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Tuesday, May 08, 2007



Writing for the LA Times in the wake of Spider-Man 3's record-breaking opening, Patrick Goldstein seizes on our current 14-sequel summer and the impending Indiana Jones 4 to express his dismay that Hollywood is more than ever ruled by film franchises, and that so many promising directors have chosen to become "brand managers" rather than commit themselves to producing singular works of genuine art. In a broad sense, this argument is dissatisfying. In its details, it is just stupid. (To single out Sam Raimi of all people, who made his career on a zombie movie series, seems particularly ridiculous.)

Goldstein throws out a number of potential reasons why directors might sign up for sequels, including: the money, artistic propriety, the money, the creative challenge of putting a fresh spin on material while retaining a series' core appeal, and the money. But Goldstein entirely fails to account for the particular attractions of serialized storytelling for both audiences and filmmakers. Here I think it is useful to separate the impulses of the Brett Ratner journeymen who sign up to direct part 3s from those like Raimi, Nolan and Singer who have guided entire franchises. (Although the former occasionally gives us such gems as Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.)

While it is true that very few conventional film series ever approach art, I don't see this as a valid knock against series or those who direct them. It is not clear that movie makers all have a responsibility to aspire to art over craft and entertainment, and besides, series can accomplish things in terms of scope, character development and thematic variation that singular films typically cannot. Some stories are simply take longer to tell than can be accommodated by one movie. Dickens, Trollope, Twain etc. certainly understood the appeal of serials and series. At a time when narratively complex, heavily serialized shows such as Lost and Heroes have attained both critical acclaim and mass popularity, and Battlestar Galactica is hailed as one of the best TV programs of all time, it is bewildering to me that Goldstein would fail to acknowledge one of the core attractions for directors to take ownership over franchises. Well, aside from the money. Namely, the ability to develop stories and characters over time--not just the time glossed over in an artful montage, like Charles Foster Kane and wife at the breakfast table, but over real time, as audiences get to live with characters over a span of years. The arcs traveled by Michael Corleone or even, to a lesser degree the Spidey series' Harry Osborn would not be nearly as compelling if experienced in one sitting. I get the sense that Raimi has genuine affection for the Spider-Man characters, and has enjoyed, up until now at least, navigating them through their paces in a series of interconnected episodes that 1) replicate the serialized nature of the source material and 2) definitively resolve only by the last act of the third film. For its real flaws, Raimi's Spider-Man 3 certainly provides a completion to a number of threads that had been left untied in previous installments. Goldstein doesn't see the possibility that a filmmaker might see a creative unity in a trilogy, and so is left with only the mercenary (paycheck-hunting directors) and pathetic (lazy, nostalgic viewers) as explanations. His value judgments about true artists refusing to "repeat themselves, preferring to explore the unknown rather than revisit past triumphs" seem altogether too limiting to me, and just as nostalgic in their own way.



Conjecture here, but I would like to think that Grant Morrison has just returned the favor to DC chief Dan Didio (who completely blew the surprise ending to 52, months in advance) by casually revealing just what big mystery DC's new weekly series Countdown is counting down to:
We all wanted to do something new with the multiple Earths so what you've already seen in 52 is simply the tip of the iceberg - each parallel world now has its own huge new backstory and characters and each could basically form the foundation for a complete line of new books. If you like the ongoing soap opera dynamics of New Earth, you can watch Mary Marvel turning to the dark side as her skirt gets shorter and shorter, or you can buy the Earth 5 line of books featuring more iconic versions of the Marvel Family. If you miss Vic Sage as the Question, you should be able to follow the adventures of Vic's counterpart on the Charlton/Watchmen world of Earth 4.

The idea behind the Megaverse is to basically create a number of big new franchise possibilities. It's like having several comics companies and universes under one umbrella, so, as I say, there could be one book or a whole line of books spinning out of the new Earth 10 (I handled that particular revamp, so I can tell you that the original concept of the Freedom Fighters on a world where the Nazis won World War 2 has been greatly reconsidered, expanded and intensified into something that's a bit more Wagnerian and apocalyptic and a bit more adult) That's how I'd like to see the Megaverse played out as we move forward. And no crossovers! Each of the parallel universes should exist in its own separate stream with no contact from the others - not until we have a story worthy of bringing them together.
In any event, it is refreshing to see creators consciously adding something to a superhero line for once, rather than subtracting from it.

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