THE BACK PAGES

Everything old is young again

How do you sell a movie franchise that is getting a bit tired? You make a prequel.

JAIME J. WEINMAN May 8 2006
THE BACK PAGES

Everything old is young again

How do you sell a movie franchise that is getting a bit tired? You make a prequel.

JAIME J. WEINMAN May 8 2006

Everything old is young again

How do you sell a movie franchise that is getting a bit tired? You make a prequel.

JAIME J. WEINMAN

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When the next James Bond movie is released this November, how can the producers make people care? By now, everyone in the world knows what happens in a Bond film, how it ends, even what the supporting characters will be like (the evil woman who gets killed, the good woman Bond kisses at the end). So how do you market the latest film in a franchise? The answer is to pitch it as if it’s something brand new: Casino Royale, based on the very first James Bond novel, will be a prequel to the entire series, with Daniel Craig as a young, inexperienced Bond. Crash writer-director Paul Haggis, who is working on the script, told the Hollywood Reporter: “We’re trying to reinvent Bond. He’s 28: no Q, no gadgets.” The idea of a new, different Bond has already sparked outrage from Bond fans online, who set up the site craignothond.com to organize a boycott of the new movie. But while fans maybe outraged, at least they’re not indifferent.

Prequels to popular movies are usually made either because the creator wants to introduce an entirely new set of characters (the second Star Wars trilogy) or because everybody died at the end of the first film (the only possible explanation for B utch and Sundance: The Early Days). And until recently, long-running movie series tried to keep to the same style and tone with every entry. When a series tried something different, it was punished at the box office: the Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service introduced a more serious tone and a younger Bond (George Lazenby), and was rewarded with disappointing profits.

But the whole Bond series has recently run into box-office trouble by doing the same things over and over, and the producers are

betting that audiences want to see Bond without the slightly smug confidence that he’ll survive everything that happens to him. The director of Casino Royale, Martin Campbell, told IGN.com that Craig’s Bond will even take a stab at something Bond movies aren’t known for—character development: “He’s just got his 007 stripes when he gets into the story so he’s got some rough edges on him to begin with and hopefully, by the end of it, he’ll become the 007 we all know and love.”

What if you want to see still more prequels? Well, Paramount has announced plans for a Star Trek prequel, and, according to Variety, it will feature new actors taking over as James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock. The film’s producer, J.J. Abrams (Lost), has not confirmed this, but told Empire.com: “Those characters are so spectacular. I just think that... you know, they could live again.” Eonline.com reported that online fan reaction was “positive, if the poster was a fan of Abrams, and negative, if the poster wasn’t a fan of prequels.” But after the failure of recent Trek projects—like the TV show Enterprise—Paramount has decided to try and recapture what audiences liked about the franchise to begin with.

The clear model for a lot of these projects is 2005’s Batman Begins. The Batman movie franchise was moribund after the disaster of Batman & Robin—a movie that rehashed

everything the previous Batman movies had done, except bigger, louder and dumber. The franchise was revived with a “reboot”: a movie that retold the story of Batman from the beginning, with a cast, tone and visual approach that were consciously different from the earlier films. It turned out to be a good creative decision and a good marketing decision. Critics hailed the new movie as the best one yet. And as far as marketing went, the back-to-thebeginning ploy allowed the studio to promote the umpteenth Batman movie as though it were something different and fresh.

Even franchises that aren’t doing prequels are at least trying to find some way to make a fresh start. Superman Returns, to be released this June, has Superman coming back to earth after an absence of several years (he discovers Lois Lane is a single mom). Whether these movies focus on a character’s future or his past, they are all trying to give audiences long familiar with the characters a reason to believe they’re going to see something new.

There’s a problem, though: sometimes the new gimmicks can overwhelm the familiar old characters. A writer for aintitcool.com, reviewing the Casino Royale script, wrote: “It successfully molds Bond into a new character, a new type of man—into someone I really liked. Although I’m not sure this man should be called ‘James Bond.’ ” That’s the challenge for any producer trying to reboot a franchise: sometimes when you reboot, you can lose the good things you’ve saved. M