When a franchise is brought back to life, should the original director come with it?

News Simon Brew 5 Oct 2010 - 06:26

Simon wonders if the idea of keeping the original crew intact when resurrecting a dormant movie franchise is necessarily the best plan…

It's hardly news that Hollywood is circling many of its long-ish dormant franchises for fresh opportunities to make cash. Whether you liked it or not, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for instance, pulled in over $700m at the box office alone, nearly 20 years after Indy and co rode into the sunset at the end of The Last Crusade. It's by some distance the most successful Indy outing to date, in pure box office terms.

Bruce Willis, meanwhile, left it over a decade to return to John McClane with Die Hard 4.0, and again, he was rewarded with the franchise's biggest box office take to date.

Right now, then, umpteen franchises are being primed for resurrection. Men In Black is coming out of mothballs after nearly a decade. Rumours continually surround Ghostbusters III, which seems no closer to a shoot right now. Mad Max, meanwhile, is set to go before the cameras again imminently. We've got new Alien movies coming, a possible third outing for Bill & Ted, ongoing chatter about the long-mooted Evil Dead IV, vague noise on Gremlins 3, and just maybe Jurassic Park 4. Midnight Run 2 has been mentioned, but we'd be amazed if it happened.

But all of this has set me thinking. Because there's a stumbling block that movie executives face when they choose to resurrect a franchise from yesteryear. And that's just how much of the original creative talent do you call on? Or, more specifically, do you get the same director back?

It's a hard question to answer, because the truth is that a decade or two is a long time in anyone's life, and a movie director is no exception. As such, should they choose to return to a franchise, as the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have, they return as slightly different, evolved filmmakers. And that's not always to the benefit of the end result.

I can't, to be fair, think of anyone else I'd have wanted to direct Crystal Skull than Spielberg, yet I also can't help thinking that the younger version of the man who made The Last Crusade back in the late 80s would have more confidently called bullshit when he got the Crystal Skull screenplay.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I struggle to come up with too many examples of a director successfully resurrecting a franchise after a decade or so away. Wes Craven, arguably, came close with Wes Craven's New Nightmare, and John McTiernan had a decent stab at Die Hard: With A Vengeance. But Spielberg couldn't move Indiana Jones on, George Lucas seemed to have lost his touch with Star Wars, while the Oliver Stone that's just pumped out Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps seems very different from the sharper version making movies in the 80s and early 90s.

This, then, inevitably raises questions about the upcoming franchise resurrections that are keeping the original director on board.

Ghostbusters 3 has proven to be the most contentious. If you believe the tittle-tattle, then Sony would like to get Ivan Reitman off the project. Reitman, however, is reported to have a water-tight contract from the 80s that prevents that happening. And, if you were being an utterly objective movie fan about it, you'd have to see Sony's point.

Ivan Reitman has made some outstanding films. But look at his recent output. His last movie was the quite terrible My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and that was nearly five years ago. Since then? Nothing. Is he really, if you were in Sony's position, the man you'd go to in order to resurrect the Ghostbusters series?

I have similar thoughts about Men In Black too. Here, Barry Sonnenfeld has signed back up to direct the third film in the franchise, not withstanding just how unambitious the first sequel was. Sonnenfeld will always have a special place in my heart for The Addams Family movies. And yet, it's been nearly five years since his last film, too, the tepid Robin Williams vehicle R.V. (although he's worked on some terrific TV shows in that time)

I'd love Sonnenfeld to find a lower budget, more interesting comedy project than a third Men In Black film. And I can't help but feel that Men In Black 3 could use a different set of hands on the steering wheel, too.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the best days of the directors I'm talking about have gone. Far from it. I'm saying that they've evolved, they've moved on, and they're not quite the same people who directed the earlier movies. And, tough and unfair as it might be, the mantle, in the case of some of these franchises, needs to be moved on.

You can count me as one of the many surprised that Len Wiseman did such a sterling job on the fourth Die Hard movie. Yet he did, and I don't think John McTiernan would have done it any better. It was certainly hard to quarrel too much with Nimrod Antal's handling of Predators, too.

The only upcoming franchise resurrection where I am keen to see the original director attached, at least the only one I can think of, is Alien. I say that having struggling with quite a lot of Ridley Scott's recent output (although I did enjoy American Gangster, of his recent movies). Yet, short of James Cameron marching back into battle, Scott is both the logical and fascinating choice. Who better to bring the franchise full circle, to go back to the original story, than the man who risked much of his career to get it kickstarted in the first place?

It's, as I said at the start, a tricky one. But it seems to me that the most successful franchises are the ones that are willing, from time to time, to make the ruthless choices. To change the personnel behind the camera, or at least to try new things. That seems to be the way to give a franchise a longer lifespan, and, crucially, it seems to lead to a better film too...

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