What Should You Want a Franchise to Do Next?

I cannot say I’m a die hard Die Hard fan, not just because that’s a pun, but also because it’s true. However, what the chatter about the latest Die Hard did reveal to me is that even in disappointment, which is the fairly universal reaction to the latest installment, there are different grades of frustration. Furthermore, differing thoughts on what the future of the franchise should be by those who hold it dear.

Essentially, what struck me as most interesting to write about was examining the logic of differing plans through the spectrum of my feelings on other series’.

One of the first I heard can be succinctly described as “Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That.” In other words, “Why end the series on a sour note?” However, if I were to apply that to a series I truly liked there would need to be something that I wanted to see salvaged. Because on the surface it can seem a contrarian statement to say “Man, that wasn’t very good, they’ve got to make another one.” However, I do get the sentiment. I think a series in my mind that has gone off course but can still be righted is say the Final Destination films. So far as Die Hard goes, I don’t think a third generation is an eventual solution or becoming further spy-oriented. Again, not a die hard, so I won’t over-speculate.

Hellraiser (1987, New World Pictures)

As opposed to continuing and just fixing the story, another reaction that’s possible it to want to go back to square one. I doubt this would be satisfactory to Die Hard fans. I know it’s a course of action I would accept as a fan of the Hellraiser concept and works wherein Barker was involved, that series is so far from healthy, restarting is the only way to come close to his intention for the character. Especially when the last film prompted Barker to respond that this particular plot it didn’t even come from his a-hole much less his mind, one wonders how worried about being true-to-form Dimension really are. In Die Hard terms, I find it hard to believe an attempt that doesn’t involve Bruce Willis would be made any time soon. The reboot option may only come when he’s really, really old and plays a humorous cameo wherein my generation and those above can tell the youngins that he made the first one and it was better.

So righting the ship and a reboot are options, but not viable ones in this series. The other two options that are theoretically possible would be a prequel, which also doesn’t makes sense here, and just ending it. These two seem to be the two hardest options to accept when your the fan of a franchise. Usually my litmus test about a prequel, or a tale in the same realm being told, is involvement of the originator of the series, like if Rowling pursued other wizarding stories or pursued a new strand of tales with her triad.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001, Warner Bros.)

Another determining factor is: is there room for narrative growth? Lucas had plans for more Star Wars, so now that the decision about proceeding on a new installment belongs to someone else; it’s happening and that’s fine by me. The reported stand-alones are too. The differentiation between the Star Wars and Harry Potter properties is one of time and ownership. So far as we know, lest we get new indications otherwise, Rowling’s world-building is complete. Lucas’ plan was always longer.

Few franchises have a grand design, and that prompts many follow-ups to come about due to responding to questions such as “Well, why not?” or “Well, what now?” Those with a grand design seem to have more staying power, and those who are consistently trying to re-invent the wheel are gambling more.

In the end, I believe “The Ain’t Going Out Like That” school should be the one we feel a film falls into least. A desired abandonment, as nihilistic as it may sound, could be the preferred reaction to most disappointing late-franchise sequels. The cessation of installments ends the false hope, that no matter if we know better, that part of us always holds onto believing that an intangible piece of the first film’s magic will come along into the second, third, fourth and fifth. So perhaps rather than wanting it to be fixed perhaps a franchise we feel is broken should be left alone until it heals or dies.

Dario Argento Says No to Prequels

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a horror convention that Dario Argento was attending. The following is a repost based on questions that I and a friend of mine were able to ask.

While at a Q & A session at Monster-Mania I managed to ask a question. It was as follows:

Considering that the flashback that acts as a frame in Deep Red is one of my favorite flashbacks have you [Argento] ever considered expanding that story into a prequel?

The answer was short, sweet and pretty funny.

“No, no, no. That’s a joke; for money. The movie is the movie.”

Review- Prometheus

I spent a good amount of time getting caught up on my reviewing. There’s no logical explanation as to why I get back-logged save for procrastination, but having said that I knew that I needed to have Prometheus last. Now, just the fact that I felt the need to stew on the film a bit longer is proof that there is a bit more to it than other films that just flat-out didn’t work at all. So in that regard, I do have to give it a grudging amount of respect, however, that was already there by the implication of its plot and the trappings. It’s not the aims of Prometheus that are so bothersome, but rather how it goes about trying to achieve said aims and fails.

As soon as you get aboard the Prometheus, the eponymous ship, you’re introduced to a rather different aim than in Alien, this is not strictly a cargo ship but a mission with a loftier goal, seeking the alien race that theoretically populated the earth. Essentially, seeking what we’ve come to call God. This is intimated visually with an archeological site, but we as an audience discover this when Elizabeth Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) memory is read. Granted this gives us some insight into both David (Michael Fassbender) and her but it’s an extremely clumsy way to introduce her theological views, especially when she’s not necessarily shy about sharing them with any and all who ask.

If a film wants to be a precursor to another film, inhabit its universe but not really have any drastic ties that bind it to the original film chronologically, I have no problem with that. I have been, on multiple occasions been surprised by a prequel or a remake, even when I saw the original product first, however, what confounds me about Prometheus is that it sets some pretty different aims in the beginning and then seems to spend much of the first and into the second act of the film doing a pale, sterilized impersonation of Alien, which makes you think maybe the God plot is a MacGuffin and you’re really going to get a rehash. It’s not the fact that it’s misdirection that bothers me, clearly films need to misdirect audiences for certain payoffs but it’s the amount of time dedicated to and the certain lack of follow-through and dispelling the other track that really gets to me.

There are more than a few rehashed tropes from the initial series of films that really don’t add that much drama or significance to this film. One of the most annoying ones is the character of David and his nature. This was a pretty huge reveal in the first film to both audience and characters involved, yet here it’s played blatantly and everyone knows. Well, why does an earlier crew know something a later crew doesn’t? Is it the nature of the manifest or something else?

I recognize that certain mysteries and certain tricks are harder to pull on multiple occasions, but it does sort of make you wonder why certain elements are even being reintroduced. If you’re wiping the slate clean, wipe it all the way clean. This way all the plot twists have impact. Instead, there are multiple sequences in this film that are just utterly hollow because I can already tell where a particular plot is going and there’s no real drama in its outcome. One of the more effective prequels in recent memory was Rise of the Planet of the Apes, simply because they rewound so far back in the narrative there was really no telling how you’d get from point A to B to C.

So there’s a major portion of the film that’s really just Alien Lite or Alien for Dummies, if you prefer but then there’s the part where something new is trying to be accomplished and the focus completely drifts away from it for rather significant stretches and when the film’s focus drifts what hope do we as an audience have or caring?

Is there more to this story than I’m giving credit for? Yes. However, part of the impetus for me (or almost anyone) to plunder the deeper depths of the film for meaning is a willingness to dig. What makes one willing to dig? Having something to latch onto in the first place, and there’s nothing that really gives you a handhold here. I’ve seen some commentary and read some reviews around that were rather interesting. Once cited Contact as a good double feature. The seeking some sort of greater meaning in the far reaches of the universe theme is there, but despite the surprise ending, the through-line of Contact is rather clear and never clouded. Many people disliked it for what it was or because of what they considered to be a deus ex machina in the story-line, but I’ve never seen anyone cite that it was confused about what it wanted to be. Relating back to the digging deeper comment I made above, A.O. Scott makes a fascinating comparison between the David of this film and the David in Artificial Intelligence: A.I., even as seemingly perplexed as I was walking out of that film for the first time there was something there I knew I liked it a lot, I just couldn’t put my finger on what. I’ve read some things and come to realize some things about Prometheus since I’ve seen it but none of it has illuminated it in my mind. It’s not a sense of revelation like I had after I walked out of The Turin Horse, it’s kind of like finding the occasional diamond in a pile of garbage; sure you have a diamond but you still feel dirty. The revelations do nothing because they’re not big enough and granted some films can get too grandiose, especially when failure is the more likely outcome but after a certain point there’s just an emotional flatline in this film that could’ve been at least jostled slightly by something pertaining to the purported point of this endeavor that could’ve helped.

Those are the more technical, narrative aspects. On the visceral front those shortcomings proved to make this my most boring moviegoing experience since Cowboys and Aliens. Note, I did not and will not say it’s that bad. This film does have a lot more going for it than that did, which I’ll get too but it’s by no stretch of the imagination enjoyable.

The film is unquestionably beautiful to look at, the effects work is pretty bullet-proof and while 3D isn’t amongst the very best I’ve seen it’s quite good and doesn’t distract or interfere with the experience at all. For more detail on the 3D from someone who appreciated that aspect a lot more than I did I refer you to CinemaBlend.

Most of the actors do what they can with the limited, usually one note characters they are given to work with. I wish Charlize Theron was given more range to work with, as her coldness in this does get a bit trite and it seems like she and Rapace are fighting over who gets to squeeze into the Weaver mold next. The slight power struggle is a bit enjoyable, but also a bit repetitive. However, some of the performances do fall a bit flat also namely Logan Marshall-Green, Sean Harris and Rafe Spall.

Sadly, Prometheus is an unmitigated mess. Some messy films can end up being lovely regardless of that fact, but this film never really has that chance. It’s pulled in different directions and slapped together with glue and scotch tape, as refined and brilliant as some of the images are, the construction and handling of the narrative is equally inelegant.

3/10

61 Days of Halloween- Halloween (2007)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween (2007)

Daeg Faerch in Halloween (Dimension)

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is one of the most confoundingly schizophrenic horror films in the history for the genre. Rarely, if ever do you see unabashed greatness and miscalculation fight so mightily with each other for screen time.

You have here such juxtaposition such that I’ve revisited the film several times. A great film is rarely as compelling and fascinating as one that squanders greatness somewhere along the way and this film does that perhaps in more spectacular fashion than almost any film.

The film follows Young Michael for 35 minutes. Most of those minutes are riveting, even when there are shortcomings it is still engaging because it is brand new material. The mistake in this film was to ever age Michael.

I am not arguing that Zombie needed to be beholden to the continuity of the original series. It would just have been a much more effective tale had you examined Michael further and left him right on the brink of what he was about to do on Halloween. There was a room for it. You could’ve witnessed the trial shown more of him being responsive to Loomis before he shuts down. He could create more havoc in the institution.

And conversely the sequel could be a condensed version of all that he and Laurie go through with a lot of the fat trimmed out. However, for what the film does decide to do there are still areas where execution could’ve been better.

The first 35 minutes of the film are the epitome of horror and here’s why it gets under your skin and makes you so terribly uncomfortable: A case in point would be Michael’s first kill. You sympathize completely with Michael due to the bullying Wesley subjects him to. However, when Michael gets his revenge his assault is so brutal it’s stomach-turning. So you’re left with this unease and ambivalence that is just jaw-droppingly horrific. The same can be said for his disposal of his family. It’s not necessarily that there is even sympathy for the victims so much that his killing is so brutally assured that it’s bone-chilling.

A lot of that is conveyed through the iconic performance by Daeg Faerch. Sadly, I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened this way but I am quite certain that if Faerch hadn’t been around, this film ought not to have been made at all. Much like is Spielberg hadn’t seen Haley Joel Osment he would’ve delayed A.I. indefinitely. It’s that kind of performance a coupling of character and actor that works so well it’s rare and truly a sight to see. Think of the great antagonist horror performances of the last 25 years and this one is on par with if not better than they are.

Look at it this way, Michael is being given a face and voice in this film after nearly 30 years of silence. That is a massive undertaking for an actor. A hard role to live up to and much less excel in.

Now for me to say the wheels come off simply because the original started being rehashed would be unfair, it is a remake after all. It is how the rehash is executed that makes it not work.

Laurie Strode and her friends need a different tone. They didn’t talk and act all that much different than the Myers family. Half of which Michael killed and we wanted him too. There needs to be some added virtues to Laurie that make us want to root for her.

This is the alternate universe of a horror film where our baser instincts come to the surface. Michael is who we are most familiar with. He is the star, he will not die. There has to something special about a character to make us really want them to escape his clutches. If you’re just a foul-mouthed skank no different than the sister he killed except that you never met him why should I care?

Look at Laurie Strode in the original, yes, her friends talked frankly about sex and drug usage and things of that ilk but Laurie was honestly embarrassed by some of the talk. She kind of went along with her friends but she was not the fornicating-when-she-should-be-baysitting type. That’s why we identify with her. Not only is she an innocent but we like her better than her friends and if we want the friends to live it’s only for Laurie’s sake.

So the type of characters Laurie and her friends are is a problem. Unfortunately, so are the actors playing the parts. There is such a wild inconsistency in the quality of performance in this film that it makes it nearly impossible for it to succeed. You run the gamut from Daeg Faerch and Malcolm McDowell to Sheri Moon Zombie and Scout Taylor-Compton.

You also get small and at times distracting appearances by many actors who have made a splash in the history of horror films. Had this been a completely original tale that may have been less of an issue. Dealing with an iconic character and story it’s unwelcome.

Poor acting is forgivable to an extent in a horror film if the situation remains scary and interesting enough but quite frankly the film gets long in the tooth. It’s not necessarily that in a series you can really get pre-conditioned to a running time but frankly the Halloween films typically clock in a just over 90 minutes for a reason: that’s all you need. Whether the theatrical cut (109 minutes) or unrated (121) it’s too long, for the given story. It really makes me wonder what the edited Brazilian cut (83) plays like.

Then of course you have the ending. The open ending that isn’t quite open and has about five too many screams in the mix. It may be the greatest anti-climax of an ending that any film in the series has. Even the follow up has a better, more coherent and effective capper than this despite the fact that its even worse. After nearly two hours a screaming close-up is really not the taste I want left in my mouth. It literally could’ve been almost anything else and it would’ve been better.

5/10

61 Days of Halloween- Amityville II: The Possession

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Amityille II: The Possession

Jack Magner in Amityille II: The Possession (Orion)

While it may have been very tempting after the great flashes to tell the tale that made the Amityville house infamous on this occasion the result is comically bad and it was a tale better left untold at least the way it transpires here. There still is potential here that is completely untapped.

Now while in the first installment you could draw comparisons to The Exorcist there was definitely a tenuous but definite line of delineation separating the two. Mainly being that the priest was never heavily involved in the families plight and couldn’t be. Oh yeah, that and there was no exorcism performed.

There are other issues though. One of the talking points of the original film was about how the patriarch of that family looked like the previous assassin. Now this film doesn’t establish any prior history with the house so we are left to assume, especially by the construct of the family and who the killer is, that this is a prequel. So not only are the actors poorly cast in terms of appearance and ability but it totally changes the series by having someone trying to save his immortal soul.

So you have all that going against this film as if the idea of combining a haunted house film and an exorcism plot in a bifurcated tale wasn’t hard enough to pull off. You also lose the subtlety that the first film had and you wonder why the family spends even one night there.

There is also not one character who remains likable through the whole film and but one scene where the struggle of our protagonist/antagonist is truly felt. There’s also a random incident of incest.

To continue listing this film’s faults would be pointless except to say that it is a painful and nearly interminable experience. If you make it through to the end you’ll find some very humorous effects work that was likely not intended that way, other than that it is best avoided.

2/10