A little disclaimer first. Rather that have to state in this article again and again that everything I write is my opinion, I’m just going to state it once and then go about it without saying it again.
The current most popular example of an alternate universe is the storyline behind the reboot of Star Trek. You have one of the most popular science fiction franchises of all time turn into this young, fresh storyline that has been reborn for today’s day and age. Action and effects can happen on a grand scale. You can put everything on the screen at once. Visuals can take off and audiences handle more mature ideas (not necessarily more maturely though, but that’s another topic).
Of course, mainstream media is not too keen on the idea of alternate universes. However, sell a good story with new artists playing younger versions of well established characters that already have a following and they’ll fall in line. As a matter of fact, who knows if they’ve realized this is actually an alternate storyline to the original. They’re happy promoting an action movie that is a guaranteed success.
For the audience, both new and old it’s a harder sell. It does help if you make a high quality product both in plot and in appearance. Of course, it also helped that Leonard Nimoy blessed the new storyline with his participation.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not reducing a beloved universe to a few lines. I’m just using it to illustrate how the use of alternate storylines is slowly being accepted in mainstream fiction. The idea is a common occurrence for comic book fans.
On the other side of the mirror, fans of other franchises are often pushed into creating the ultimate alternate universe: A canon where they deny the latest re-work or pre-quel sanctioned by the very same author of their own universe. Enter Star Wars.
George Lucas lost many a Star Wars fans with his prequel saga. Originally envisioned as “a fairy tale for a generation that grew without fairy tales” the mythical galaxy far away fell from grace when a new trilogy came along, ripe with CGI and visual effects but according to some, low on acting performances, plot and direction.
And for many fans, the prequel trilogy does not form part of their own personal canon of Star Wars. Will the new one will… it’s another question. Coincidentally, J. J. Abrams is set to direct that one.
Before you relegate this idea as a simple whim of fans to preserve some illusionary idea of what their “perfect” version of their favorite fictional universe is, might I remind you there’s nothing sacred in Hollywood and every old concept, book, movie and TV show can be victim of prequel or reboot. In other words, if you’re laughing at the thought of someone isolating their old favorite classic from the modern remakes, wait until it’s your favorite saga that gets the treatment.
Ridley Scott’s Alien (or Xenomorph if you prefer) universe was already scarred after 1997’s Alien Resurrection but last year it received the dubious honor of a prequel movie.
When scenes of Prometheus first started showing in teaser trailers, it was a promising film. Actually, it does have its moments – but it’s also incomplete in intention and execution. Perhaps a director’s cut would do it a world of good, but for a lot of fans this would be another movie that should not be considered part of continuity.
There’s actually an even more bizarre aspect of alternate universes and canon: when a movie changes direction in such a catastrophic way that the creative forces behind it actually reboot their own franchise to exclude the anomaly.
Enter Highlander II: The Quickening. It is regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Basically, the whole idea of ancient swordfighters is abandoned. They’re all extra-terrestrials. This is perhaps the most perfectly awesome motivator for an alternate universe – a really, really bad movie.
So powerful a motivator was it, that all the sequels after HL 2 decided to effectively ignore the alien world idea and went back to the original idea. In other words, the creators came back to their senses and presto, the alternate alien thing never even happened.
It still happens today, not only with new director and a new cast but the same entire film is rebooted and starts from zero again and again. Sometimes one of those iterations is successful and they hit the jackpot. Other times fans wish and pray that Hollywood will move along and go about their business. Move along, move along…
So when is a reboot or an alternate universe a good idea? Well, it’s all in the execution. Where they just after more money based on nostalgia or does the finished product stands by itself? Is it just a pale reminder of something of quality that has none or did we bring a fresh new look to the storyline?
More important, would you like to see more or should it never be talked about it again?
That will do for now.