works is when the creator decides to start from square one and ignore all of the established canon. Most commonly, it's used in a progressing episodic series where there aren't regular resets, and therefore the canon is so full of events and information that it's becoming hard for the lay person to follow. The unsuccessful characters are killed, conflicts that have been solved are returned to conflict (Clark Kent has to woo Lois Lane all over again!).

Also note that reboots can happen when an episodic series has completely failed, but people want to salvage the world. See: the terrible Hulk movie.

Theater: As with reset, theater tends not to be as episodic of a form, and thus "rebooting" is never necessary. If every production of Shakespeare's Hamlet added another story to the Danish prince's life (now he's living in America! And in the last production, he was elected to Congress alongside MacBeth, who represents Boston!), we probably would reboot it at regular intervals so that we don't have 400 years of Hamlet stories burdening our productions.

What's the difference? The word canon is the distinction. When we create plays, we rarely wind up creating a world in which adventures continue to take place. Even Hamlet doesn't inhabit a world where regular stories are progressed, where there are canonical stories to tell. It's not Star Wars' expanded universe, or the Star Trek universe, or Tolkein's Middle-Earth. And I haven't seen a play yet that tries to create that world, and have that need for a reboot.