Will anticipation kill The Force Awakens?

Star Wars fans waited in anticipation. The trailer for the new Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace, was going to premiere in theaters. First, rumors spread that the trailer would be attached to Wing Commander, also a 20th Century Fox film. Then, the rumors, and later confirmed reports, placed it in front of Meet Joe Black.

The anticipation for this new trailer in November of 1998 was huge. I went to see Wing Commander hoping to see the trailer. Instead, I saw a bunch of trailers to movies I didn’t care about. And I had to watch Wing Commander.

Phantom Menace Darth Maul

In retrospect, Darth Maul was still a badass!

As a New York Times article reported at the time, people bought tickets to Meet Joe Black, watched The Phantom Menace trailer, and left before Brad Pitt ever walked on screen. Also, the response to the trailer was incredibly positive.

Now, of course, everyone says they knew The Phantom Menace would stink – a sentiment I still don’t exactly agree with. The Phantom Menace is a weak film, but still has a lot to offer. Roger Ebert wrote a very positive review of the film, stating:

What [George Lucas] does have, in abundance, is exhilaration. There is a sense of discovery in scene after scene of “The Phantom Menace,” as he tries out new effects and ideas, and seamlessly integrates real characters and digital ones, real landscapes and imaginary places. We are standing at the threshold of a new age of epic cinema, I think, in which digital techniques mean that budgets will no longer limit the scope of scenes; filmmakers will be able to show us just about anything they can imagine.

And while it’s easy to look at Rotten Tomatoes and see all the negative reviews, most of them are in hindsight. A review written a decade after The Phantom Menace has its value, but it fails to represent the zeitgeist of the era in which The Phantom Menace was released. Looking back at the reviews featured on Rotten Tomatoes, a pattern emerges, especially in reviews from the time the film was released, the mixed reviews included some that hated the film and others that loved the film.

Kylo Ren the force awakens star wars

You see Darth Maul had a double-edged light saber. Kylo Ren has a broad-sword-style light saber. Originality has no end!

Yet, here we are again, 16 years after The Phantom Menace. The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film made without the input of George Lucas, is being released in a few weeks. Fans on YouTube and on online forums have praised the trailers. The anticipation grows. Many fans have said this will finally wash the bad taste of the prequels out humanity’s collective consciousness. However, I believe fan reaction will be similar to the prequels. At first, there will be excitement. Then, derision.

I worry that fan expectation will ruin the new Star Wars films.

Star Wars has become something bigger than a series of movies, with books, comics, toys, video games, and pajamas attached. It has become a religion for many. Fans have built an expectation of what they individually believe Star Wars should be. If Jesus came back today, would he be accepted by the gun-worshiping conservatives, who out of one side of their mouth worship him as the Prince of Peace, yet walk around fanning the flames of violence? Or would Jesus, who taught that the Jewish law would last forever, be accepted by liberal Christians who believe in multiple paths to God? The point is this – Star Wars cannot please all fans. Many, nearly all, fans I read on the Internet, say the new movies need to be more adult because Star Wars needs to mature with them as they get older.

Bullshit! Are fans who discovered Star Wars in the late 80s or early 90s really saying that Star Wars needs to mature at the rate they mature? I was there, May 1977, at my local theater. I was eight and wanted to see this new movie. It was like a born again experience when that little ship was chased by that gigantic triangular star ship. For me to say that Star Wars needs to be in line with my near-50 mentality and exclude everyone else is a sign of religious zeal and not a love of the films.

And for those who somehow think Rogue One is going to be the adult Star Wars film, I have one word: Disney.

I appreciate the anticipation for The Force Awakens. I’m not writing this to say that I think it will be bad. I like a lot of what I’ve seen in the trailers. I want it to be an amazing experience. However, it is being made by Disney, which is mainly in the business of branding. And the signs are there that this is a film made to meet “fan” expectation. Nearly every scene in the trailers mirrors something from the original trailer. Hell, the poster shows that we are getting a new, improved Death Star. It was good enough for two movies, why not three? Screw originality!

And I like J.J. Abrams, but his theatrical films have been derivative at best. Mission Impossible III was good, but it was a sequel. His Star Trek films run from the very entertaining, but stupid, first film and the atrocity that is Star Trek into Darkness. Neither film had much respect for the 40-plus years fans had invested in the characters. Elements like Khan and tribbles were thrown in, not to please fans, but because the general population knows those things, and not much else. As a matter of fact, both of Abrams’ Star Trek films demonstrate a clear disrespect for fans, who don’t represent enough money to cater to, and the general public, which the films seems to believe are too shallow to want any real emotions in their movies.

But, in his defense, Abrams had little to do with the writing on those films. In the special features for Star Trek into Darkness, he seems professional about the process of making the film, yet never shows a real enthusiasm toward the series. With the Star Wars series, he seems more involved, not just as a filmmaker, but as someone who loves the galaxy far, far away.

I sympathize with the anticipation fans are showing toward the new Star Wars films. As fans, we have been told almost nothing about the new film. I hope everyone involved knocks it out of the park, pleasing critics, fans, and kids.

And by the way, if you are not watching Star Wars Rebels, why not? The animated series is pure Star Wars, yet introduces new concepts and ideas. It’s geared toward a young audience, pre-teens and early teens, yet has compelling stories, great action, and wonderful characters. At 47, should I be embarrassed that I’m watching something on Disney XD? I don’t think so. It sucks me into the adventure every time. Hopefully The Force Awakens will do the same.

©  Paul George and The Reno Signal, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dude! It’s time to talk about the summer movie season

The Fantastic Four return in 2015 with a gritty, dark reboot. Courtesy Fox

The Fantastic Four return in 2015 with a gritty, dark reboot. Courtesy Fox

Since I was a kid, summer was about going to the movies. I blame Star Wars, really. I enjoyed movies before Star Wars, but, as an eight-year-old kid sitting in a theater, Star Wars was a religious experience.

Of course the summer movie season has grown since then, with the studios putting all their big-tent movies out during the season, hoping to rake in dump trucks full of money. And while it’s easy to shrug off summer films as ephemera, many of them have remained popular over the years. Yes, the summer movie is typically “the popcorn flick” in the minds of many. But what’s wrong with that? The Wizard of Oz is really a popcorn flick, and a damn great film.

I’m excited for this summer, although last year will be hard to beat. Marvel book-ended our 2014 summer with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, two great films that show just how well-oiled the Might Marvel Movie Machine is. We also got Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Both are good movies based on what seemed like tired franchises.

So here’s a breakdown of some of 2015’s most anticipated summer films. I will generously rant about what’s wrong with humanity as the subject comes up. My expectations are based on the trailer and whatever general knowledge about the film is out there.

Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers age of ultron poster

Who the hell makes titles to movies these days? I miss the old days when Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home came out and, rather than waste time and brain cells saying and remembering that title, we just said “the one with the whales.”

And I like that they always put “Marvel” at the front. I thought the last Avengers film was a sequel to the Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman film.

When The Avengers came out a few years ago, I expected it to be the peak of the Mighty Marvel Movie Movement. We had gotten a great collection of films: Iron Man, Iron Man 2 (not the best, but still a watchable film), The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. Not only was it a fun film that used the characters and cast well, it whetted my appetite for more Marvel movies.

Again, I feel that maybe this year is the apex for Marvel. But I’m always wrong. It just seems like the property is getting so big, it is bound to crush itself.

What Marvel and Disney have done is unprecedented. They’ve created a cinematic universe. The move took balls and it paid off. They’ve developed a cinematic fabric that keeps getting larger and more complex.


I must say, Disney has become the master’s of building anticipation through teasers and trailers. The trailers to Age of Ultron tell us as little as possible about the film, yet instilling a desire to see the film. I thought Ultron was a terrible villain choice until I saw him move and heard James Spader’s voice.

Age of Ultron is the big movie this summer. My biggest concerns is some of the action scenes look exactly like the action scenes in the first film. There’s also an ever-so-slight feeling that the main cast is getting a little tired of these movies.

The Fast and the Furious 7

furious 7

Or Furious 7.

I’m not sure if the term “guilty pleasure” is a useful term or not. If you like a film, you like it. You shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Well, if your favorite film is Fifty Shades of Grey, you should feel guilty … and see a priest. Movies are highly subjective. While a general consensus has some value, I enjoy reading reviews to get other people’s perspectives, it all boils down to whether each individual liked it or not.

I really dig the Fast and Furious series. There are some serious missteps since there was never a plan to have a franchise. It was Fast Five that really pulled the series together. That film had everything I want in an action movie (although boobs would have been nice).  And Furious 6 followed that formula. I’ve grown to like these characters. And the films deliver a lot of bang for your buck.


F7 was originally intended to come out last year, but Paul Walker died. I’m still not sure how this will be handled in the film. The biggest challenge is going to be how do the filmmakers produce a film that’s fun and exciting without disrespecting the audience’s feelings about Walker. Tough situation. I hope it’s handled well.

Ant-Man

ant-man poster

When Marvel announced Guardians of the Galaxy, I thought it had gone off the deep end. I was familiar with the characters (neerrrd!), but could not image the general public accepting such an eccentric concept.

To its credit, the Massive Marvel Marketing Machine really sold the film to audiences.

Ant-Man is another quirky Marvel concept. The effort to get Ant-Man on the screen has been challenging. Edgar Wright, who made Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, one of my favorite comic book adaptation, was all set to direct. Eventually he left and Peyton Reed (Yes Man, Bring It On, and The Break-Up) got the job.


The teaser left me shrugging my shoulders. I hope it’s good. Really, I never want a movie to be bad. I don’t have time for bad movies. Paul Rudd seems a bit miscast, but Marvel’s been dead-on with its casting in these films.

And for the record, clever poster Marvel.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic_Four_2015_poster

Can we just stop it with the reboots?


I admit the teaser intrigues me. It is certainly a good-looking film. But the concept of  Dr. Doom being a blogger worries me greatly. This is a franchise that Fox has, so, while a Marvel property, has no relationship with the Mega Marvel Movieverse.

I know I'd pay $12 to see this brought to live action. Come on Fox, bring it!

I know I’d pay $12 to see this brought to live action. Come on Fox, bring it!

Doctor Doom being a blogger shows a lack of confidence in the source material. Have you seen Loki in The Avengers? Marvel and Tom Hiddleston own that shit! It just feels like Fox doesn’t get it.

I used to read Fantastic Four comics. They were fun, colorful, exciting, and, at times, silly. Give it a tone like Guardians of the Galaxy. Or, if you want to be daring Fox, make it a parody of the entire genre. It needs a good ribbing.

Pixels

hpxaytu_large

Wait! A movie not based on a comic book or long-running franchise. Could it be Hollywood wants to produce something original for our summer entertainment orgy?

To quote Nelson Muntz: “Ha ha.”

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

This is blatant knock-off of an episode of Futurama. Aliens attack, using classic video games as the blueprint for their invasion. If it were clever, I’d be cool with scrumping the concept.

And did I mention, Adam Sandler? I love his older films. They are stupid, and I mean STUPID, but I laughed a lot during Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy. However, the guy hasn’t had an inspired moment in more than a decade. Based on the trailer, he’s just walking through this role. And honestly, if Adam Sandler doesn’t give a shit about his career, why should I?


My feeling is that this movie exists for two reasons: nostalgia and CGI. Wouldn’t it be great if all your favorite old-school video game characters invaded earth? Not really. Hey, with CGI we can make it look like a pixilated Donkey Kong is really attacking mankind. That’s cool, right? Um, we’ve really passed the point of CGI as just a visual gimmick.

Mad Max: Fury Road

mad-max-fury-road tom hardy

Originally I forgot to write anything about Mad Max: Fury Road. That’s a shame, because I’m excited about this one. I am not one to gripe about CGI in films. But it has been overused. While this film has some CGI, the majority of the action is practical. And by practical I mean cars and trucks smashing into each other.

I love the original films, especially The Road Warrior. Beyond Thunderdome is weak, partially because it is a watered-down, kid-friendly version of the first two films. But the first two, I swear stunt men died making those.

That’s insane! Tom Hardy looks like he’s going to do a great job taking over Mel’s role. And it’s great to see George Miller, the original director, returning to Max’s post-apocalyptic world. Visually, it looks creative, not derivative.

And it looks like the film’s earned an R rating, so kick those little kids out of the theater and let me enjoy the mayhem.

Terminator: Genisys

entertaiment weekly terminator genisys

For films, Terminator Genisys is like someone (an asshole by the way) took your grandmother’s amazing apple pie recipe and added kale.


Rather than reboot Terminator, still a bad idea, a bunch of people who didn’t have a goddamn thing to do with the classic films have decided to create a change in the timeline, rewriting the events of the original Terminator film.

I was going to use this image to show what I think Paramount is doing to a classic film. But then I realized that might be an insult to Don Martin's comic genius. Image: Mad Magazine.

I was going to use this image to show what I think Paramount is doing to a classic film. But then I realized that might be an insult to Don Martin’s comic genius. Image: Mad Magazine.

It’s copying the formula used in Star Trek (2009). However, the producers of this Terminator film less interested in finding a way to reboot the franchise in a way that allows an original story, and more interested in finding a way to re-hash the first film, while pretending to create something new. Looking at the trailer, I see nothing original or even a little clever.

I thought the remake of Robocop got a few things right. First, it was a remake. It took the basic concepts and tried to make its own story out of it. Second, as a remake, it understood that certain rules from the original have to be translated over to the new version.

Unlike Mad Max: Fury Road, Terminator Genisys has no input from James Cameron, the man who created the first two films. Neither situation is a guarantee of quality, but it says something about the artistic vision behind the two films.

I love Arnold Schwarzenegger. And I love the first two Terminator films — and don’t hate the other two. He’s important to the franchise, but that’s only because no one seems to be interested in truly developing an original Terminator film.

The producers recast every character in the film, except Arnold. I would be happier if they just recast the Terminator instead of going with grandpa-terminator. However, the new cast seems a bit off to me. A lot is riding on audiences embracing the new cast.

And that leads me to …

A Little Originality, Please?

I don’t expect every film to be the most original film ever. Many great films have been based on books. Many of the Marvel films are great films with compelling plots, interesting characters, and clever dialogue.

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) was a remake of a film based on a short story. The film, however, is very much its own entity, full of creative visuals. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) was a remake of a film based on a short story. The film, however, is very much its own entity, full of creative visuals. Courtesy Universal Pictures.

But the current summer movie roster seems to lack any original ideas. If you look at 1982, a big summer movie season, studios released a large variety of films. Yes, many of them were franchise films (there was a Grease 2?). However, there was also E.T., Blade Runner, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

It is sad, at least for me, when Pixels seems like the most original idea out there. It’s not a very original idea, not at all.

It also bothers me that we, the audience, now use Hollywood business terminology for our films. Every film is intended to be a franchise. We don’t think of Avengers as a series of films, but as a product. Fox and Sony keep rebooting the Fantastic Four and Spider-man because they don’t want to lose the property.