Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Fiction that won me back

People who know me know that I'm extremely picky and stubborn like a mule. When I get a notion into my head I'm loathe to reverse my position. Growing up, I was a terrible problem for my family whenever they wanted to see a movie in the theater because I would veto most of what the cinemas were offering. And once I decided I didn't like something, I would remain steadfast in my resolve.

This being so, let's look at three times where I had set myself against a project - only to be won back.

I watched a fair bit of Mission: Impossible growing up, starting with the 1980s revival series, then seeing the original program when it ran in reruns on FX. It was often an uneven series (particularly in the later years) but there are many episodes which I can point to as great television. The series also had a great number of repeated tropes, moments which would appear in virtually every episode and so would be anticipated each time - and then surprised in those episodes which didn't follow the typical Mission: Impossible formula.

I did not like Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible. Oh, how much did I not like this film. As a Mission: Impossible fan, I simply couldn't stand seeing the program's hero - Jim Phelps - turned into a villain then thrown under the bus in order to promote Tom Cruise as the new hero. This film angered me, so much so that I couldn't appreciate any of the craft which went into its much-admired stunts.

Many years later I found myself on a flight from Canada to Sierra Leone and noticed Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol among the in-flight entertainment. After getting through the films I really wanted to see, I lowered my expectations in order to give Ghost Protocol a shot. I reasoned that while it wouldn't be the Mission: Impossible I enjoyed, as it was directed by a director I enjoyed (Brad Bird) maybe I'd get something out of it. I was won over by the time the opening credits rolled.

The bongo music - the fuse moving across the screen - the clips of upcoming moments - wow. Instantly, I gleaned that Brad Bird might have been a fan of the original series. I became immersed in that film and enjoyed that it was - like the original series - an ensemble piece (that is, less of a Tom Cruise vehicle). So many of the trademarks of the television program were present, from stealth gadgets to changing room numbers to trick people. I enjoyed this film so much I went to see Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation on its opening weekend! Ghost Protocol remains a film I would happily watch again.

I came somewhat late into Star Trek fandom, arriving just as Star Trek: Voyager launched. I went back to catch all that I had missed and soon found there were episodes I liked, other episodes not-so-much, characters I liked, characters I loathed. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine became my favourite of the franchise I still watched Voyager to the end - gradually realizing it wasn't that great, often viewing it from a sense of inertia and seldom engaged with the stories, but it wasn't bad enough to switch channels.

Then came Enterprise. Although I had misgivings about the series' approach to continuity, I respected that the program wanted to break out of the usual tropes and find a new angle on the Trek formula in order to attract a wider audience. I gave the first season some rope and found it likeable enough. That changed with season 2, particularly with the notorious "A Night in Sickbay" episode, but also a series of other similarly lousy programs. I gave up partway into the season and decided I was done with Trek. I ignored what I heard about the show's changes in seasons 3 & 4.

One day, a friend eagerly insisted I watch the season 4 two-parter "A Mirror Darkly." I spent a great deal of time laughing at the over-the-top performances and the audacious number of references to classic Trek. This convinced me to go back and see the rest of season 4 to discover what the series' new showrunner (Manny Coto) had done to improve the series. I ultimately judged he had made the show a solid good program and felt better about how Trek's TV franchise wound up. Still, some fans insisted the show had actually become good in season 3. Eventually I would watch everything I had missed (including more of the lousy season 2 episodes) and concluded that it had actually become decent near the end of season 2 and even hit an all-time high during its 3rd season. Enterprise didn't deserve a better chance - simply being Star Trek gave it a better chance than most programs - but, like every Trek program, if you ignore the really bad episodes it's not such an awful series.

Finally, Star Wars. I've blogged before about how Star Wars was a very important franchise to me in my childhood but how I began to feel disinterested even before Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released. That feeling continued throughout the era of prequel films. I recognized the product as a legitimate Star Wars offering, yet had a sense of disassociation, not feeling any emotion about seeing the product. This finally changed when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which offered some compelling new characters alongside a hefty dose of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is the common bond between these franchises. To win me back to Mission: Impossible, it took an homage to the original series opening; for Enterprise, it was bringing in the Mirror Universe; for Star Wars, it was familiar characters and situations. But I would say in each instance nostalgia was a means to an end, not a means unto itself. Beyond the nostalgia I sensed in the opening of Ghost Protocol, I enjoyed the risky stunts and character interplay. Enterprise dug deep into franchise lore for its 4th season, but it also worked hard to rehabilitate its own characters, particularly by calling out its lead character (Jonathan Archer) for his sins. Finally, The Force Awakens trod upon familiar soil, but it was the new character Finn who gave me hope for the franchise's future.

How about you? Is there a series or franchise which you came to dislike, then found yourself being won back?

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