Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Friday, September 02, 2011
This summer, as I walked out of the cinema with the Harry Potter credits music still running through my head, I couldn’t help but feel that a large chunk of my youth, which started back in 1999 during a midnight screening of The Phantom Menace, had come to a close.
For those of us who had their late teens or their twenties during the past decade or so, the development of movie franchise ‘fandom’ has been very interesting to watch and, if so inclined, take part in. Over the course of twelve years and fourteen films, the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises have managed to make their new releases into events which make otherwise-sane people queue up at midnight and discuss intricate plot details on online forums, while the filmmakers count their millions. Against the backdrop of the internet explosion, it has been a rapidly evolving marketing machine, but one that I was more than happy to be a consumer of.
Back in the late 90s, before YouTube, facebook or ‘sharing’, the fevered anticipation for the Star Wars prequels still managed to spread like wildfire online. Apple’s much-loved iTunes film trailers were still a mundane Quicktime website, which was congested like never before when the first teaser and then trailer were released online, to unprecedented views and response. Online film trailers are now everywhere, but back then Phantom Menace managed to set the ball rolling in spectacular fashion, and I for one gladly waited an entire night for my moribund dial-up connection to download the highest-resolution version. As it turned out, the trailers would be possibly better than the actual film, but those are just details when the hype is so huge.
Meet me at midnight
The screenings were the next trend. Previously reserved for B-movies and late night entertainment, the witching hour suddenly became the best way to launch an event movie in style. The reasoning was simple - if the film studio has set a strict release date, why not watch it at 00:01 in the morning, to save you a few more hours of waiting? Thankfully, Malta caught on very quickly. Although Star Wars Episode I was released in most of Europe nearly 3 months later than the US (something that would be unthinkable today), the eager local fans still got a midnight screening on Malta’s largest screen, complete with Darth Maul and Darth Vader duelling on stage before the show began. I was initially slightly embarrassed to attend, and had to walk home afterwards (driving lessons were still in progress), but it was worth every minute. The packed cinema included everything from packs of unsightly males in matching t-shirts, to two of my lecturers and even the occasional attractive lass, and the excitement was palpable. So palpable, in fact, that we were more than willing to forgive the film’s huge faults, and return in similar style for the sequels three and six years later. I’ll never forget the magical hush as the words ‘A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away’ were projected onto the screen and my entire field of vision. It was well worth the walk.
Besides the other Star Wars prequels, midnight screenings and cinema marathons soon became de rigueur for the Lord of the Rings films, Harry Potter (both book and film launches), and any other event movie that the distributors thought was viable enough. Part of the fun was obviously knowing that you’re surrounded by fellow fans, but the rush to be the first to see it also played a major role.
Like most things in life, preferences varied. Personal favouritism tussled with objective criticism of the films to make some fans take sides. I had no problem at all mustering an army for the Return of the King midnight screening, but most of my friends abandoned me two years later for the last of the Star Wars films. And Harry Potter seems to have been the preferred domain of the younger crowd, and I for one was perfectly happy to read the books months and years after their release, and then see the films at my own pace. But all three franchises had a comparably impressive hold on generations X and Y. Looking back, it seems indubitable that LOTR far surpassed the other two in terms of film quality, with the three films being both amazing adaptations of the treasured books, and films accessible to a very wide audience. Which is why, like many of my friends, I suggested it to my parents, but would never dream of sitting them down in front of Attack of the Clones.
Harry Potter has also proved to be a sharp adaptation job, also benefiting from one of the most impressive casts ever assembled, and the collaboration of the author. I suspect that if I were a decade younger I would have devoured them with greater zeal. But still, I enjoyed every one of them, and for an entire decade they were something to look forward to. Star Wars reigns supreme because of the indelible legacy left by the original trilogy, although despite George Lucas’ flaccid direction the three new films did manage to steadily improve, and were still a feast for the senses.
Of course, just like participation was optional, so was the level of involvement. Not everyone likes to remain spoiler-free until D-day, and then discuss and dissect films at length online. Not everyone needs to wear a wizard costume to the midnight screening. And thankfully not everyone chooses to name their son Anakin. I chanced upon the world premiere of the final Harry Potter film recently, in Trafalgar and Leicester Squares. I rather enjoyed it, although for me and many others it simply involved walking around the perimeter fence, trying to catch a glimpse of a star or two, and taking a couple of photos. Others had chosen to camp in the rain from two days earlier to get a good spot, and I saw mothers leaving the enclosure consoling teenage girls as they bawled their eyes out and stared at smudged signatures on their hand. To each his own, I guess. Midnight screenings might seem like insanity to many, and tattoos of the Millennium Falcon might seem like insanity to me. But that’s one of the beauties of fandom - you pick your level of involvement, depending on how interested you are (and how much time you have on your hands).
So now what?
Despite the glittering conclusions of the above three sagas, there are obviously many other ways for us to spend our time (and money). The fantasy genre, breathed back into life by Frodo and friends, is alive and very well, with numerous films following in Return of the King’s wake. None have been as good, so far, although the ongoing Game of Thrones TV series should keep appetites sated for quite a while, considering the great source material. Attempts at kindling new franchises, such as the Narnia series and the Inheritance cycle (Eragon), fell rather short of the mark. Twilight is raking in millions, despite scathing reviews of all the films, but their target audience is very narrow (and I am obviously not part of it). Science-fiction is of course constant, but again, not even a brilliant reboot of the Star Trek franchise possessed the necessary magic and sense of history to equal the scale of the Force. Plus, what’s the fun without lightsabers?
Other genres and franchises have fan bases of their own, and I for one look forward eagerly to the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which has been quite unprecedented in terms of critical acclaim and fan appreciation. But I doubt that any superhero film, or any other film of huge proportions such as Avatar, could ever compete with something like middle-earth, because of the huge amount of detail that creators such as Tolkien and Lucas have put into creating their universe. Which is why you can find Master degrees in Tolkien literature, and countless novels set in the Star Wars expanded universe.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not tolling any death bells yet. As Hollywood obviously knows very well, where there’s money to be made and pocket-money to exploit, film franchises will find a way to re-invent themselves. Until then, we also have many tangential projects to keep us occupied. Lucas has clearly stated that he won’t make any more prequels or sequels, which is probably a good thing. But the rebels and the empire live on in video games, an animated TV series, and a possible live-action TV series that has been hinted at. J. K. Rowling has an intriguing online Potter project in the pipeline, although she has clearly stated that no more stories will be written about the bespectacled boy. Peter Jackson is filming The Hobbit at this very moment, which is great news for LOTR fans, although I can’t seem to get too excited about it yet. Of course, that will all change once I see the first teaser trailer.
Films released this month:
CONAN THE BARBARIAN - the film that made Schwarzenegger a star gets remade, with just as much muscles and probably more gore.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS - Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis star as a couple of attractive friends who fool around but agree never to get romantically involved. Yeah right.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY - classy cast, classy spy novel, classy period setting - this looks great.
JANE EYRE - classics are called such for a reason, which might explain why this one is made into a film every ten minutes or so.
THE CHANGE-UP - Two male friends. One’s house is littered with nappies, the other with thongs. They swap bodies for some adult comedy.
KILLER ELITE - Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro, plus guns, action and intrigue.
COLOMBIANA - Zoe Saldana starts as a sexy assassin with vengeance on her mind. Nikita meets Kill Bill.
Release dates are subject to change. All films released locally by KRS Film Distirbutors Ltd.