Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dear Hollywood: Stop Planning Ahead

Movies in the last few years have become a little too homogenous for my liking. It seems like every single movie coming out – at least during the summer blockbuster season – is some kind of sequel, remake or adaptation of something else. Now, this is not something new to any of you reading this blog or most moviegoers who have been awake for the last half-decade – I'm not becoming Captain Obvious on you here.

But I do think something has to be said for the sheer level of planning ahead Hollywood is doing with these – it isn't just that they're making these superhero sequels, book adaptations and spinoffs of popular franchises, but that they're also planning them ahead of time to ridiculous amounts more befitting of a tiger mom planning out her four-year-old's doctorate degree years and years in the future.

You want proof? Well, how about the fact that the new film based off the Harry Potter spin off book Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find them will actually now be MORE THAN A TRILOGY. Keep in mind the original book was like 80 pages and served as a fun little extra add-on to the main series. And now it's going to be like six more movies. If we're lucky.

Look, I get it – people love Harry Potter. I remember reading the books as a kid and have very fond memories; they were great books and they got me more interested in reading books when I was young. That's fine. I know people love the movies too; that's also fine – go wild and love them more than anything if you want. Obviously the movies had to be made as the books were so successful and people wanted to see the characters and events on screen – that happens any time a book gets popular; I have no problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is the absolute ridiculous lengths this is being taken to with this new series – more than three movies for an 80-page book? Are you serious? That's insane. They didn't do it this way back in the 80s. Notice how we didn't get a trilogy for each segment of the Back to the Future movies explaining how the various alternate timelines came to pass. There was no Indiana Jones prequel trilogy where we got to see three movies of him as a kid learning to jump off shit and lash with a whip. Though, honestly I hesitate to say that, as I'm afraid of what might happen next.

It's just too much. The best stories aren't great because they never end and have spinoffs made about minuscule elements of the story – they're great because they end at the right time. The traditional story arc is a beginning, a middle and an end; not a beginning, middle, end and then a billion little side-stories, anecdotes and addendums attached on and forced on the population like a kid who won't eat his veggies with his mouth held open. That's not a real story; it's just not being able to let go of something at the right time. It's no different than a shitty TV show dragging on for twelve seasons long after everyone's done watching.

And it's quite insidious how they hook you in – the persisting argument in favor for these endless spinoffs, rehashes, sequels, is that they're showing us something we need the answer to, or that they're showing us the backstory of something. It's a quite devilish marketing ploy that's really just a thinly-veiled excuse to keep making money – oh, we need to explain this one thing from the original series, so we're throwing billions of dollars and plenty of talented actors, backstage guys and more to GIVE YOU THOSE EXPLANATIONS. Never mind the buckets of money pouring into our pockets and the general dead-eyed cynicism of the rest of the public. It's to answer our questions!

I realize I'm kind of in the minority on this, but I'm going to say it: The best stories don't need tons and tons of explanations. If you can't draw us in with your characters, world-building, plot twists, social commentary or whatever other elements you wanted to convey, and you have to explain pages and pages of exposition and facts and tidbits and then go on to make prequels where you explain your probably need to re-work your narrative a little bit. If you can't convey whatever you need to do in your beginning-middle-end story arc, you probably don't need to be making money in Hollywood. But alas – they are anyway.

Aside from that, do good stories need EVERYTHING explained? Can nothing be ambiguous or left to the imagination? I'm not saying everything has to be a Lynchian escapade into the depths of the soul and have all kinds of artsy abstractions, I just think there's something to be said for the power of mystery and of telling a story over explaining every minute detail. The whole matters more than the cogs and gears that make it up, if you know what I mean. Get an emotional message across, and have a point to what you're doing. Then worry about explaining the technical details. But that's just me. Apparently some see it differently, and that's your own prerogative I guess. But even so, there comes a point when explaining and more explaining is just a bad storytelling form.

On the other hand of this two-forked road to hell we have DC and their upcoming “I wish we were as cool as Marvel” attempt, also known as Batman vs Superman. I'll also accept for the name “We forgot what was cool about The Dark Knight and instead accentuated its worst elements.” The Dark Knight was great because it finally gave us a comic book movie that took itself seriously, and no I don't mean in the way that it was gritty and violent. I mean it was serious in that it was an actual movie. It took characters we loved from a different medium and worked them into a real movie with those characters in adapted roles because Christopher Nolan actually understood that film is a different media than comics and you don't need to have everything exactly the fucking same all the time.

These days, you don't really get that. I dunno, but I get the idea a lot of these comic movies are seriously afraid of the batshit "HOW DARE YOU CHANGE A THING FROM OUR HOLY TEXT" crowd on the Internet, because comic movies since then have never reached that same level of cinematic quality. As good as some of the early Marvel movies got, there was always a pervading safeness to them, where it just felt like the sole purpose was for the audience to go 'hey, there's that character I liked! There's that thing I wanted to see happen!' Maybe some people feel differently, but that's kinda what I keep getting from those films.

They have a shitload of other superhero tie-ins set up for the next six years until 2020 – well, bravo. You guys do realize we don't really need every single movie to be lined out for us, right? I mean goddamn. You're already sitting on a ton of money. It's not like peoples' interest will wane if you don't shovel the information down our throats every damn day. Just chill the fuck out!

This whole thing is just out of hand as well because, as many before me have said, WE DON'T NEED THAT MANY SUPERHERO FILMS. Do you guys really think peoples' favorite movies lists are going to be comprised in 15 years of just Marvel and DC adaptations? I wouldn't be complaining if these films were made by genuine fans who just wanted to convey the story, but for the most part, these movies are made just to keep the conveyor belt moving to make more movies after that, whether it's sequels or 'collaboration' films like Avengers or Justice League – that's the only reason they're doing all these separate films, which is a shame because I'm sure under different management, we could get some really gripping and powerful stories out of them. If you're a huge die-hard comic fan, you could probably go further than me here and list off some of the emotional conflicts, drama and social messages that could possibly be tackled, which DC will definitely not do and we'll deservedly hate them for it.

Marvel tends to fare a little better on this aspect, as their films are at least entertaining enough to watch in theaters – but even that is going to wear thin, and probably pretty soon. They got lucky with Guardians of the Galaxy being such a fun, emotional movie, but I just don't think they can keep it up for much longer. People are going to get tired of these films. The comic geeks will stick to their comics and the casual fans will start to move on and go “hey, I really feel like watching a nice drama or a gripping detective mystery.”

"Hmmm...on second thought, Pride and Prejudice sounds good about now!"

It's just the endless stream of sequels and connections – yes, it was an interesting idea, but it's too much now. It's overcooked. There are too many options and people will get burnt out. If you're just making movies that will only exist so you can make more movies, it becomes a cannibalistic process. There eventually won't be any reason to go see more, because you'll just be worn the hell out of all of it. Superhero films are reaching the oversaturation point. It's coming fast, and soon the bottom will drop out and the whole thing will be fucked. Nobody really wants THAT many big-ass movies full of explosions and guys shelling out witty quips. It might sound great at first, but just like that time you ate too many of your grandma's fudge brownies and then spent the rest of the night moaning on the floor in the bathroom – you'll soon find it wasn't what you wanted. It was too much and you got sick of it.

I started this thing weeks ago and more shit keeps coming out that I feel like I could add to it. A Toy Story 4? Really? Granted, the other three are near-flawless kid's movies, so logically I should be excited, but...the third one was such a fucking perfect ending. Why make another? You can end on a high note! It isn't too late! You can still cancel the project before it goes too far down the rabbit hole!

Granted, this is the only part of this article I'm going to say might turn out OK. I mean, yes, I would've rather it ended with the third one. But maybe, just maybe, there's a chance it could be okay - despite my worries of it turning into another sequel-marathon down the road...

I guess really it all boils down to one thing – are these movies going to be good? After all, that is the main consideration when talking about any kind of art – does it succeed at what it wanted to do, and is it quality? It may be presumptuous of me to say so, and some of you may not agree, but I'm going to say no, they probably won't be – at least not as good as any one of them individually might've been, if it was made purely out of a love for storytelling, moviemaking or anything else.

The movies I mentioned in this article, for the most part, are being made just to continue shoveling out more movies after them. They're machinations in a conveyor belt, not integral, impassioned stories. With the sheer volume of crap just lined up to come out years and years from now, planned out as meticulously as a trip itinerary for a busy lawyer, is ANY of it going to have even a little bit of a point to it? Any slightly good ideas in these movies will be lost in the constant static-noise of the rest of them all cluttering up the box office every week. They already have so many big plot elements and events planned out that there won't be any room for actual creativity in the process. Where's the spontaneity, the twists, the original creativity that directors and actors will get to bring to the table? It's incredibly telling that Idris Elba, while working on the last Thor movie, called the process “torture” while he would've rather been working on a more personal project.

But alas – this is just echoes in the wind. What I've said here won't change anything in the big picture. That will have to be left to Hollywood once this whole thing blows up in their face.

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