Monday, April 18, 2011
I Am Number Four
I went to see SCREAM 4 at midnight and I'm not sure what I expected to see. When I was 8 years old, I watched BATMAN FOREVER in the theater and I remember thinking "This is going to be the last one, I better enjoy this". Because my little boy brain raised on movies thought that franchises end at trilogies. Part 4's were reserved for horror movies and pornography. And at the time, I was sort of right. Making a fourth film is pretty much always a cash grab. Nobody has ever set out to make a four part story. It's all about the three act structure. And almost any filmmaker that has told us about their plan for an epic trilogy was a fucking liar (Christopher Nolan, the jury is still out on you). George Lucas being public enemy #1. I know you guys think that I spent my middle school years learning how to french kiss with ladies, but I was actually in libraries reading every scrap of paper ever mass produced about the original Star Wars trilogy. The only clear idea that Lucas had from day one was that he wanted people to fight in space. The characters and over all story changed so much over the years. There were mystic crystals at one point. Luke Skywalker was a grandpa and I think Chewbacca was to played by baby triplets all stacked up in a furry suit. All this talk about a saga and expanded universe is just bullshit. Sometimes when you crank more out of your original story, it works out. Some characters and situations lead to endless possibilities. But that first bitter swallow from the Hollywood machine that gave one too many squeezes to the ol' cash cow is when dreams get shattered. Something you love is no longer perfect. Your emotions are tainted. Something you love has become shitty. This blog is going to be about giving a movie franchise one more college try and the results that changed the face of entertainment forever.
I was shocked and excited when they announced they were going to make a fourth Batman movie. To me, it meant that the future was paved with batarangs. There ain't no stopping this train, and it's gonna shit into our butts forever and ever. I knew the name of the movie before they even announced it, and hindsight being what it is, I should have realized if a 10 year old could figure out the moves of a major motion picture studio, that that was probably a really bad sign. My more level headed friends had the intelligence to question an Alicia Silverstone Batgirl. But this was Batman, they could do no wrong. Why were people being difficult? WHY DO THEY NOT WANT TO HAVE FUN?! We all know how it turned out. We all know how BATMAN & ROBIN single handedly ruined the relationship between fan and movie maker for all times to come. What did I think of it? I loved it! Ice skates in the boots? Inspired! Air surfing! Excitement! And all within the first 20 minutes too. This movie was tailor made for some idiot 10 year old who just wanted to buy the toys and play the scratch off games at Taco Bell. Not having proper access to the internet, I had no idea what kind of war was being waged on Hollywood at the time. All I knew is that the movie was leaving theaters way earlier that I thought it would. BATMAN & ROBIN was in the cheaper and rattier Alhambra Place 5 theater within two weeks. It was sort of heart breaking. I didn't understand. Batman faded away pretty quickly from the public consciousness. It was then I started to realize that four was one too many.
A few years later, Warner Brothers announced that it had finally had offered the right amount of money to the cast of the Lethal Weapon movies for them to want to do another one. Much like Batman, it was a top priority franchise for the studio but they wanted it out by July 1998 and this decision was made at Christmas 1997! LETHAL WEAPON 4 had one of the fastest turn-arounds in history for a movie of it's size. It started filming in late January and was released July 10th, 1998. Lethal Weapon being pretty much equal to Batman in my eyes, I was very excited about this as well. And through the years, I feel it holds up pretty well. The first one is about Riggs learning to let someone in to his life again. The second, learning to love again. The third, he found his match and in the fourth, he learns to fully move on from the tragedy that made him a weapon so lethal, and marry the mother of his brand new son. A Riggs completely rebuilt throughout the course of four films. They accidentally made it work! There is nothing wrong with Riggs anymore. He's complete. There's no reason to be lethal. They succeeded in closing the book on the characters and putting them in a good place. And even harder, they deliver some of the best action in any of the films. The car chase and final three-way battle with Jet Li are products of actual effort and desire to entertain. LW4 is definitely a far cry from the gritty original and definitely the softest of all of the films, but they seemed to stumble on a flow that makes the aging of the characters and result of the events in the series make sense to the audience. They say the pendulum swings both ways, and I think we really lucked out with this. For awhile, they wanted to make a part five which would probably seriously ruin everything, but Mel Gibson decided to ruin his real life instead of his movie life, so we win!
A prequel is a made up term created by Hollywood. There is no such thing as a prequel. No matter when the next movie takes place, no matter how much older or younger the characters are or what spin you want to put on the franchise, another movie is just that. "Another one". It's very important to remember this point when talking about STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE. That title makes me mad just typing it. It's full of trickery! Let's break it down. STAR WARS, a proven brand. It gets you in the door and gets your mouth salivating. EPISODE I, hey, this is the BEGINNING of something. I better sign up now. How did the characters I love get to become the characters I love? We didn't know at the time that this doesn't matter in the slightest, and that if we loved something already, the last thing we need was for it to be spelled out for us. THE PHANTOM MENACE. Here's the bullshit part, shoved way at the end, out of the way. Almost an afterthought. After you've read STAR WARS: EPISODE I, you've already made up your mind about the idea and have probably blown your wad. In fact, all of the merchandise only needed to have STAR WARS: EPISODE I on it. The title was completely arbitrary. THE PHANTOM MENACE. What does that mean? It's not as cool as Wars in the Stars, or Empires Striking BACK or the fucking RETURN of fucking JEDIS! THE PHANTOM MENACE tells you nothing about anything. It should actually be called THE VAGUE THING. The movie was none of those things, actually. It was STAR WARS 4. Plain and simple. Instead of sounding like "Star Wars Again" it tricks you into thinking it's within the realm of greatness of the first movies simply because it happens before the greatness. It's also tricking us into thinking we're going to see the original STAR WARS again because this is the start of a new trilogy. This was the first time, we, as a movie going audience, were expected to repeat a phenomenon again from the ground up. This was new Star Wars. It will be just as beloved and successful as old Star Wars. After all, it's Star Wars. There will never be a movie more disappointing than PHANTOM MENACE. We will never be that excited ever again because this movie added to our complete and utter distrust of Hollywood to ever treat us like thought processing human beings again. Every time we see a sequel or a "prequel" or a "reboot", we cover our balls and tense up, because we all saw PHANTOM MENACE and don't want to be hurt like that again. It sort of destroyed our faith, and that isn't exactly fair. We are now far too weary of what comes along the pike from our favorite characters and stories. We are overly defensive and it sometimes doesn't allow us to enjoy things properly. We're still suffering from Post Traumatic Midichlorean Disorder and while I think we can definitely heal, it's going to take some time.
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD was one of the first movies to test the waters with making another movie to a trilogy that ended way long ago. At least Star Wars's angle could allow them to hire a younger cast. With this, you need John McClane out there putting bullets in everyone's faces, no matter how old or shriveled he is. ROCKY BALBOA, or ROCKY 6 came out the year before and told a sensible and worthwhile story about our aging hero. John McClane had a country to save. The stakes are the highest they've ever been and there is no room for speeches about how old you're getting. You just have to apply old school know-how to the situation and hope it works. And here's the theory I have that makes LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD work for me. McClane hurls a cop car at an enemy helicopter and rides a jet fighter during his adventures in this movie. With each film, I think John McClane gets THAT much better at defeating terrorists and surviving definite fatal situations. He just gets more powerful. He can do this in his sleep, keep throwing it harder at him, he's just going to throw it right back to you. If they get up to part 9, I would totally buy it if McClane had gained the ability to throw terrorists into the sun. Despite everything that had been taken away from the character, the core of the character still rang true. I guess it's easier when all you need for a Die Hard movie is John McClane being John McClane.
The next one is my own personal waterloo. I can't tell you how hard I fell for the Indiana Jones movies as a kid. It's kind of like the kid brother of Star Wars in that it never fully reached the levels of full on total fever blister madness in terms of popularity. Still radically loved and adored, it was more about the films that it was about being a pop culture movement. So, obviously another one was a huge deal to me. And when I left the theater, I couldn't help but ask my friends "that was good, right?" which is something that should have already told me something was wrong. Because I am thick, I saw it an additional two times in theaters. The opening scene should have clinched it for me. It immediately breaks the rules of the trilogy and it's been adr'd and cgi'd within an inch of it's life. More care and attention was paid towards covering things up than trying to have fun. They tried to fit a sci-fi b movie into an adventure serial model. It strayed too far from what it used to be, and what it actually was didn't make any sense. At least X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (which is another horrendous title, and again, is actually X-Men 4) had a horrible precursor to kill any sort of enthusiasm for an X-Men project I could possible have with X-MEN: THE LAST STAND. CRYSTAL SKULL had to be in the shadow of one of my favorite film serieses of all time and break the flawless streak. I tried really hard to love it, and at one point did. I actually loved INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL at one point, and that creeps me out. Remember in THE DARK KNIGHT (Batman 6), when Harvey Dent said you can either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain? That wasn't just some cutesy aside to the fans, it actually means something. George Lucas is a prime example of that. He was a dreamer with an amazing idea and he beat the odds making a movie no studio wanted to make. But he's been the boss for too long, and now instead of changing the game, he now is the game. He is the man. He is the evil empire that is telling you how it is and how it's going to be, and he's not gonna let anyone tell him that cgi fire ants are stupid and unexciting. We simply can not get over how amazing the 80's was for entertainment and we're going to be eating our own tails for many years to come. We're going to continue pretending that a 63 year old Indiana Jones is a thing we should all see. Because the 80's ruled and it will never be the same.
Okay, let's all take a breath and come down by remembering that even though Wolverine's origin was actually told in the comics in a really successful way, that X-MEN 4 decided to get rid of all that junk before the opening credits so we can watch will.i.am teleport around the screen while Ryan Reynolds gives him jibber jabber. They made it so Wolverine's origin wasn't even all that important to the story and then painted themselves into a corner and got out of the corner with adamantium bullets. I seriously think that if M. Night Shymalan were to make UNBREAKABLE 2 today, that A. it would suck and B. water bullets would come into play heavily in the film's third act. Also, remember "I'm drinking to remember?". Oh, ho, ho.
Ok, this has been a lot of rambling all to get to SCREAM 4. I watched the original SCREAM at a young age and as a non-horror fan, but could still appreciate what was going on. The 90's were a time to comment on things that happened in the 70's and 80's. Because people love the 70's and 80's, we accept this as entertainment. SCREAM is a fun mystery thriller by and for fans of movies. Any movies really. Because it's fun to consider whatever your situation is as a movie. In this case, some nut is killing a bunch of teenagers in a mask. We are in a horror movie! Our useless knowledge on cliche is now the key to our survival! Lots of fun. The audience gets to play Nancy Drew for a few hours as we keep guessing as to which character is the killer. SCREAM 2 and 3 had the same things going for it, but they are so afraid of failure that they never take the chances that the original film did. The writer's original visions were constantly changed because of massive concern over the film's ending being leaked onto the internet, leading to conclusions that are confusing or disappointing. The movies were still fun and worked as a trilogy, even though it was never planned out that way no matter what press releases tell you. SCREAM 4 suffers from the same things that INDY 4 did in that it kind of forgets it's part of a series. The mechanics that work in the previous films are forgotten, probably because they were lost in the shuffle of endless rewrites. The opening scene of a SCREAM movie is always exciting, but they didn't know what they wanted to do for it. It starts out fine with two young girls talking about facebook and being sarcastic. Two Ghostface killers murder them and I felt a rush of excitement. They were letting us know up front that they were at least two killers. If they are showing their cards this early, that must mean they have MORE secrets in store for us in the movie and ------ nope, it's a false beginning.
The opening of STAB 6 being watched by two other girls. Okay, that's kind of funny I guess until one stabs the other for talking during the movie and it's revealed that we're actually watching the opening to STAB 7. This makes no sense if you're watching STAB 7 in a world where STAB 7 exists. By now, we've wasted so much time that nothing goes into the real opening which involves two girls again and this time a Ghostface shows up and kills them. That's the opening. I figured that the opening to SCREAM 4 would either set up how the game has changed for the rules of the movie or establish why certain people are being killed. None of this happens. It's kind of a throwaway. They had even wasted all their good guest stars on false starts. I then thought "since the opening kills are always someone who's face is recognizable in one way or another, are they changing things up by killing nobodies? Is that the surprise?" Well, if that's the case, then I guess they established that all deaths will mean nothing and mission accomplished. Neve Campbell comes out of the hiding she went into in SCREAM 3 to write a book about surviving. Something she hated when Courtney Cox did it in the first SCREAM. Of course Ghostface returns when she does and is it really worth it? Even a successful book sells what? A couple of hundred thousand copies? It's not like she can sell the movie rights at this point, why all of a sudden the need to be a writer? Who is she, JK Rowling now? Okay, so Dewy is now the Sheriff and that makes sense and Dewy and Gale's relationship is in trouble AGAIN but this time, for no reason. You know, for a guy who lost his sister in all of this madness, Dewy is never as mopey as Sidney. That's not really a complaint, just an observation. Okay, so word gets out that Ghostface is back and Dewy puts his most incompetent officers in charge of protecting everybody.
We meet the new teens. Emma Roberts is the Sidney character, without the weight of tragedy or any back story or being the main character, so not Sidney at all. Her boyfriend, who is recently estranged for cheating on her. Hayden Panawhatever is a sassy best friend who is one of the only people who seems to be trying with this and having fun. No-name McGee, who gets killed next and never gets developed anyway. Rory Culkin and Friend, who are the resident film geeks and try to explain how the horror genre has changed (commenting on 90's comments!) yet don't really seem to know too much about it or try solving the mystery. I assume these characters got blanded out in rewrites, because in order to critique modern horror, you have to comment on certain things that Dimension Films (the studio that makes SCREAM) has been heavily criticized for. So that's out. There is Alison Bree, who is Neve's publicist and is much fun because Bree rules. She gets killed pretty early, which is regrettable. The killer is revealed to be Rory Culkin, who's ambition was to "remake" the original events but there is no connection to who was originally killed or why. It seems too vague and either over or under written. The second killer is Emma Roberts, which lead to the funniest mask pull off of all time. Her reason was that she hated all the attention she got as "the cousin of famous survivor" if that can even possibly be a thing, and then says she wants to be famous because of all this. "Horror movies rule" and "I'm mad at you, Sidney" have already been done in SCREAM 2 in the same way. And Emma Roberts being the killer is right up there with Jackie from Roseanne being Ghostface. You have to wonder how many times these plots can be foiled before some potential killer says "maybe these guys are too good at thwarting and I shouldn't try this" but that doesn't happen this time. Emma Roberts is successful at stabbing Sidney and then roughs herself up in an attempt to look like she is the lone survivor. For a good long time, the movie does a good job at making us believe that the killer might get away with it. Which if SCREAM 4 ended that way, so what? Is that so harmful? Something new! But no, Sidney is a survivor and isn't dead and Emma Roberts tries to kill her in the hospital and ends up getting thwarted by everyone just like the last three times. Thus killing every new character they created to relaunch the franchise. Sorry, SCREAM 5! It wouldn't hurt for them to keep some characters here and there from each movie. Parker Posey certainly didn't need to go in SCREAM 3 and Hayden Blahblah was actually really good. Neve, Arquette and Cox are so boring and unchanged by this point, that it's not even exciting to see them again. Because they don't do anything. So, what was the point of all this? Why bother if the original writer ends up leaving and the director publicly says "it's not my movie" and all your new characters are dead and nothing changes for the original three? Because the Weinstein Company is really hurting right now financially combined with the fact that they are total pussies. That's why fans must watch characters they love in something stupid. That's why SCREAM slowly crawls more into the category of "something I don't like" from "something I like". It becomes a little bit shittier and my fandom wains just a little bit more. Being chipped at like I was a god damn coal mine. I hate that. Did I ever even really care?
And there's the point in all of this rambling. When we go from "that fucking ruled" to "did I ever even really care?". When something awesome becomes something not. There are certain characters like Superman or Sherlock Holmes that have lasted for decades upon decades. The same story being told over and over but with different points of view. New perspectives and takes being added in to each new version. Variations on a theme. Adaptation. Star Wars and Indiana Jones aren't original. They're based on other things but done bigger and better and more sophisticated. Fear is the reason why movies get to a part 4, because studios are afraid of doing something that people won't want to see. We gotta know when to walk away. We must keep moving. In the immortal words of Jerry Seinfeld "You MUST exercise the gaskets, George".
Okay, I've said so much on this that I officially have stopped caring. And that is probably the whole point of therapy.