Monday, June 22, 2009

Franchise Movies: Filling Screens in a Theater Near You

By David Luhrssen
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Recently, a Hollywood executive stated, “Anything that can’t be sold as a genre film or wasn’t conceived as a franchise is dead.” From the standpoint of an industry driven entirely by unrealistic projections of profit, with no concern about art, little interest in craft or sense for entertainment (beyond dollars and cents), genre pictures and franchises are the safest bets. There’s always a market for crime thrillers, horror and “chick flicks.” Make them cheap, and you can probably make money. And franchises, though always expensive, are seen as the geese that keep laying those golden eggs.

Sometimes wannabe franchises movies lay an egg of another kind. We’ve never been treated to Wild WildWest II because nobody cared for the first one. Likewise, any future iteration of Cat Woman would have to be “reimagined, not remade,” in Hollywoodspeak. Sometimes franchises run out of steam and, years later, regain momentum. Batman is the best example. Sometimes they come to seem out of touch with the times. Superman may have met that fate—at least for the time being.

Occasionally, franchises reach high levels of artistry or at least seem to rise above the level of SFX rollercoaster ride. Harry Potter may well be the franchise that got better as it got rolling. And don’t forget: The Godfather and Lord of the Rings trilogies could be defined as franchises. Single directors, determined to maintain integrity, oversaw both. As trilogies, they had a beginning, middle and end. In theory they can’t be milked indefinitely, but then again, Tolkien’s prelude to the Rings, The Hobbit, is in production, and who can say that someone won’t concoct a prequel to The Godfather, starring Shia La Beouf as a young Don Corleone.

But even having a single director insures little in the end. George Lucas decided to release a second Star Wars trilogy, but many fans wished he had left well enough alone.

Summer is franchise season and 2009 has already seen several come and go. First from the gate was X-MenOrigins: Wolverine, followed by Star Trek, Terminator Salvation, Angels & Demons and Night at theMuseum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Up next: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Harry Potter and theHalf-Blood Prince and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. So far, only Star Trek seems to have made a deep impression on audiences.

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