Friday, 31 January 2014

The Emperors New Franchise – Is there even any point in attempting to be original?

By Derek Duggan

Here’s a fact – not everyone looks sexy in a thong. Just saying. Here’s another one – eight out of the top ten grossing movies last year were franchise movies, sequels, or based on existing properties. And none of them wore thongs.

So, that means if you’re thinking of writing an original screenplay with a view to selling it for millions you are already at a disadvantage. There’s not really any point in slaving away, developing characters and carefully crafting your plot, if in the end the only films that anyone goes to see are ones where  muscly men and women in lycra (also not something everyone looks sexy in) knock seven bells of shit out of each other, or out of robots or something.

Just how important it is to attach a franchise to one of these movies to trick people into thinking it’s in any way good only becomes obvious when they use precisely the same formula as the big box office winners and come up with a dreadful flop. Nowhere was this clearer than in that film last year where Nelson Mandella fought the big monster things while wearing the giant robot suit. It was called Pacific Rim Job or something and it bombed, despite Mr Mandella’s appearance. If it had been called Godzilla (slated for release this coming summer) Versus the Transformers (also slated for a summer release) then people would have been falling over themselves to see it.

And the quality of the writing has nothing to do with box office success – Star Trek into Darkness was recently voted by fans at a Trek Convention in LA to be the worst Trek Movie of the entire series which takes some fucking doing – and it was beaten by Galaxy Quest which isn’t even a Trek movie. It still made a lot of money. We’ve also had The Amazing Spiderman which had a good cast, decent special effects, but a story that was thinner than William Shatner’s actual hair (allegedly). We’ve got the next installment of The Amazing Spiderman to look forward to this summer along with another X-Men, Captain America, Robocop, Frankenstein etc etc etc.

Indeed, it’s beginning to look like Hollywood is trying to get rid of writers altogether. Even Joss Wheedon, well known for such nicely written pieces as Buffy and in particular Firefly, recently was much lauded for the script of Avengers Assemble which might have read for large parts –


People in lycra and some aliens and Norse Gods beat the shit out of each other and smash the place to fucking bits for the next hour. Someone in the background wears a thong.

(Note to producers – that will be ten million dollars, please. Thanks, Joss)

This trend is not restricted to movies. Take something like Dexter, for example. It’s based on a book, and that’s fine. The first series was clever and tense with good characters, a great idea and some nice story telling. The second was OK. The third had the same actors in it, but may as well have been a different show altogether for all the resemblance it bore to the original series. But it didn’t end there – it went on for a further five or six seasons. And this is where the difficulty enters – you begin to feel as if you’re in the Twilight Zone (which is surely due for a reboot) as you seem to be the only person who notices the massive drop in the quality of the writing. You begin to think you’re going crazy and feel the need to wrap your head in a sanity towel (you may even feel the need to crowbar really dodgy word-play gags into articles). It seems as if you’ve been sucked into a parallel universe where critical thought causes your toilet parts to fall off or something because everyone is falling over themselves to say how good this thing is despite the fact that it clearly isn’t and has more holes than a week in Vegas with Tiger Woods (probably).

Of course it’s easy to laugh at Hollywood, but before anyone gets on their high horse let’s have a look at some of the recent big hit franchises on British TV. There are currently three Sherlock Holmes things on the go – An American TV thing with Lucy Lu as Watson, a film series starring Tony Stark and directed by Guy ‘Fa faaack sake’ Richie and Sherlock from the BBC which stars Benedict Cumberbatch (excellent as Holmes, but coincidentally one of the stars of the worst Star Trek film ever made, apparently).

What was interesting about the first two seasons of Sherlock was the way the script was cleverly put together to show us the workings of the great detective’s mind. We got to see him making the connections we mortals would never spot unaided, and we delighted at how the only thing he seemed to enjoy was showing us how brilliantly brainy he was. And then we got the third season which everyone seemed to think was superb, but which was, in fact, tremendously disappointing. It may as well have begun with him in the shower with Bobby Ewing. Wearing a thong. Every move was telegraphed to the viewer hours before it happened. There was no satisfactory explanation of how he managed to survive his apparent suicide at the end of the previous season which is precisely the sort of thing the character would have loved. It just looked like the writers couldn’t be arsed to think up anything. A couple of really lame ideas were offered, but nothing that went anyway towards being as clever as the previous series.

And all of this is reminiscent of that moment in Catcher in the Rye, when Holden remarks that Old Ernie, the piano player that everyone adores, is so used to listening to the applause of his fans that he no longer knows what’s good any more. Read the bit yourself on page 84.

So, let’s get our heads down and write something truly original. And let it involve thongs.

Glad I could help.

1 comment:

  1. Title
    The Emperors New Franchise
    should be
    The Emperor's New Franchise

    Missing apostrophe = English 101