A while back, mass media noticed something that happens to every generation. Namely, nostalgia sells. It turns out the stuff we liked as a kid, we still like. This works out great for TV and movie producers of today, because they can just recycle the ideas of yesterday. For some reason, though, two things almost always happen. First, the studios make a boatload of money. Second, the resulting revival sucks. Why does this happen? Well, you can point your fingers at writers not doing the research or at corporate meddling or things of that nature, and certainly those are factors, but my personal theory is as follows: It isn’t that it sucks NOW. It’s that it either STILL sucks, or doesn’t suck ANYMORE.
You are confused, I can tell. Well, before we get started, let me just say that I’m going to be talking about some plot details here, so if you see the name of something you haven’t seen but want to see, just skip the rest of the post. For the rest of you, the root of the problem is that you liked this stuff years ago, when you were younger and more foolish, probably when you were a little kid. Little kids aren’t the most discerning viewers. Let’s take Tranformers for example. People complained that the movies were mindless special effects-fests, had idiotic plots, and had blatant product placement. Meanwhile, the show was about cars that look cool that turn into robots that look cool and shoot lasers at other robots that look cool. Not a terribly deep and nuanced oeuvre. I mean, we are talking about a show that had a pastiche of middle eastern countries named Carbombya. Subtle brilliance was not its selling point. In fact, SELLING was its selling point. It was a series created to sell toys. Not putting product placement in the movie would have not only been a departure from the source material, it would have been impossible, since it wouldn’t have been able to have any Transformers in it. Say what you will about Michael Bay’s spin on the series, it hit every note in the original tune, then cranked up the volume and tossed in Megan Fox for good measure. And God bless him for it.
What’s that you say? Indiana Jones? Crystal Skull is a stain upon the series because it had aliens? Well, let’s not forget that this is the same series of films that had Nazi-melting sand, mind control blood, and immortal crusaders. Granted they chose a different flavor of scifi and mythology than you are accustomed to, but we are still just dealing with the supernatural. Crystal Skull also gave us Indiana Jones surviving a nuclear blast in a fridge, whereas the only things we’ve had to swallow up until now were surviving a jump out of an airplane using an inflatable raft and the amazing lava coaster in temple of doom. (I personally posit that having drunk the Jesus Juice of Imortality ™ from the holy grail, he probably didn’t even need the fridge to survive the blast, but this is a matter of hot debate here at BLHQ, so we’ll leave it be.)
So it turns out half of the stuff we remember isn’t half as good as we remember. This sets up those tasked with bringing it back for a lose-lose. They can either change it to bring it in line with contemporary concepts of quality, or they can remain 100% faithful. Both of these have pitfalls with a dedicated enough fanbase. If you go the faithful route, you effectively alienate viewers who never saw the original. You’ll end up with a big budget rebirth that modern kids don’t care about and modern adults feel silly watching because of how juvenile it is. Not only that, you’ll get people who say that the new folks screwed it up by not "exploring it" or "deepening it" or "extending it" or all sorts of weaselly words that pretty much mean "changing it." If you do change it, well hold on tight, because this is going to be rough.
First off, you changed it wrong. It doesn’t matter how you changed it, it was wrong. This is because while the franchise has evolved to mythic status in the minds of its followers, it has also mutated into an unrecognizable monstrosity. For the people who don’t demand that it be utterly unchanged, pieces have been mentally sliced out, others have been wedged in. Relationships have suddenly appeared from wishful thinking. Take a look at some fanfics if you want to see some of the dark and twisted extremes this can go to. "Why didn’t they expand on the obvious sexual tension between Optimus Prime and Bumble Bee? OMG Suxors!" Worse is when the update wasn’t to follow the old fans into their new level of maturity, but instead was to make it suitable to the same age groups as it originally had, just for a new generation. Then the "WTF kid stuff" starts.
The most confounding thing about all of this is that the remakes that "raped our childhood" tend to make huge money. I realize that doesn’t make them good, but it does make them good enough. It means they were able to pull in the old fans, and some new ones. It means that people today liked it. And most of all, it means that your beloved franchise gets to live again, even if it is in a Pet Sematary not-what-you-put-in-the-ground sort of way.
I’ve focused mainly on kid-show-to-movie in this piece mostly because those are popular right now, but the same goes for sequels, adaptations, and reboots in all forms of media. Heck, it doesn’t even have to go away for it to happen. Look at the Simpsons or Sonic the Hedgehog and watch the hatred grow as the years roll forward. Some of the reasons change, but the reactions are the same. Unless you are one of the lucky ones, like X-Men 1 and 2, Iron Man, or Batman Begins, pick up a beloved property and you can expect a frothing fanbase. In the end it is just another example of "You can tell how much he loved it then by how much he hates it now." Nothing can ever match what you think you remember. I guess I’m lucky, then, that I’m not really passionate about anything. It means I can see something like Tranformers 2 and enjoy it for what it is, a $150 million syringe full of Mountain Dew injected directly into my eyeballs. Let me tell you, it is as awesome as it sounds.