Why Star Trek 2 and other Trek sequels need to pick up the pace
|FEATURES - MOVIES|
Hurry up, Hollywood! And you were once so sprightly...
The next 12 months bring us the reboots of two franchises that barely had time to gather dust before giving place to their all-new successors: The Amazing Spider-Man and the Superman reboot Man Of Steel - both characters last seen on cinema screens about six years ago, courtesy of Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer, respectively.
If a week is a long time in politics, it's positively a geological era in movie franchises - complicated further, in the case of many comic-book adaptations, by the need to output a new movie by a certain date or lose the franchise rights entirely.
It occurred to me recently that the two big factors have changed the frequency with which many franchises pump out sequels are a) the 'star show-runner' factor and b) an intolerance for ageing actors - and that they are interrelated.
But let's start with age.
For instance, the Spider-Man franchise shares certain age-related issues with the likes of AMC's Breaking Bad and other TV series which attempt to depict short periods of time over a span of many seasons - and therefore many years. Former web-slinger Tobey McGuire is currently 37 years old - a reach for Raimi's Spider-Man 4, if it had ever happened, given that the title character remains a perpetual student and freelance photographer struggling in the early part of his career in New York City. And if you're going to recast because the crow's feet are starting to show, then hell - why not reboot?
The cracks are showing a little in Breaking Bad too. To date the five years of the series still only covers about a year in the turbulent lives of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. The show's producers, anticipating this, were smart enough to cast R.J. Mitte, then 16 himself, as inbetweener Walter White Jr, and he's continuing to carry off 16 nicely as he approaches his twentieth birthday. But some of the rest of the cast are starting to show those five years. On the other hand, they've all had a hell of a year, fictionally speaking!
In the case of Spider-Man, the need for perpetual youth is fairly chronic; Spider-Man 1-3 took us about as far into the saleable mythology of Peter Parker as producers dare go - school, university, and taking snaps for J. Jonah Jameson. Beyond that we're talking...what? The grand tour? Spider-Man in Paris? A late-twenties Parker struggling with kids and a mortgage? That or the embarrassment 1980s viewers had to put up with as a patently over-the-hill Roger Moore kept plugging away at James Bond until any sequel to A View To A Kill would have had Q presenting 007 with a bullet-shooting Zimmer-frame. Things must reboot sometimes, or at least change in the face of advancing years. This much I admit.
Back in 1978 a mid-twenties Christopher Reeve found himself romantically embroiled with a 30 year-old Margot Kidder in Richard Donner's Superman. Reeve himself was playing a credible 30 year-old (if you follow the Marlon Brando narration in the movie), so it was a good match. By the time the final Superman film hit the cinemas in 1987, Kidder was almost 40. Younger stock had already been brought in for Superman III in 1983, in the shape of the then 30 year-old Annette O'Toole, and Superman IV brought the 27 year-old Mariel Hemingway into the mix to mitigate the 'Star Trek effect' - but more on Star Trek shortly.. In any case, Kidder needed glamour back-up for the later films, it seemed - at least the writing and casting indicated so.
Bryan Singer, possibly the most devoted fan of the Donner-strain of Superman movies, anticipated this by casting an absurdly young actress in the role of Lois Lane for his reverent homage/reboot of/to the original movies - Superman Returns (2006). Kate Bosworth was 21 years old when she played Lane in Superman Returns, and looked about 17, and therefore rather inappropriate in the part (I argue that Superman Returns' semi-villain Parker Posey would have made a better Lois Lane in the movie, but even if she was currently defying her 38 years, that wouldn't have fitted into Singer's long-term sequel strategy).
So with the (ultimately doomed) prospect of a three-year sequel release cycle for Singer's new Superman movies, Bosworth's youth gave the director a chance to at least knock out a new(ish) Superman trilogy over 9-10 years without needing to smear up the lens for Bosworth's close-ups in later entries. Superman himself, actor Brandon Routh, was a year or so older than Christopher Reeve when he took on the role. By the time the belated Superman IV came out, Reeve was fighting impending baldness with Minoxidol and wore a partial hairpiece for the movie.
What has all this got to do with the Star Trek sequel?
This: JJ Abrams' Star Trek came out to tremendous critical acclaim in May of 2009. The sequel, as yet untitled, is set for release on May 17th 2013. That's a four-year gap. How was it that the original cycle of Star Trek movies, featuring William Shatner and Co., managed to push a film out every two years during the 1980s? How did the producers of the original Planet Of The Apes movies manage to push out a new apes film every year until the franchise was played out? How were we able - until the strange interruptions following The Living Daylights (1987) - to spend decades getting a new 007 outing every other Christmas?
It's not impossible, even now, to push out a cycle of films on a reasonably regular schedule - it's happening with Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes series, which seems to be adopting the reasonable three-year release cycle that George Lucas has always approved of.
Honestly, if Star Trek 2 [untitled] were to come out any later, they'd recast it, I swear, and we'd have to see the Enterprise getting built all over again (perhaps, more credibly, in space this time).
To boot, this year finally sees a sequel to The Dark Knight - four years, again, after that film was released.
It's no wonder they have to cast babes when contemplating the big picture, as it were; or to film trilogies and sequels back-to-back (as was done with the Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter movies); unlike with the original Star Trek movies or with the Apes films, entire franchises now rest on the wunderkind masterminds behind them, such as Christopher Nolan and JJ Abrams. And these guys want to make interstitial movies; and the studios will wait for them. The Prestige, Super 8, Inception - some pretty fine movies, but they're spreading franchise releases very thin while the producers drum their fingers for the guaranteed sequel blockbusters.
To be fair, there was an extra imperative to the original frequency of the 1980s Star Trek movies - by any standards, the cast were ageing rapidly, and a two-year release cycle made sense to capitalise on a successful spin-off movie franchise. But even if Nick Meyer is acknowledged to be the force that turned the series into something worthwhile, the directors of the original Star Trek films were all 'jobbing it' in some way or another. There was no Svengali to wait for, and the instalments that had good scripts were both profitable at the box office and successful with critics. Even if the producers did scrap the set of the Enterprise every single time the latest film wrapped (pessimists!).
Bear in mind that Richard Donner knocked out his first three Lethal Weapon films on an average release cycle of two years, without any such concerns about an ageing cast.
So, to quote the great football anthem - why are we waiting? Why are we waiting so long for Batman and Star Trek movies as to risk having them all recast and rebooted (which will happen to the Batman movies in any case once The Dark Knight Rises has made its mark)..?
Making movies is hard, and sometimes there's even a little rocket science involved. But that's not why we're boomeranging between the avalanche of Potter/Twilight movies and the drip-fed fare of the Nolan Batman movies and the Abrams Star Trek films. The real reason is that this is the second age of the Auteur Film-maker- perhaps the first era of its kind since the 1970s (for instance Francis Ford Coppola only made Godfather II on condition that he was allowed to make The Conversation first). I don't know if that's a good thing, much as I love the 1970s - because I'm a little tired of seeing teenagers (or actors who look like teenagers) filling out the roles of older people just because the New Gods might not want to return to their guaranteed pay-days for a few years.
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