Sunday, 30 March 2008

Retro Revival – the re-birth of cult favourites

Our memories of film and television we enjoyed in years gone by are either crystal clear or decidedly muddled; sometimes both at once. As we get older, the latter eventuality becomes more common. However, the increase of websites which help celebrate all things retro have helped us to remember. Video and now DVD were what first aided our recollections of those old movies and TV programmes. The former type of home entertainment is all but obsolete, but its replacement has provided the ideal home for cinematic and televisual treats from the past. The format closely represents the set-up of a well-designed website. Just one touch of the ‘enter’ button on the DVD player’s remote control and you can access any particular scene, view the bonus material on offer, if there are any, and choose whether you want to hear the commentary track or not.
The other way that classic TV and cinema is being celebrated is by the re-vamping of old favourites. In the twenty-first century, three prime examples of this have emerged: ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Flash Gordon’, and ‘The Bionic Woman’. The re-invention of these old shows challenge critics’ pre-conceptions of the validity of re-launching them, by telling these tales in a brand new way. At the head of the shows is ‘Doctor Who’, which came back to our TV screens in 2005. The familiar elements are still there, but Russell T. Davies, the man responsible for its return, has added new plot threads to it; the most important being that the planet of Gallifrey is no more. The changes have indeed made a huge difference to the show, as it is always high enough in the ratings for its future to be secure. Unfortunately, the same doesn’t appear to be true for ‘The Bionic Woman’. In spite of the best efforts of Michelle Ryan and her co-stars, as well as the creative team behind it, it doesn’t look like a second series will happen.
This, I have to say, is something of a shame. I’ve seen the opening episode, and the style and tone of it shows a good deal of promise, enough to warrant some dismay from myself that a second series hasn’t been approved. Then again, that’s the nature of US television.
Back here in the UK, ‘Doctor Who’ has not been the only example of the revival of home-grown science fiction. ‘The Quatermass Experiment’ was re-done, but as a live broadcast, just like the original, as was ‘A For Andromeda’, although that was pre-recorded effort. Neither of them, however, were as successful as the new set of adventures for the Time Lord.
The only loser in this resurgence of audience interest in sci-fi and fantasy is the adaptation of science fiction novels. The last endeavour to bring a tale in this literary genre to the small screen was ‘The Tripods’, based on the trilogy by John Christopher. Regrettably, only two-thirds of the entire series of novels was made. A decade before, Peter Dickinson’s three books, collectively called ‘The Changes’, were brought to TV, but the trilogy was condensed, and the third novel was largely absent from the adaptation as a whole. In spite of this, ‘The Changes’ is some-thing that I would really love to see re-made, but as a trilogy in the proper sense of the word, either on TV or as three movies. I feel there is an untapped well of material in these old programmes. In this area of drama, the past does fashion the future.

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