Film-making is built upon decisions. How will the screenwriter decide to include backstory to a character, how will the director decide to frame a scene, how will an actor decide to deliver their line? Furthermore, how will a producer decide to finance the film, how will the advertisers decide to market the film and what film will consumers decide to see on a hot summer day?
Much like the process of film-making itself, Hollywood — and the movie industry in general — is at the crossroads of a decision: do original ideas have merit anymore, or will remakes, sequels and franchise movies continue their overwhelming reign at the box office? This has been a common theme of the past 10 or so years, but never has it been more present than in the summer of 2019.
For many people, summer blockbuster season started in late April with Jeremy Renner’s family turning to dust and Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” playing over the monolithic logo of Marvel Studios. The film “Avengers: Endgame” was epic in the most literal sense of the word, with a runtime of three hours and two minutes and with content culminating the 22 previous films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It goes without saying that franchise and sequel movies are not inherently bad: Marvel films are generally well received and respected by customers and critics alike. It genuinely seems like each director and actor is trying to do what movies are made for; telling a good story.
But like using the quantum realm to travel back in time and steal magic space rocks, sometimes a wrench is thrown into everything. The success of the Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) has spurned competitors to completely rethink their film-making philosophy. Though we did not see any DC Extended Universe films since last spring’s “Shazam”, the franchise presents a glaring example of a studio hopping on a trend despite just trying to tell good stories. Which isn’t to say “Shazam” was bad — one may even think it was quite good, but it’s part of the same franchise as “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
Aside from caped heroes, studios like Legendary and Universal have adopted the same strategy with their summer releases “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “Hobbs and Shaw,” each with a cinematic universe of their own. “Fast and the Furious” has been around for a long time and “Godzilla” for even longer; is it just that Hollywood is running out of ideas?
This is probably not the case. Just here at Wittenberg there are probably a dozen students with their own original film ideas, carefully detailed and tucked away in old notebooks. It is not that filmmakers do not have ideas, it is that film executives know that old ideas still make money.
This summer saw the resurgence of two beloved Disney titles: “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” Two remakes of two of the greatest American animated films ever made. One cannot assume Disney means to disrespect the hard work of hand drawn animators or the memory of Robin Williams, but everyone knows “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” If there’s a new version of it, people will go see it, and it is going to make money.
Much like the themes in Ari Aster’s new comedy/horror film “Midsommar,” sometimes things change and the result is not better or worse, just different. Or maybe it is like the themes in Quentin Tarantino’s new film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” that sometimes shifting between eras in entertainment is unavoidable. Maybe it’s both, and maybe that’s not bad at all. Who’s to say? The decision is yours.