Monday, November 17, 2008

Cinematic rebirth

In advertising, it’s called rebranding. In showbiz, you can call it a good bet to make lots of money. The basic idea is to take something old and stale, and refresh it to make it popular once again. It’s worked wonders with brands like Tab and Cadillac, and filmmakers have recently adapted the concept to some of our most beloved TV and movie dynasties.

The first example was Batman Begins in 2006. The Batman series was struggling. It had gone from intentionally campy to almost serious to unintentionally campy, and audiences were not pleased. But put in the hands of a “serious” director like Christopher Nolan, and with some intense acting from Christian Bale (just realized both of the principals responsible for this cinematic resurrection have “Christ” in their names), the character was reborn and the soul of this American comic classic revived.

It happened again with Casino Royale in the same year. Writer Paul Haggis and director Martin Campbell rewound the clock on the timeless Bond character, effectively rebooting the story of the debonair British spy. They made Bond more physical (though less sexual), more brooding, and more rugged. The film was less about puns and cheap laughs than a study in cold and efficient espionage.

Both of these films were extremely successful financially, and were followed by equally successful sequels this year. This, too, ran counter to the history of both series; normally each sequential movie was not a direct chronological follow-up to its predecessor, but rather an altogether new story. Next year another landmark series will be reborn on the big screen, namely Star Trek. In the able hands of J.J. Abrams, it will follow James Kirk from boy to captain of the Enterprise. This film, like the others above, must strike a balance between presenting a whole new vision of the story, while also maintaining a visual and narrative link to the past.

No matter what, this return to “seriousness” (possibly mirroring the similar change in politics) is a welcome improvement. With a view to the long term development of the character, rather than an individual blockbuster movie, the studio ends up instead with a succession of blockbuster movies.

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