Disney has wasted no time and getting to work with the Star Wars Franchise now that they have acquired the rights to it. On the heels of the announcement that JJ Abrahams will be directing Star Wars Episode VII it was announced that they would also be producing standalone films set in the Star Wars Universe looking at individual characters. The official announcement includes the news that the first set of these will be movies focusing on Yoda, Boba Fett, and Han Solo.
A first glance a lot of fans are going “this is a blatant money grab”, and on some level this is almost certainly true. After all the goal of most Disney movies is to make money. The unspoken addition to this is “a side movie will suck.”
On that last one I disagree, at least with it being a given. After all they are really just following a business plan that is already working for them. Specifically this looks a lot like the model of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
With Marvel you have individual movies; Captain America, Iron Man 1 and 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk. These movies all lead to one big movie; The Avengers. Now they are back to the individual films; Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy, collectively known as Phase 2. These will lead to Avengers 2. After that Disney and Marvel have already announced Ant Man and Dr. Strange for Phase 3 with a rumored Hulk movie.
The advantage of this model is that the individual movies can introduce back story and concepts that feed into the big movie freeing that movie to pick up and run with them.
With as extensive a universe as Star Wars has built over the last several years there is no reason that the some plan could not work for them as well.
And don’t tell me there is no interest in explorer more of that universe. Just look at how well the novels, comic books, and video games have sold, and many of them do not even feature the original main characters.
Right off the top of my head I can see a lot of opportunity in this idea. You make movies featuring characters like Yoda, Boba Fett, and maybe some newer characters like Han and Leia’s kids, or members of the new Jedi order. You set the stage for episode VII by dropping clues in these individual films. The buzz builds until you have the release of Episode VII. On top of that you can almost certainly lure a lot of top talent to these side films, especially with the knowledge that they do not have the pressue of making the flagship film.
Is it a gamble? Sure, but at least it is following an already proven model. And I for one would be really excited to see where they take it.
This does raise another question. What other franchises could benefit from this way of making a film series? Imagine if they had done this with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
I’m pretty sure that if you are reading this site, than you have certainly already learned about Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm. And I’m equally sure that you had all kinds of knee jerk reactions to it.
I’ll be honest; my first reaction to the story was “this has to be a hoax.”
After that it became; “what are the details of the deal”
So to be thorough, here is what I understand the deal to be. The Walt Disney Company has purchased Lucasfilm outright for $4.05 billion in cash and shares of Disney stock. The result of deal means that Disney now owns all Lucasfilm properties and subsidiaries.
Let’s just take a moment to look at what that includes.
The Secret of Monkey Island
Industrial Light & Magic
Disney has been clear that their primary interest in this deal is the Star Wars property, but let’s faces it Indiana Jones is not small potatoes. Also they now have the Secret of Monkey Island, a game that was inspired in part by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which turned around and inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Who doesn’t want to see Guybrush Threepwood meet Jack Sparrow?
Of course all of this has led to the inevitable fannish reaction. “Oh God, Disney has bought Star Wars, they are going to water it down and make it suck.”
Yeah, about that.
I heard the same thing a few years ago. Only it was “Oh God, Disney has bought Marvel, they are going to water it down and make it suck.”
And what was the result of that deal. Well we saw it back in May, it was called The Avengers.
Look, not everything Disney does is watered down family fare. They own Pixar and people are disappointed if one of their movies is only really good. They produce Once Upon a Time on ABC which is good subversion of their own fairy tale properties. Disney does not buy up properties and then just “disneyify” them
In fact this is probably the best news we can get as Star Wars fans.
The lament since the prequels came out is that Lucas, while the visionary who created the universe, is not necessarily the best person to Shepard it. Well now he is just in a consultant role, and other people will be developing the next movies. And we are getting the next movies. Part of this deal is the confirmation that the next trilogy is going to happen, which was not the case prior to it.
Another possibility that a lot of people are excited about is the idea that Disney will give us what we have been asking to have for years now, the original trilogy rereleased in its original theatrically form. This means we may finally see Han shoot first in blue-ray.
Not that there isn’t problems. 20th Century Fox owns the distribution rights to the entire film franchise until 2020, and for the original Star Wars the hold the rights forever. But all that means is that there is a deal to be made. Disney has had similar issues with Paramount over the Marvel movies and made it work.
Another reason this should not be so shocking is that there is already so much integration between Disney and Lucas. If you go to Disneyland or Walt Disney World there are rides for both Star Wars and Indiana Jones. There is also a live audience interaction show called the Jedi Academy. On top of that there is plenty of merchandise for both franchises in the parks. So this means that Disney does not need to worry about renewing those licenses any more.
So I say let’s all chill out, take a deep breath, and see where this new turn of events takes us.
Since we are now into the Halloween season, what better way to kick it off then with Tim Burton’s new film Frankenweenie? This is the full length stop-motion remake of Burton’s 1984 live action short about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life.
I’m not going to cover the differences between the two here. I’m going to focus on the new film as it is its own entity and there are enough differences between the two.
The film is a parody and homage to the horror film genre that Burton so clearly loves. It obviously references old Universal Horror, but also touches on Hammer Horror, Japanese kaiju, and a smart nod to Gremlins. There is also tribute to horror stars with characters based on Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorrie, and a clip of Christopher Lee as Dracula.
At the heart of the film however is the simple tale of a boy and his dog. The main character Victor Frankenstein (Yes there is a lot of naming like that in the film) is a boy who doesn’t go out and make friends, but rather spends his time with his dog Sparky making homemade movies. When his father’s efforts to get Victor involved in sports inadvertently leads to Sparky’s death, Victor is inspired to bring him back based on a lesson from the schools eccentric science teacher.
After his success several of his classmates learn what Victor has done, leading them to try themselves. Chaos ensues.
Burton has taken some heat in recent years over some not so great films, like Alice in Wonderland or Dark Shadows. With Frankenweenie Burton is clearly back on form. The large part of that is that this is a movie with heart. Victor is a character you can relate to, especially if you have ever had a pet that you loved.
One of the things I really liked about Frankenweenie was that the movie avoids a lot of clichés that normally plague a story like this. Victor is a loner, but not because the other children shun him or bully him. I was bracing myself early in the film for a scene showing Victor being bullied that never happened. From all appearances Victor could make friends but was just content being a loner. I like that the film showed that basically this was alright, even if it did worry his father.
From a technical side I was amazed at how well the stop-motion figures were able to convey the characters emotions. I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas right before seeing Frankenweenie and I could see how much the craft has evolved in the last two decades.
The voice work was also top notch. Defying expectations this is the first Burton movie since Big Fish to feature neither Johnny Depp nor Helena Bonham Carter. Other past Burton collaborators do make an appearance though. Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short both voice multiple characters including Victor’s parents. Winona Ryder voices Elsa van Helsing, Victor’s neighbor and love interest. Martin Landau steals the show as Victor’s science teacher Mr Rzykruski who is clearly based on Burton’s childhood hero Vincent Price. Charlie Tahan is the voice of Victor and his voice helps carry the emotional core of the film. Special notice also needs to go to Atticus Shaffer as Victor’s classmate Edgar “E” Gore, who is of course based on the classic Igor character.
Frankenweenie is a Burton getting back to what he does best, telling a heartwarming story as filter through an Addams Family sensibility.
John Carter is a movie that has one of the oddest handicaps to overcome, the legacy of its source material. Edgar Rice Burroughs first Barsoom story was published in February 1912 so we are talking about a story that is literally 100 years old.And it is more importantly one of the most influential science fiction series ever. Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Carl Sagan were all inspired by the novels in their work. You can see the influence in Flash Gordon, BuckRodgers, Superman, and StarWars.
This legacy has led many reviewers to label the story derivative. That’s sort of like someone slamming the Lord of the Rings films as a Dungeons and Dragons rip off. I would prefer they get the order of their chickens and eggs correct.
Ignoring all of that, there is one question that needs to be answered, was it a good movie?
Let’s find out.
The movie uses the same framing device that the first novel used, Edgar Rice Burroughs reading a journal left by his uncle John Carter that details his adventures on Mars.
The movie takes a while to get going setting up the basic Martian conflict, the Burroughs framing device, and where Carter’s life is, before eventually getting him to Mars. It does get points for making the means of transportation make more sense and even a plot point.
Once Carter is on Mars or Barsoom as the inhabitants call it the movie kicks into gear. As is my habit, I will not get into a scene by scene breakdown. But there is a lot to call out.
The script on this movie is pretty strong. There is an actual story happening, not just excuses for action scenes. The characters have motivations that make sense and can but people into conflict without forcing it. It’s not an overly complex story, but it is there.
As John Carter Taylor Kitsch has to basically carry the whole film and overall he does a good job with it. While he is not going to be lauded as the next great action star from his performance he does well and if there is a major flaw it is that there is not a lot of humor in Carter and all his lines are delivered with a great deal of earnestness.
Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris steals just about every scene she is in. True to the books Dejah is a strong courageous woman who can hold her own. The Damsel in Distress aspect from the books is toned down for the movie, but is still evident. Collins plays her as an intelligent woman who is not content to wait for someone to come rescue her, but is not above relying on Carter do help win the day.
Williem Defoe has a harder performance to put across as Tar Tarkas, Carter’s Thark ally. All the Tharks are CGI so Defoe has to use his voice. Reports are that he and the other Thark principals were on set as is the current practice for CGI characters, so he is credited with the full performance, not just voice.
The movie also is a mini reunion for the HBO series Rome. Ciaran Hinds who played Julius Caesar plays Tardos Mors King of Helium and Dejah’s father (at least I think he is. In the books he was her grandfather) James Purefoy, who was Mark Antony plays Mors’ right hand man Kantos Kan, and Polly Walker who was Atia plays the Thark Sarkoja.
Mark Strong as Matai Shang, the antagonist that is motivating most of the action. I like that he opted to play his character as sincere without cruelty. It works better than being a mustache twirler.
Dominic West as Sab Than probably suffers the worst of the entire main cast. As Matai’s pawn he has the weakest motivation of any characters.Frankly he is a bit of a mustache twirler.
Overall I feel this was a good movie and worth seeing. The major flaw I see isn’t with the movie itself, but how Disney has marketed it. It was presented as a standard action flick. A better campaign would have celebrated the history of Barsoom and the legacy of the story.The fact that the title is just JohnCarter, not John Carter of Mars, shows that they had no idea what to do with it.
I recommend this movie and hope that we see more of Barsoom in the future.