Sequels, adaptations, spin offs, remakes, reboots... There is no doubt that contemporary popular culture is characterised by a ‘serial logic’. These practices follow an economic imperative, but they also produce an ‘aesthetic of repetition’ (Ndalianis, 2004: 33) in which adaptations, sequels and remakes complicate their relationship with the ‘original’ and show a high degree of self-reflexivity, inviting the audience to engage in an intertextual interpretative game in which the original and the new version must be compared (Littau, 2011; Ndalianis, 2004; Proctor, 2012).
Remakes and reboots open up fictional universes to new audiences, broadening their fan base and encouraging these new audiences to revisit the original. But at the same time, each new version creates tensions and anxieties among the original fans, stirring up debates about authenticity, fidelity, creativity and authorship (Hills, 2003; Gray, 2010; Tompkins, 2014). For example, CBS's remake of MacGyver prompted many comments from fans of the original series who complained that not only was the new series poor quality, but it did not respect the spirit of the original: ‘a good reboot (…) will put its own spin on things. But at the same time, you should not destroy the core of the concept that made the original popular in the first place’ (IMDB, ‘Mucked-Gyver‘, Wizard-8, 24 September 2016).
Moreover, self-reflexivity in remakes can encourage viewers to apply 'forensic' fandom practices (Mittell, 2015: 52, 261-291; see also Ford, 2014: 63-65) in order to question and problematise the relationship between the original and the new version. Westworld (HBO, 2016) is an interesting case study. It is a remake of Michael Crichton's 1973 movie Westworld (which, at the same time had a sequel, Futureworld [Heffron, 1976] and a cancelled TV series, Beyond Westworld [CBS, 1980]). HBO's series is a perfect example of a complex and drillable text (Mittell, 2015), which encourages fans to carry out forensic practices such as analysis, mystery solving and, most importantly, developing and sharing theories in forums such as reddit (which has now more than 135,000 subscribers).
Westworld includes several references to the movie (such as the presence of the Gunslinger, who is a character from the movie, in episode 6), showing a high degree of intertextuality and self-reflexivity. Even before the series' pilot was aired, several viewers asked the reddit community whether they should watch the movie. Some of the answers argued that watching the movie would improve the viewing experience, foreseeing the existence of intertextual references: ‘(...) I think there will likely be Easter eggs in the series from the movie’ (XXX_Mandor, 11 July 2016). After the show premiered, other posters pointed to the incorporation of the original movie into the viewers' ‘mystery-solving’ activities: ‘(...) It's definitely not going to spoil anything but could provide some fun fuel for speculation’ (Deliriousjoker, 17 October 2016). As intertextual references to the film kept on appearing in the series, some fans started questioning what the real relationship between the film and the series was, discussing whether these references were just Easter Eggs or evidence of something else:
The show may or may not be a sequel to the movie so I would watch it just in case. (Rickgrimesfan123, 8 October 2016).
- (...) [the appearance of the Gunslinger in episode 6] It seems to confirm that the show is a sequel to the movie and to confirm what the "disaster" or "incident" or whatever of 30 years ago was. (ArbitraryLettersXYZ, 7 November 2016)
- Or it's simply an Easter Egg (Littlebill1138, 7 November 2016)
In these debates, Westworld's showrunners (Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy) were usually mentioned in order to support a specific theory or not (‘The showrunners have already debunked this’ [cruzercruz, 7 November 2016]), while also acknowledging the playful and creative nature of fans’ speculation, going beyond the authors' intentions: ‘I have just read that interview with them [Westworld's showrunners] saying not to look too much into it [the appearance of the Gunslinger]. Yeah, like that's going to happen’ [ArcticConvoy, 8 November 2016].
Although these debates are not at the centre of the fans’ discussion about Westworld, they are relevant because they show how fandom practices add complexity to the already complex relationship between ‘original’ and ‘new version’. In this case, forensic fandom practices include watching the original movie to gain knowledge about the fictional world, finding pleasure in comparing different versions of a fictional world, and incorporating the original text into practices of mystery-solving.
Ford, S. (2014). Fan studies: Grappling with an 'Undisciplined' discipline. The Journal of Fandom Studies, 2(1): 53–71.
Gray, J. (2010). Show sold separately: Promos, spoilers, and other media paratexts. Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts. New York: New York University Press.
Hills, M. (2003). Putting away childish things: Jar Jar Binks and the ‘virtual star' as an object of fan loathing. In: Austin, T., & Barker, M. (eds.) Contemporary Hollywood Stardom. London: Arnold, pp. 74-89.
Littau, K. (2011). Media, mythology and morphogenesis: Aliens. Convergence: The international journal of research into new media technologies, 17(1): 17-36.
Mittell, J. (2015). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York: New York University Press.
Ndalianis, A. (2004). Neo-baroque aesthetics and contemporary entertainment. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Proctor, W. (2012). Regeneration and Rebirth: Anatomy of the Franchise Reboot. Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies, 22: 1–19.
Tompkins, J. (2014). ‘Re-Imagining the Canon’: Examining the Discourse of Contemporary Horror Film Reboots. New Review of Film and Television Studies 12(4): 380–99.