Sunday, September 25, 2011

Acknowledging The Paradigm

As hinted at during my most recent post at Anime Diet; would a modern reinterpretation of Naoko Takeuchi's Sailor Moon even remotely resemble the seemingly innocent vibe of young girls using vanity products to change their appearance, and defeat evil? What would it be like if the very notion of your savior was rendered out of date with a world that has long since moved on? The shelf life of certain stories can prove limited when philosophical, scientific, sociological, and even allegorical paradigms shift from their previously settled posts. This is something that has been swirling around the brainpan for several years, and has recently come back to mind when doing the latest writeup. Would doing a modern take of what many would consider a classic legend prove vital when the world has changed so much, and grown so much more sophisticated that a "pure" replay would prove either dated or irrelevant? One can argue that this has happened more than once in high-profile projects in recent years. But how about when the creative parties involved took the extra time necessary to use established properties to help illustrate these changes in at times lyrical fashion? Surface, too. This is something I'd like to call, Acknowledging The Paradigm. Meaning, an update fully aware of the cultural changes, and not only visually retrofitting the production, but also taking a studied, and thematic look into how the previously unchangeable would apply in another, more contemporary context- without holding back.

And in a climate where the term "reboot" has become something of modern anathema, there have been many attempts to acknowledge that the world is a completely different place than when their original creators thrived with their work. This is especially so in regards to superhero properties. When many were initially conceived, often very specific social circumstances helped to make them resonate with their audiences, often creating a specific image of them to the public. And if there has been anything common about fan reaction, it has been derision by those calling out author and artist time and again, that reinterpretations often do not match, let alone agree with certain established perceptions of what made these concepts great, or effective. It doesn't take much to send fans over the edge, so keeping this in mind it stands to reason why so many fear dramatic deviation from past models. It is a difficult ice shelf to walk, but as long as creators find the means to build upon what has been said before, perhaps what is revealed can offer some value to those looking for other qualities within the new story.

Which brings me to a somewhat controversial example. A large part of why I am in something of a minority, and actually appreciate Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, is simply because it isn't shying away from being both an allegory for the fall of previous ideals, as well as a tribute to the Donner film. The very idea that Kal-El would not only be fallible, but in many ways irrelevant in a world that has left him behind is a bold, and often troubling one to consider for many. But this is perhaps the one thing that most captivated me while watching it for the first time in 2006. Much of the film's writing that rendered it confused in places took a backseat for me, and what stood out was an often poignant look at how America's ideals were now at a crucial point, and ready to change into something altogether different. Almost repeatedly, Superman's role in the film is either sideswiped by how the world around him has moved on, or is put second-fiddle to how even the mortal are in some ways empowered. The most telling of which is the James Marsden character of Richard White, son of Daily Planet chief, Perry. As the husband-to-be of Lois Lane, it is made clear that he is by no means considered any kind of one-dimensional romantic rival for Clark/Superman. In fact, he is by all accounts a good, honest man willing to go above and beyond for those he cares for. And when he takes his personal plane to rescue his would-be family, he even saves Kal-El, making the film's central theme that much more concrete. That much of what the former Depression-era-borne icon has inspired lives on beyond even his own function on Earth. There will always been room for him in the hearts of many, and yet he tragically remains an outsider, unchanging in a universe thriving on continuous change. It isn't the easiest pill for audiences to swallow. And even if the film can seem a bit mixed, and unsure of its own identity, there is a sincere enough thread to make it viable to current sensibilities if one is inclined to take a moment.

An example of an update that may look visually opulent in places, and yet never bothers to reach such ambitious heights (well, to be fair-most modern reinterpretations fall prey to this) is Tron Legacy. For a film so predisposed toward offering a more cutting-edge sheen to what was initially a wildly experimental universe rendered via extremely rudimentary(see crude) cel-based, as well as primitive CG in order to explore an entire computer based world, the 2010 film fails to acknowledge the vast rift of change to have come in the wake of our current existence via the internet, let alone digital tech. We can hide behind the excuses that the film was bankrolled with the intent that it was meant to speak to kids as well as adults, but it doesn't even acknowledge the current sophistication of children. In a generation post-REBOOT(the 1990s cg animated series), it is easy to see how much of a grandiose missed opportunity it was. To further take matters into intelligence-insulting levels, the film makes little to no effort to fill us in on how the cultural/evolutionary changes in technology have affected groups and individuals within the respective computer and human worlds. As an update of a film that not only tanked due to it being a little too new and subterranean for mainstream audiences back in 1982, Legacy never really bothers beyond vague concepts, and mysticism to deliver what is essentially a biblical metaphor sans subtlety, or even appreciation for human ingenuity. It's satisfied with just saying dad needs to step away from his work, and spend some time with the kids. And with 200 million dollars, and all the effects budget one can hope for, that isn't saying much at all.

More often than not, the latter is what tends to happen. The contradictions often pile on, as nostalgia colors what the public often wants out of their 2000s entertainment. And while there is some mild value in seeing certain worlds, types, and characters brought back to our collective consciousness, there is often a lingering set of doubts one must suppress in order for them to work in any modern context. Being a bit of a Nolan Batman fan myself, I also happen to be part of this problem when in many ways a multi-billionaire playboy seems to make little sense doing what he does, taking on criminals one at a time as Ducard once quipped. But then again, the fact that the films acknowledge this absurdity is part of what helps this interpretation work for me. The counterbalance of this kind of acknowledgement can work in studied measure. But more often than not, this is something that can only connect in certain measures or timbre. Which is why some creations can only remain within a certain time framework. (This has come about several times between friends and I regarding Superman only making truest sense taking place in Depression-era Metropolis. Such a period piece has a lot of potential.)

As is the potential for running the world of Sailor Moon in contrast with the current not-so-ideal vision of Japan today complete with economic turmoil, disaster, declining birth rates, and a general lack of spark, it would be very interesting to see how the characters would function in such a seemingly difficult environment. Especially where feminine roles have begun to shift, despite a seething amount of almost desperate (I take it back, it IS desperate) masculine backlash in popular art such as manga and anime. I suppose it is this contradiction that fascinates me about this idea. Not sure if it would be great, but it would most certainly be interesting to see it play out.

Personally, I enjoy the idea of entertaining previous ideals under pressure due to social and philosophical changes. It in many ways brings what we are becoming into focus, and perhaps even offers hints of where we can go from here. Mere longing for the past has never been a strong suit of mine, and when story can  
help visualize the folly and potential of our current selves, rather than merely admiring passively.

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