Saturday, October 17, 2015

5 Franchise Disappointments

I've toyed with writing a list of my most disappointing films for a while, the ones I'd built up in my head for years before their release and was ultimately let down.  Most of these have been the big budget franchise films, which always get hyped up and oversold.  However, the ones I really felt I had something to say about were the movies I had very specific expectations for.  In some cases the films were fine, and it was my expectations that were out of proportion.  Sometimes the films were bad, and the disappointments were actually symptomatic of bigger contributing problems.  I've looked at five examples below:

Harry Potter - The Battle of Hogwarts as described in the final "Harry Potter" book, "Deathly Hallows," was a chance to throw all our favorite characters, major and minor, together for one last big fight.  The film version cuts this down considerably.  You do see some quick glimpses of Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, and a few others, but it's quickly apparent that there are far more cast members missing.  Moreover, you only see a few major characters like Harry, Hermione, Ron, Mrs. Weasely, and Professor McGonagall really doing any fighting.

Of course, the logistics were against getting every actor who appeared in the films back for that final battle.  Scheduling was probably already a nightmare.  And if you gave all those extra characters their own little moment, the fight scene would have needed to be abut ten times as long and the narrative would have probably become incoherent.  Director David Yates did manage to preserve a few of the more memorable moments, and the shot with the trio facing down enemies from all of their past movies in quick succession was pretty neat.

TRON - "TRON Legacy" was a disappointment for a lot of reasons, but what really got to me was that after thirty years of advancements in computer technology, it refused to broaden its horizons.  What would the internet look like in the "TRON" universe?  What about viruses and bots and adware?  I still have no idea, because "TRON Legacy" decided to simply upgrade the visuals of the existing universe instead of going out and exploring a new one.  As a result the film looks great, but feels stale.

I understand that Disney wanted to capitalize on people's nostalgia for the first film and the neon '80s designs were a big part of the original's charm.  However, the whole movie played it way too safe, extrapolating only the safest of variations on the original work.  This actually mucks with the whole premise of "TRON," where the Recognizers and Light Cycles reflected the 8 bit nature of video games we saw in the first movie.  Without that context, what's a modern audience to make of the new versions?  How do you restart a franchise with a film that can't seem to find its own footing?

Lord of the Rings - I was so looking forward to Sam and Frodo's heartbreaking ascent of Mount Doom, which took a lot longer in the book, and was altogether a more bleak and harrowing experience.  While you do get a sense of Frodo being worn down and affected by the One Ring's power, there isn't nearly the same degree of desperation and physical exhaustion from the journey.  I don't think the final sequence in the film took more than twenty minutes of screen time.  Instead, Peter Jackson spent far more time on battle sequences and big effects.

Then again, Jackson having to cross-cut between the two storylines necessitated condensing and adding more action to the Sam and Frodo storyline.  Otherwise, the film would have been constantly been going hot and cold, bouncing between high octane action and slow-paced survival drama.  Frankly, the kind of adaptation I wanted didn't fit the tone or the mood of the films that Jackson was making.  He and Sean Astin did nail the most important part of that sequence, though, where Sam carries Frodo.  I have to give them credit for that.

Star Wars - I was never really all that interested in the infamous duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi.  What I was looking forward to was seeing the pair of them as friends during the Clone Wars.  I imagined that their relationship would have been like an earlier version of Luke and Han's except with both of them wielding lightsabers.  No such luck.  The prequels initially have them as master and apprentice, though they become closer to equals by the third film.  However, the movies are so plot-heavy and action-heavy, we barely see them interact casually, and it's hard to get a sense of how they really relate to one another.

Now I haven't seen the "Clone Wars" television series or the other spinoffs, and I'm sure they go into much more detail about Obi-Wan and Anakin's adventures together.  In the films, however, their friendship is poorly established.  Obi-Wan is too often stuck being the stand-in for all of Anakin's issues with being a Jedi, so they're constantly at odds.  This, along with the awful Padme romance,  makes it difficult to view Anakin's turn to the Dark Side as being all that tragic, since the stakes were never properly laid out.

Superman - There are two major things that I've found to be missing from "Man of Steel" and "Superman Returns": romance and humor.  I doubt this is going to go over well with the current group in charge at Warners, but while gloomy and dark works great for Batman, it's been a pretty awful approach for Superman.  He's such an iconic figure, I think Superman needs a little lightening up to be sympathetic.  The romance with Lois Lane also does a great deal to humanize him, and both of the reboots took pains to minimize that.  .

The trouble is, the last time Warners tried a lighter tone with a superhero property, they ended up with the half-baked "Green Lantern."  And pretty much every attempt to inject some romance into the Batman movies hasn't gone well.  Moreover, the irreverent, one-liner slinging approach as seen as the Marvel movies' schtick.  So the DC movies are now taking the opposite position and committing themselves to being super-serious and super-fraught.  I'm just glad this hasn't spilled over into the DC animated Superman - really the only version I've enjoyed since Christopher Reeves and Richard Donner.


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