by Glenn Matchett
Now where was I? Ah yes the cinema and the joy of movies that lie within. A corner stone of cinema is of course the movie franchise. Films that are so popular that they make another movie with the same characters but with a different story with the simple logic of ‘well if people enjoyed it before then they will again!’ They seem to be more of a relatively recent phenomenon in cinema as I don’t recall any major franchises in movies prior to the 60’s. There were of course films like those starring Charlie Chaplin as well as comedy duo Laurel and Hardy that featured the same characters in different misadventures but those films series didn’t have a single narrative or internal continuity. I’m talking about films that follow on from each other and where sometimes the audience grows with the character on screen before their eyes.
The first franchise I really took notice of and got attached to was the James Bond series. Chronicling the adventures of the less than celibate British spy the James Bond series has (to date) seen 22 films over the span of nearly 50 years. It all started in 1962 with Dr. No starring Sean Connery in the title role. From then the Bond films ranged in quality from excellent (Goldfinger) to downright terrible (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). However after the departure of the longest serving Bond to date in the form of Roger Moore the franchise entered a period poor quality it took a long time to shake. The films became increasingly cheesy and featured actors who were seemed to be putting little effort in playing 007. The in 2006 they decided to do a complete revamp of the franchise. Gone were the cheesy villains and ridiculous gadgets instead we got a gritty realistic spy thriller starring a fantastic Bond in the form of Daniel Craig. This more realistic approach brought Bond back to its former glory and now it’ll mark its 50th anniversary with the continuation of its current series next year with Skyfall. I do think my own James Bond stories were some of the first stuff I’d ever written so that goes to show how much it influenced me (those stories were god awful for the record but I was like 8 or 9 when I wrote them).
The next franchise to really gain my attention were the Batman films. I spoke a little about them last week but I originally saw Tim Burton’s first two Batman offerings when I was very young. Although they are definitely not for younger children the majority of the darkness and atmosphere was lost on my ‘Yay Batman is fighting the Joker’ mind at the time. As I’ve grown up I still hold Burton’s first two Batman offerings in high regard. They are visually appealing and although not as faithful as Nolan’s later offerings are an interesting interpretation of the character and setting that I can appreciate. I still maintain that Burton has created more compelling and creepy versions of the Penguin and Catwoman than any other adaption. When we got to 1995 I saw my first Batman film in a theatre in ‘Batman Forever’ (I was way too young to see the first two except sneaking in to see a bit of Returns as I described last week). This film has a lot of flaws; so long I could write another article all about just that but on its own it’s not too bad. It tries to maintain some dignity and pretence of being a serious film which 1997’s ‘Batman and Robin’ did neither of. It’s a terrible movie and probably the most hated film of all time. I don’t think I can offer anything here that hasn’t been said about it before so I’ll leave it at that.
It did mean we went 8 years without a Batman movie until director Chris Nolan decided to revamp the property and do a much more faithful yet realistic take. It was a smash hit and the 2008 sequel The Dark Knight was a financial juggernaut and featured the best live action portrayal of the Joker ever. The film raised the image of comic book films in general and to say I’m bumped for the conclusion of Nolan’s Batman tale is a vast understatement.
Two other franchises I grew up with and still enjoy to this day are seen often times as rivals. For some reason a lot of people seem to be in a big debate about which is better, Star Wars or Star Trek? I’m a big fan of both so I don’t see the point of the debate. Both franchises have their rare low points but when they are on the ball everyone takes notice. Our editor in chief/publisher and my boss Andrew Goletz is for example an avid Star Trek fan (he’s not really but it’s going to be so funny if he doesn’t notice I’ve said that, I won’t tell if you guys don’t). I think for me I was exposed to Trek first in the form of the television shows which I’ll discuss at another time. It has spawned 11 films ranging from downright terrible (Final Frontier) to excellent (Wrath Of Khan) and taking on many genres from comedy to action packed within its ‘sci-fi’ futuristic settings showing how versatile that genre can be. Lately the Star Trek films have featured two of my favourite films ever in 1997’s ‘First Contact’ and 2009’s ‘Star Trek. The Former I think is an excellent film that will probably have a Trek film as close to a horror movie as it can get. Having great films in Trek foes ‘the Borg’ helps but it features some of the best acting from Patrick Stewart which is saying something. The 2009 offering has a revamp (kind of) of the franchise but implemented my good friend time travel to also continue the franchise for fans like me. I didn’t go into Star Trek with high expectations as every trailer I saw didn’t make it look very much like Trek at all. What I did see however blew me away. It was an exceptional film that blended in everything I could ask for and more. My hat goes off to JJ Abrams for bringing back this old friend of mine and I can’t wait to see more.
On the other hand although I didn’t grow up enjoying them I still greatly enjoy the Star Wars films. I watched the original trilogy many times on video but sadly didn’t get to see them when they were rereleased in cinemas during the 90’s. However I was there first night when Episode I was released. I doubt I’ll ever forget nearly everyone in the cinema clapping when the scroll titles hit and when it ended there was also some clapping well one or two people half heartingly trying to clap anyway. It seems to be one of those films that breaks people out in hives but despite its faults I enjoy it, it is more of a kid orientated film which is fine. After Episode II which I thought was a vast improvement they really redeemed themselves with ‘Revenge Of The Sith’. The prequels in general do draw a lot of hate but about a year ago I watched them all in a row (the original trilogy being the initial DVD release version with young Anakin as the ghost in Return Of the Jedi) and it works incredibly well. A lot of other franchises have cherry picked from Star Wars over the years but in the end there will only be one and I’m happy to enjoy all 6 of the films.
Around the time that the Star Wars prequels were being released another movie franchise began in the form of Harry Potter. I’ve talked about my love of the books but it was so great to see them come to life on the big screen. I think these films should be commended for not only being faithful to the source material but also letting us watch the characters grow over time. It really is scary to back to that first film and see how young the three principle characters look. Indeed over its 8 films the Harry Potter films saw only one recast which was sadly out of necessity. It is now the most successful film franchise of all time which is a commendable feat. More importantly although they begin with the innocent beginnings entailed in the first novel the films get progressively darker like the books do and the kids and the audience mature. It’s really wonderful to watch and now that I own all 8 movies I look forward to rewatching them all.
In the early part of last decade a new form of franchise emerged also in the form of super hero movies. Oh sure they’d been around before in the form of the Superman movies and Tim Burton’s Batman but in 2000 one film would change how comic book films were seen forever. In 2000 director Bryan Singer directed an adaption of the Marvel mutant group the X-Men featuring a mixture of well known actors and unknowns in the roles of each character. I’d argue till the sun went black that it is this film why we have so many super hero films now. Without X-Men we would not have the Spider-Man films or Nolan’s Batman or the upcoming Avenger’s film. It was the first film to raise the prominence of comic films and people took it seriously. It is not the best, far from it as only a few years later its sequel would far surpass it in terms of quality but it was their first and I think that should be noted. Of course this began an onslaught of comic adaption’s that continues to this day. People who’ve known me longer than say 2 minutes will know I love Spider-Man. I’m going to talk more in depth down the line but he is by far my favourite comic character. So it was a mixture of eagerness and trepidation that I watched him also get the big screen adaption. I needn’t have been worried as not only was that film excellent but it also spawned a brilliant sequel which is now one of my favourite films ever. Lately Marvel has really took it to the next level and have different films tie in together to create a bigger story. I don’t think this has ever been done before and it’s interesting to have a front row seat to a new initiative in cinema. Indeed Marvel now has their own studio which is turning out fantastic films in their own right like Iron Man and Thor but aim to have them all come together in the Avenger’s. It’s ambitious and yeah a little bit of a risk but I have no doubt it’ll pay off and I personally can’t wait.
There have been many other movie franchises I’ve enjoyed over the years like Indiana Jones and the Back To The Future trilogy. I don’t think any of those have made such an emotional impact on me than Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings movies. Almost crafted together to be one over 9 hour movie this trilogy is truly breathtaking in scope and an absolute pleasure to watch. I remember going to watch Fellowship Of The Ring on the second night and being absolutely blown away by the experience. The year after the Two Towers gave me a similar feeling and then Return Of The King made a complete home run and brought the franchise home. I’m even of the controversial opinion that the films are better than the novels they come from. They manage to ditch all the unnecessary information and just us the core essence of what makes Tolken’s story so enthralling. Stunning visuals, brilliant acting and picture perfect direction are just a few of the many reasons why Lord Of The Rings is my favourite film of all time. After a very troubled production I now wait for the adaption of its precursor the Hobbit and wonder if it can fill the very daunting shoes of the original trilogy. It’s a very different story so the films will have a very different feel to them but I for one can’t wait to make a return trip to middle Earth in the latter days of 2012.