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Canon fodder, posted by Enrique G

“Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record…”

       Leonard Shelby, Memento

Given Hollywood’s propensity for mining old ideas for new revenue streams, we’ve all heard these complaints at one time or another:

They’ve ruined my favorite childhood memories.

What right do they have to change that?  It was fine in the original!

They raped my childhood.

The last one in particular jumped out most recently in a discussion reproduced here in The Basement, spurred by the issue of a new toy from the G.I. Joe movie being released this summer.  That would ostensibly be the same G.I. Joe that was a cartoon series from the mid-1980s.  Which was itself little more than episode length commercials for the G.I. Joe toy line being issued by Hasbro in 1985.  Said toy line being itself a retooling of its own toy line from the late 1960s that was eventually renamed Adventure Team when Hasbro opted to downplay the war theme of the toy in the wake of the Vietnam War (this according to Wikipedia, so take with a grain of salt).

As you can see from the long history of the franchise, a creation can sometimes undergo multiple revolutions over time, if the core idea is marketable but the current approach doesn’t appeal to the present audience/market.  And this is just from a franchise that was commercially successful.  One that didn’t have marketability may wind up being reborn as something completely different, bearing only the same name from one conception to another.

The question criticism such as Sam’s raises is at what point is the fan’s personal investment great enough that fan service can or should potentially trump creative license with an established character or franchise?

It’s not a frivolous question.  In my mind, I think I heard the issue raised most vocally in response to the Star Wars prequels, and the “Special Editions” of the originals that Lucas released prior to the prequels.  On a more personal level, I found myself wrestling with the question more deeply in the aftermath of the latest installment of the Indiana Jones series.

The day after I saw the film, I recall having a discussion on IM with some of the people I saw it with.  The conversation went something along the lines of:

Me: I can’t believe how much they fucked up the character.  I mean seriously, Indy would never work for the government!  Why the hell they had to bring in that whole OSS line boggles me.

Friend: Well, you know that’s not entirely true.  I mean…he was working for the government in the first one.

Me: And they screwed him over for the Ark of the Covenant!  Why the hell would he go back to work for them after that?

Friend: He hates Nazis more than he hates the government.

Me: …

Me: Yeah, but still…!

Here’s the thing: I think we were both right.  There’s one interpretation for how things could have gone post-Raiders of the Lost Ark that says Indy’s so hacked for not getting the Ark into the hands of academia for study that he swears off having anything to do with the government again.  In this world, my interpretation of the character/mythos, that’s the story and I’m sticking to it.

Except…my friend is also right.  Indy’s got to hate the Nazi’s as much or more, given all he went through in Last Crusade fighting to beat them to the Holy Grail.  I mean, they almost killed Indy’s father for chrissakes!  And leaving even that aside, given the nature of the Nazi threat, to think that a hero like Indiana Jones would put his personal issues before keeping a fascist army from amassing relics that could lead to the domination of the entire world is madness.  It may be a devil’s bargain, but it’s one I could very easily see him keeping.

And yes, I’m spending time dissecting the motivations of fictional character and what he may or may not have done in the days/months/years that were not a part of a movie series I watch religiously.  At this point, I just consider it a small favor that I’ve never even once remotely entertained entering the world of writing fanfic.  There are some secrets man was just not meant to know.

I had to further examine my stance on this sort of thing in light of a discussion I had with someone about (of all things) a downloadable song for Rock Band.  It seems Jimmy Buffett is a big fan of the game and wanted to make three songs of his available for download: “Volcano”, “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, and “Margaritaville”.  I had friends over after I’d picked up the tracks, and we started in on “Margaritaville”.  We were through the first couple of lyrics when one friend started balking.

“What is this crap?”

“What do you mean?”

“This isn’t how the song sounds when I hear it on the radio!”

I considered this for a moment.  “Well, no, I read he went into the studio and rerecorded the tracks so that they could be usable for the game.  The original masters weren’t in a format that would allow the programmers to code it right.”

“Well, fuck that.  This isn’t ‘Margaritaville’!  I object.”

“For crying out loud, it’s his song, he can do with it what he wants.”

The hypocrisy of this stance in relation to my bitching about Indy didn’t dawn on me until much later on.  It’s George Lucas’s character.  And I’m talking about how HE got it wrong.

Dear God, I’d turned into Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

The fact is, there are plenty of artistic criticisms that I can level against Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that deal strictly with the narrative strengths and weaknesses of the story.  These can be legitimate criticisms and reflective of my opinion that have nothing to do with the idea that a character would or would not do something because of some mythology I’d invented for him in my own head.

And the fact is arguing something goes against canon is always a dangerous game.  What defines true canon?  Just the three Indy movies?  Or is “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” part of the mythos too?  Where there are conflicts, how do you resolve them?  You can drive yourself right batshit crazy trying to pin down or explain away every little inconsistency, while failing to really appreciate the forest for the trees.

Or take the James Bond franchise for another example.  I recall after seeing Quantum of Solace hearing people bitching in the lobby afterwards because either there weren’t enough pithy one-liners or that the ones Daniel Craig offered up weren’t up to the usual Bond standards.  I remember just silently thinking, “THIS is what you’re hanging your enjoyment of a movie on?  That the hero wasn’t sufficiently snarky?  Seriously?”

I love what they’ve done with the Bond reboot because they’re rolling elements from one chapter into the next, thereby making the character’s evolution a more visible, real thing.  I love the fact that Daniel Craig not only looks suave in a tuxedo, but also like somebody who could actually kill someone in cold blood and not lose a night of sleep over it….except that he might.  And these are all perfectly valid reasons to appreciate the work…for me.  For someone else, his or her mileage may vary on that point, finding the character’s more about macho escapism than anything.

Canon (like a memory) really is what you make of it.

I’ve been finding myself thinking about this a lot more recently because two of the summer tent pole releases coming out next month threaten to open up a whole metric assload of fanboy hatred and debate over violations of canon.  X-Men Origins: Wolverine looks like it is incorporating some elements of the characters history in the comics, but also doing some things that are wholly invented for the film itself.  And I’ve heard long and loud about how just the TRAILER for J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek looks to be completely rewriting the history of Roddenberry’s characters as though the entire series never existed.  And God knows, Trekkies can argue canon with the best of them.

But does that make them inherently right or wrong?

From the G.I. Joe discussion linked above, Mike sees the reimagining of Cobra Commander as a “short metrosexual version of Jason X”.  I personally would have gone more with an overenthusiastic practitioner of body modification but whatever floats your boat.  If Sam would have them stay closer to the spirit of the 80s cartoon he would instead look like…

Darth Helmet from Spaceballs with a folded hubcap for a faceplate?

One of the crew extras from Disney’s The Black Hole, swapping the monk’s robes for fetishwear?

Or if opting for the hooded Cobra Commander, a luchador wannabe?  Cosby Kid Dumb Donald’s S&M cousin?

Ok, I’m trying to provoke an eruption of Sam hate with my snark, but seriously…we’re going to base an evaluation of the interpretation of a movie character from cartoon series to live action movie based on a molded plastic figurine, likely made in a country where they may not have even seen trailers for the movie, let alone the finished product.  (Leave discussions of pirated copies out of this argument for the time being.)

I have my skepticisms about a G.I. Joe movie because I have absolute zero faith in Stephen Sommers as a director.  He makes popcorn movies that are (in my opinion) completely devoid of any real spirit or soul.  He hopes you get completely lost in the spectacle of the effects (or in the case of Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing, the leather) and don’t notice that his characters make the cast of Order of the Stick and XKCD look three-dimensional by comparison.

But the reality is that I could care less about whether it adheres to anything from the cartoon show.  I enjoyed it well enough when I was a kid/early teen.  I crushed on Scarlett as a character, possibly my first redhead infatuation (and to that end, whatever they might be doing wrong with Cobra Commander, they are doing oh so right with Sienna Miller as Scarlett.  Frankly my dear, I’d give her more than a damn any day of the week).

But for fuck’s sake, for a super secret, top level trained bunch of military commandos, they couldn’t hit a Cobra soldier with their firearms if the fuckwit was standing a foot in front of them.  They made Star Trek redshirts and Imperial Stormtroopers look like crack shots in comparison.  And the stories and dialogue were…less than intellectual, shall we say.

But it’s easy for me to mock because I’m not wedded to the show the way Sam is, if in fact he’s wedded to it at all.  Hell, he may just hate on the new Cobra Commander because that’s the last thing he saw before he got his caffeine fix for the day.  That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong in the way we view what we see in the toys or the trailers, nor what we take away from the movie if either of us sees it when it releases.

I think in the end, Scott Kurtz, who draws the webcomic PVP hit it right when the Star Wars “Special Editions” were released on DVD.  I can’t see Indiana Jones the way I did when I was 9 and had to leave the auditorium during the Well of the Souls scene because the snakes freaked me out too badly.  I should be seeing Crystal Skull through an adult’s eyes because much as I might fight it at times, I am an adult.

Trying to fight that or argue the virtues of canon turns me into Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard even as it makes the argument more about me and my feelings and less about the merits of the work.

“I AM big…it’s the pictures that got small.”