Friday, November 23, 2012

Question for the Week of Nov 19-25: Franchise Disillusionment

What's with you and franchises? What happened?
Well, I gave up on them; in fact, I see them as a near-guarantee of poor quality, these days. It's a sad turn of events, I guess, but I'll try to break down the different factors very clearly. First, tho, a little background:

My college roommate and I held multiple marathons or semi-marathons of the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street films. Fortunately, my roomie wasn't just a film-lover - he really enjoyed horror pix on multiple levels, just like I did. Those two series, particularly, are scary at times, but also silly, funny, dumb, messed-up, inventive, impressive, and clever. 

They're great for looking back at the 80's and 90's, too. It's not just the hair and clothes, these pictures feature a lot of surprising cast members (Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, Crispin Glover, Steven Williams...)...

And, since childhood, the Bond series was a big deal for me. I was raised to revere travel, and I loved the music, and I can't tell how many times I might have seen any one of the first 14 or so 007 movies. It might be why I wrote up No One Lives Forever. I was also a big fan of the original Star Wars trilogy and the Indiana Jones films - although I've had some problems with Jedi, as well as Temple of Doom and Last Crusade

I guess a lot of the damage started with the 1-2 punch of the Matrix sequels and the Star Wars prequels. Yes, Phantom Menace made no sense, but I was so happy for more SW that I was willing to play along - until I saw Attack of the Clones. That was so bad that I only saw RotS because (a) a date cancelled on me, (b) my roommate wanted to see it, and (c) I figured after parts 1 & 2, it'd be funny watching Anakin get maimed (answer: it was). That's right, I saw Star Wars RotS ironically.

But the damage couldn't've been too bad, because I was all over the The Lord of the Ring films. It wasn't just that I'm such a massive fan of Peter Jackson (yet, clearly, I am) - those movies were well done and very entertaining and I looked forward to each one. They had flaws, sure, but now, although I'm happy The Hobbit is moving forward, I don't feel as excited as I once did... And since I was also into the Harry Potter books, as with LotR, I probably saw the first three Potter films on the midnight of each release. 

The fx are just fine in this good scene, tho. Must be off of the DVD.

That covers a lot of the timeline of my history with film franchises, but we're still left with the question: what changed?

For one thing, the time/money problem became serious. Ticket prices rose, and I lack infinite money. Then I took a profession with high demands. I couldn't afford "wasting" time on likely duds - I needed "an excuse" to see hit-or-miss films. If friends were going, I'd go because I'd have a great time no matter what.

Another factor: the completely-confusing drop in quality control. It's harsh, but I've seen good child actors, and Daniel Radcliffe was at times terrible in HP1. Though he did improve, he was "who's nephew is he" bad. HP1 also had some bad editing and fx (the last three-headed dog bit), which is unforgivable for a high budget flick. Yet problems seemed to extend everywhere...

I remember the Scream sequels making me want my cash back. And I recall how let down I was even earlier by a franchise I love, because of Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection; yet I was still on board for Aliens vs Predator - As a kid, I read my brother's copy of the comic, and loved the super-awesome story I was going to get... Except, once I saw it with my roommate, we were blown away by its dullness and stupidity.

Later, I took a chance on small genre pix called Final Destination and Saw. Saw had many problems, but it was very unexpected; I was scared and engaged a lot, which was great. Final Destination looked decent, but had a tight story and a beautifully-wicked sense of humor. The sequels for both, were stale and cheap.

Resident Evil was not "movie magic," yet it was a very strong outing from a very weak premise; I reviewed it yet, but I promise that the film would be pretty good if you removed all the thrash metal tunes. Still, with another pal, I watched the follow-up - which was just awful, like college kids made it, really. An easy sports analogy: someone sinks 30 3-point shots in the 1st half, then miss 40 free-throws in the 2nd. 

Ok, so the bigtime kiddie franchise and horror series (both b-grade and a-grade) had failed me. And I still hadn't seen Matrix Revolutions or RotS yet! There must have been more, right? 

Yes. 28 Days Later was an amazing film. I'm a little intimidated to give it a full review, honestly. Somehow, 28 Weeks Later took that out-of-nowhere amazingness and created a pointless, unimpressive, non-starter of a horror film. Even worse, it tried to add some heavy-handed post September 11th "message" as a way of seeming deep; instead, it was just an annoying mess. 

The third Spider-man and X-Men films were resounding failures, on almost every level. The Superman reboot was just laughably bad. Ok, so those were just super-hero movies, right? It's not like slightly more down-to-earth stuff was... Oh wait.

One great strength of Bond pix were that they could be very simple. James's psychology was irrelevant - the patriotic spy/assassin was too busy to get into self-analysis. Another strength: the series combined outlandish, inventive plots with practical, real-life stunts. Even most stupid or crazy scenes would usually move along quickly and be replaced with less... ridiculous material. 

Tho they should never have used a slide-whistle sound!

Yet Pierce Brosnan's part of the series was surprisingly dim and uninteresting. Goldeneye's car chase with Xenia Onatopp had music out of a really lame Kia ad. Worse still, even for a 007 pic, they were incredibly shallow - with even more stupid puns, silly gadgets, and hot women. This sucked, tonally, because the pix tried to project a false impression of maturity and depth... While increasing product placement!

Again, in Goldeneye alone, the Bond Girl from that movie crudely psychoanalyzes her savior. It's showy, but she only just met him, so her words had no punch; it also sounds like ungrateful attitude to take with a rescuer. The writers just took a cheap, flawed route to make her seem tough or insightful. It had the opposite effect - for me, at least... Read it for yourself:
Natalya Simonova: You think I'm impressed? All of you with your guns, your killing, your death. For what? So you can be a hero? All the heroes I know are dead. How can you act like this? How can you be so cold?
James Bond: It's what keeps me alive.
Natalya Simonova: No. It's what keeps you alone.

All this was a real shock. Of his four entries, Brosnan made two mildly-enjoyable films and two unsatisfying ones; and even the decent parts didn't hold up long after I left the theater... I had hoped for Brosnan to take over for Dalton! I couldn't fathom how a storied franchise produced mediocre, uninspiring results.

So I was already over-cautious and a bit jaded by the time Indy 4 came out - and that was like pouring stale beer into a used ashtray, then drinking what's inside. It was like taking a dare and then breaking both of your legs so badly that you couldn't not regret it. My time/money = not 0.

I had to go with the Honest Trailer, as it's hard to find anything but the fridge scene. 

In short, I saw almost everything that I liked get turned into an audio-visual production line of shoddy pix - one that existed only as a money machine. This happened as my time and money became more and more precious to me. Since I wasn't stealing films off the interwebs, my cinematic choices came at a loss.

I couldn't accept that productions with massive financial support played out badly! I was watching something that made Troma films come off like Shakespeare. Film-makers didn't seem to care much about good direction, good sets, good dialogue or acting... And I was paying them for sucking at their jobs!

By the time I got to Spidey 3, a surprise let-down from Sam Raimi, the entire idea of major movie franchises was on thin ice with me. When I learned that Raimi's series was being cancelled in order to reboot it, I think the ice finally broke. The reason why franchises went to the bottom of my to-watch list was that I had changed for the better, and a lot of films seemed to have changed for the worse.

The things that used to make me choose a movie: the story, and/or the actors, and/or the script. More and more, I saw that none of it mattered. Even my best deciding factor - the director/writer - proved to be unsteady, since I didn't much enjoy Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, or Tim Burton's horrific Planet of the Apes (and later, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I won't even bother discussing Transformers...

The only good thing to come out of Burton's effort. Or J&SBSB. But it is great.

Ultimately, when all of the reliability and common sense felt stripped out - Tim Burton's Apes was made by a director with massive pull, not at all like Fox screwing Fincher over on Alien 3 - I simply had nothing left to look forward to; at least, not when it came to franchise films. In the end, all I can say is that I shifted my attention to other pix, and decided to approach tentpole films and franchises like I would a wounded animal: wearing enough clothes that I'm almost in armor, and expecting that I'll probably get bitten.

And then need rabies shots.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Chime in!