Gavin Burke bemoans the Summer blockbusters’ lack of originality – continuing Film Ireland’s ‘Sounding Off‘ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.
Good luck selling your original spec screenplay. Even if it’s an action-heavy superhero actioner with lots of action Hollywood won’t want to know. No, for the duration of the summer blockbuster season (which has now extended from April to September) only graphic-novel or comic-book adaptations will make it to the Omniplex.
A hefty chunk of today’s movie budget is funnelled into advertising but there’s one way to save on that. A great review can put bums on seats, word of mouth works wonders and an Oscar® nod goes a long way, but in selling World-Saving-Flying-Guy-Story-#256 Hollywood won’t risk anything and in this risk-free era nothing beats a subject that’s already public knowledge and is already making money – an action hero movie invariably culled from the graphic novel/comic. Success by association is the tactic right now (Inception might have been an original script by Christopher Nolan but it didn’t hurt putting ‘from the director of The Dark Knight‘ on the poster). The poster for Thor boasted ‘from the studio who brought you Iron Man‘, which is really akin to saying ‘no one who had any creative input on Iron Man contributed to this movie’ (if they did, the poster would have said so).
The summer movie isn’t about the actual movie – it’s about everything else. The graphic novel/comic adaptation not only packs them in, but also gleefully flogs merchandising and action figures that look cool when sat in the vehicle (sold separately of course) on the way out. It’s not enough to be sold the movie, the movie sells you things. Michael Bay and Ferrari have a ‘long-standing friendship’, which is why Ferraris keep popping up in Bay’s movies. No surprise then that this summer’s Transformers 3 will boast a Ferrari transformer and gives Hasbro another shot at selling old toys to a new generation.
But what if you find that all the decent graphic novels have been mined? There’s always a sequel to some nonsense that was released last month. Sequels are a shoo-in and are usually in development before the first instalment hits the screens. Slap ‘2, 3, 4 or 5’ on the end of any title and you’re guaranteed a decent opening weekend (Big Momma’s House 2 actually made enough money to warrant Big Momma’s: Like Father, Like Son! ). Sequels are comfortable, dependable and reliable and that horse will be flogged until it stops making money. But they can only make so many sequels before they run out of ideas, right? Yes, but then there’s always the reboot. Underestimate this ‘flog-du-jour’ at your peril.
By the time a franchise hits Part Eight – The Return Of Yer Man With The Yoke You Thought Died In Part Five But He’s Very Much Alive – a new director with a fresh style will be ready to take a series back to its roots. Reboots can also re-launch the career of a falling star. Sylvester Stallone was nowhere before he sent Rocky Balboa back into the ring; that worked, so the inevitable outing of the action-porn Rambo was green-lit. Suddenly Stallone was hot again: The Expendables was a hit and Sly hopes Headshot will keep his head above water until The Expendables 2 happens by, which it will next year. Then there will be the 3D re-release of all of the above. Chi-ching!
But has it always been this way? Remakes are nothing new (John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon was the third attempt to bring Hammet’s pulp novel to the screen). Novel and play adaptations have been with us since nineteen-dickety-dee: of the eighty-three Oscars® handed out for Best Film only twenty-six have been original screenplays. But one book isn’t enough anymore: Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hobbit will be split into two movies. Chi and ching!
What’s missing in all this? Originality. The art of story-telling takes a back seat to the summer blockbuster and it won’t change anytime soon. So eat that Happy Meal, listen to that soundtrack, play that videogame, buy that action figure for your nephew and fork out for the re-released special edition graphic novel. And, oh yeah, don’t forget to book your tickets for next summer’s sequel.
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