This past weekend rocked all of our worlds with that damn Angels & Demons movie. It wasn’t very good. At all. But hey, neither was its predecessor, The Da Vinci Code, but it seems that director Ron Howard has no intention of diffusing this bomb. He’s two movies in and quite successful and I’m sure he’s looking forward to another one.
Is it Ron Howard’s fault that these movies have been so lackluster and ho-hum or is it just inherent in the material. Personally, I think it’s probably inherent but many a movie franchise has really benefited from letting other directors step behind the camera to punch out new installments. Others not so much. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
The Original Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983)
When George Lucas directed the original Star Wars (or part four of it, if you’re one of those people) he hadn’t yet quite perfected his true vision for what his gargantuan and epic space opera was supposed to be. He hadn’t mastered the tone, the atmosphere, and the exploitation of digital technology. And the resulting film was really, really good. Sure the same can’t quite be said for the latter-day prequel trilogy–George Lucas has perfected his vision and some of us find it kind of horrifying. But with that first film, he seemed to know what he was doing. It’s got a good energy and sense of classic movie-serial fun that few films and few filmmakers are capable of capturing.
And then with The Empire Strikes Back, the directing reins went over to Irvin Kirshner. The resulting film was dark, brooding, powerful, intelligent and arguably even better than the film that came before it. The new director changed things up a bit and allowed the darkness of the story to envelop the movie in an affecting way. Of course, he went on to make RoboCop 2 and now no one has any idea where he is.
And when Richard Marquand stepped in for Return of the Jedi, we saw something entirely different come out of the woodwork yet again. While I wouldn’t call it better than Empire something about Jedi feels more authentically “sci-fi” than any other entry in the entire franchise. It’s got the perfect balance of planet-hopping, crazy creatures, lightsaber fights, and constant action that–for lack of a better term–truly take you to a whole other world.
The Alien Franchise (1979-1997)
Certainly on a level of pure enjoyment, but also from a filmic standpoint, the Alien Quadrilogy is easily one of my very favorite film franchises ever. Each film was made by a different director and it’s fascinating to see what that means to each entry. The first film was helmed by Ridley Scott, who never seems to make the same movie twice (although God knows he loves to release 12 different cuts of each of his films). It’s a quiet and atmospheric horror film above all else. The mythology and origins of the creature matter little. It’s a existence is more of a MacGuffin than anything else. It’s there, it’s killing people, and it needs to be stopped. It’s a brilliantly directed movie and a genre classic in every way. And then we have James Cameron’s sequel Aliens. The ante us upped everywhere in Aliens–just like James Cameron loves to do. Whereas the original film was quiet, entrancing horror film, Aliens is a loud, suspenseful, crazy action picture that turns that one little extra-terrestial into not only bunches and bunches, but that huge damn Alien Queen herself. It’s certainly not the sequel that Ridley Scott would have made. In it’s big grandiose sort of way, it’s kind of the very definition of what all sequels are expecteed to be–and it’s the perfect example of what happens when it totally delivers.
From that point out, the general opinion of the merits of the franchise become a little less unanimous. Personally, I like each and every one of the films and certainly respect what all of them were going for. But there are quite a lot of people that really hate Alien 3, which was the directorial debut of the now Oscar-nominated David Fincher. Alien 3 starts out on a questionable note, making no attempt to curry favor with the audience as it renders all of the events of Aliens inconsequential. But from that point out it brings the formula back to many people versus one alien–now taking place on a prison planet where Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has crash-landed. The film supposedly got taken out of Fincher’s hands by the studio, so for better insights into what this movie really ought to have been, check out the Assembly Cut version of the film, reportedly closer to Fincher’s original vision. It’s less flashy and more character-oriented and is an all-around better movie.
Finally, there was Alien: Resurrection, from French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who went on to make Amelie and A Very Long Engagement. And yes, it’s decidely French. It’s an artsy, colorful, and genuinely weird little film with an exceptionally intimidating Ripley-clone and many genetically mutated aliens. And Brad Dourif. A lot of people hate this one too, but all I have to hear are those three things and you’ve got a recipe for a nice little film.
The Harry Potter Franchise
The first two film in this series–based on the first two books in the series, of course–were directed by one of the industry’s biggest hacks, Chris Columbus. No, not the explorer, although he has the same knack for creating something good out of pure accident. Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets aren’t quite “good” films and they are both easily the least of the series, but they are entertaining nonetheless. Columbus’s stylistic ideas for adaptating the novels was this and this alone: film the novels. Verbatim. As such, Columbus just sits back and lets the story tell itself while he focuses more on making it cute and fun and, in a sense, kind of talking down to the material. What a prick.
Things really got cooking, though when Alfonso Cuaron took over and made Prisoner of Azkaban, which I think I can pretty easily say is my favorite of the films so far. Cuaron had a careful touch to everything, outstanding visual prowess, and wasn’t afraid to dip into the darker areas of the story. The next film was handled by Mike Newell and kept things working on that same level. Now, I know a Potter fan or two who weren’t ecstatic with this entry and particularly its more harsh depiction of Dumbledore, but there’s too much that is just right in this movie to dismiss it.
And finally, that brings us to David Yates, director of Order of the Phoenix and all the remaining films in the franchise that we have yet to see, like this summer’s Half-Blood Prince. Yates brings to the franchise the absolute best visuals that we have yet seen and while Order felt maybe just a teensy bit rushed, it also had the best grasp on Harry as a character than any of the other films.
The Terminator Franchise
And now here’s what I’ve been building up to this whole damn article. This Friday we all get to find out what happens when our beloved Terminator franchise gets placed in the hands of a man by the name of McG. James Cameron started out the franchise in 1984 with what was really a very simple sci-fi action film. It was Alien to Cameron’s Aliens and when, in 1991, he made Terminator 2: Judgment Day we all got to see what he really had up his sleeve the whole time. T2 is essentially a really big, epic remake of the first film. It’s the same premise–robot is sent back from the future to make sure that John Connor dies before Judgment Day rolls around so that he’s never there to lead the resistance against the machines. But oh, how Cameron expanded the world in which it took place and created a real mythology to set the course for everything that’s happening now.
And twelve years later, the torch was passed on to director Jonathan Mostow, how gave us Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Not as good as T2 (but pretty much on the same level as the original film), this one is really just a pure action movie for the first three-quarters. And then Judgment Day hits. And cue McG.
Yes, I’ve been making fun of this McG character ever since he was announced as the director of Friday’s Terminator: Salvation. But really, who hasn’t? However, I’m admitting right here that in a few days, I may just be eating my words. That trailer (the one that I see every time I go to the movies) is really damn good and gets me quite jazzed each and every time I see it. I am pumped up and prepared for some dark, gritty, McG awesomeness. Hit me, big guy. And make it bleed.