Sometimes it makes utter, inarguable sense to take your franchise to space!
Often it doesn’t!
Our bi-annual Fictionside series heads to the stars with five franchises that did the same, as our fifth anniversary finds us zooming back to Earth!
WE’RE NOT HEADING TO SPACE – WE WERE ALWAYS THERE! As we take a long turn to head back to Earth for our fifth anniversary refit, at the end of our first utterly unique five year mission, Fictionside returns. Having taken in rules of rebooting, the peril of shared universes, and our favourite heroes and villains, we thought it was time to think outside the box.
So this Fictionside, we’re taking a look at five franchises that against all expectations ended up upgrading to a trip to space! It’s a race to the cosmos for genre franchises.
You know how it is, you have a great idea for a film, it makes some money and leads to a sequel. Suddenly you have a threequel, and maybe a prequel. There’s a whole mythology there goddamit, and these sprawling franchises have an inherent, proven genetic weakness: the creep of diminishing returns. If there’s a sure-fire way to dodge that large creative bullet, it’s to head to space. Thought no one in their right mind, ever.
Yet, for many a franchise that’s trying desperately to head to Earth with the will of its fans, from Battlestar Galactica to Alien to Planet of the Apes, there are 50,000 others that go the other way.
Fictionside salutes the almost inevitable cry of, “Sod it, we’ll just set it in space”. And as usual, there’s a Jokerside-slant. After all, the fun isn’t in which franchises headed to space, but the amount of films it took.
1. Dracula 3000 (2004)
Number of films to get to space: 1 (quite unbelievably this is neither a direct sequel to Dracula 2000, not the 3,000th Dracula film)
There are many inherently brilliant characteristics that Bram Stoker’s Dracula cemented into the century old vampire myth, that have been submitted for countless planning applications over the past century and a quarter. The gifts of metamorphosis and zoolingualism, gravity defiance, immortality and super strength, even when in the form of a little old man with white hair – fine moustache or not. Then there’s vulnerability to stakes, reflections, faith symbols, particularly crucifixes and – oh yes, sunlight. So where better to put one of the fanged cornerstones of gothic horror, and count of modern horror, than a place where it’s bloody hard to hide from the sun.
Following 200’s, er, Dracula 2000, with its intriguing but mildly undermining link to the New Testament, 3000 can at least be thanked for steering above the ever-increasing trend to expand the novel’s love concept (See the bizarre Dracula Untold a decade later). While pulling in the Demeter, it’s not the Russian vessel adrift in the thrashing seas outside Port Whitby, but a freighter floating in space, the crew dead, the cargo rather mass-coffin shaped. Thank the garlic that it’s discovered by scavenger Captain Van Helsing. This entry is clearly an early cheat as a non-franchise film (it didn’t spawn on, say what?), and the fact the central character even rejects his own film’s title by being Count Orlock (F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu clearly a far greater pointer to the stars than any other Dracula film).
But kicks of this list with its nice round ‘one’, and because we really love Dracula. (there’s no Frankenstein on this list, but later on there sure may be a film that feels like it…). The odds on Dracula heading to space were always short, and this proves it deserves a minimal stake.
Bonus: Machete Kills in Space (201-)
Number of films to get to space: 3
Another cheat – this is going well. Machete Kills in Space (or possibly Machete Kills Again… In space!) hasn’t been released yet. Well, it hasn’t been made. But it’s due out sometime… like the original Machete, it’s all sprung from a trailer, and if the previous entries are to be believed, promises to invert a Snake Pliskin conceit to propel (definitely) Danny Trejo and (improbably) Mel Gibson into a frenzied space mission of bloody revenge. Of course, the beauty is that Machete’s trip to space was always part of the fabric in this reactionary franchise, and is only heading to space because the other franchises headed there first.
2. Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997)
Number of films to get to space: 4
This year, American Gods has made great, if enjoyably slow, progress. It’s proved that television that gods will remain with us as long as someone remembers them, no matter how contradictory they may be in each other spheres. The root of Neil Gaiman’s superb source-tome absolutely didn’t lie in the fourth entry of the Leprachaun franchise. Astonishingly, this currently sits as the middle film in the seven film saga of the malevolent Irish critter who’ll stop at little to get his gold back.
Travel was already built into the franchise. In 1993, Warwick Davies’ Leprachaun crossed the Atlantic to retrieve his gold in Dakota. The following year he was troubling Los Angeles, and the year after that Las Vegas. Understandably, Sin City distracted him for two years and propelled him onto… Space. A leap the film takes little pains to address. Making deals with an alien princess may afford the fiend a bigger status thanks to an enlargement ray, and rebirth via a space marine’s crotch (yep), but also a cold reception in the vacuum of space. By the fifth instalment he was back ‘intha Hood’. Where quite believably, things got stranger.
3. Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
Number of films to get to space: 4 – it’s kind of a magic number.
Another fourth film. Another horror. Space offers a fine way to reset a slasher horror in particular, ditching terrestrial concerns and retaining the key bloodletting credentials whether the gravity’s on or off. Although, that verdicts pretty harsh on the superbly ambitious if fundamentally flawed Hellraiser: Bloodline.
By the time it reached the fourth instalment, Hellraiser had shown us a lot of the same “sights” between the sublime and the bordering mediocre. The third instalment threatened a fall to gimmick as the cenobites simultaneously lost their mystery and logic, and whisper it, stated succumbing to puns. Returning creator Clive Barker (taking an executive producer credit here) saw the chance to right the ship and set off in a new direction. And that direction was a bold one. A multi-strand saga crossing three centuries that took the Lemarchand family from the creation of the original, legendary Hell-priest summoning puzzle box, through the present day, to a space station and final showdown in space. It’s an epic concept. But neither the Lemarchand nor Pinhead ,himself could fight the greatest evil of all: budget. Studio intervention and cuts halved the potentially three hour film, and removed a lot of sense that supported the ambition. The space timeline of the future rose to the front of the story in those changes, and highlighted the ridiculousness associated with horror-space sequels that really weren’t intended on paper (for the direct opposite, see the next entry in this list).
That said, the pleasure is visible amid the pain. The creep of cenobites on a quiet space station, caught on remote camera, and the master plan ending are impressive, but they’re not quite enough. One wonders what might have happened to the order of the cenobites if the Lament Configuration was opened in the vacuum of space.
Jason X (2001)
Number of films to get to space: 10!
Here he is. One of the truly legendary occurrences of a franchise not so much jumping a shark, but gps’ing that jump from orbit. It’s the proof that rocketing a multi-film franchise away from Earth is no guarantee it’ll be refreshed. Despite considerable coverage at the time, and quite probably far greater brand recognition than the preceding eight or so films in the franchise (that number 10 is a charm), Jason X raked in a meagre $17m from a $11m budget. Of course, that’s pretty good considering it emerged from a single pitch, plugging a void while studios got Freddy vs Jason (slightly less) off the ground. That was shrewd priority as that film took $115m, but was it worth it? Jason X’s story would never be continued, a quality that seemed enshrined in its conception in hindsight. What may as well have been a house, school, bus or shed is made of a space station in the 25th century and Jason, thanks to phenomenal medical advances that in turn are keen to exploit his inexplicable cellular regeneration, gains an upgrade.
But naturally, all the cybernetic enhancement in the universe can’t stop Voorhees targeting couples having sex first and foremost. Compared to Leprechaun 4, there are wonderfully exploitative moments, from the franchise needing prologue to Jason’s apparent evisceration, to some holographic trickery that would push Freddy’s later dream tricks for their money. But neither those, nor the mighty Kane Hodder under both masks here, can save the muddle that happens when space upgrade meets rushed, under budgeted production. Rather unfortunately, Jason X is ridiculed more than anything else.
5. Moonraker (1979)
Number of films to get to space: 11
Clearly 11 films is quite a record, but to say this instalment took James Bond to space isn’t quite the whole story. Of many factors affecting the long running spy series, two of the most telling was the series tussle with the cold war and emerging cinema trends.
The cusp of the British Empire took point in the first film, Dr No. the cold war reached its franchise peak in the second instalment, From Russia with Love. But the initial SPECTRE arc reached a climax in the fifth film,You Only Live Twice, with not only a hidden volcano lair, epic-base assault, and Sean Connery’s Japanese disguise, but prolonged rocket eating space sequences. It tied into the space race of course, but it also set a fantastical slide that seemed improbably three films before.
The franchise’s incredible reaction to cinematic trends is a key reason for its survival. From The Manchurian Candidate chasing 1960s to the Blaxpoitation of 1973’s Live and Let Die. But, the late 1970s posed another problem. While 1977 produced the fantastic, classic, The Spy Who Loved Me, it also saw the year won by George Lucas’ Star Wars. Hollywood was irreparably changed as every studio immediately swarmed to replicate 20th Century Fox’s success. Some worked, many didn’t. For United Artists it was a greatest hits package, taking the name of a Fleming book, ditching virtually all of its content and remaking The Spy Who Loved Me, with an ending transferred from the depth of the ocean to space. Like the preceding film, it stole the base assault from You Only Live Twice.
While Moonraker may require a reinforced suspension of disbelief compared to some other Bond films – including the purposefully downplayed follow-up For Your Eyes Only – there’s lot to admire in the preposterous, epic space sequences – from the launch to the videogame aesthetic of Bond’s ‘re-entry’. And of course the quick response American army invasion in-between, replete with laser visuals and zapping sound effects.
Yes, Bond may have been reduced to scaling Mediterranean cliffs by 1981, the preposterousness of the previous instalment weighing heavily on sense, but there’s no mistake that at eleven films in, Moonraker managed to become the highest grossing Bond film up to that point. While the chance of Bond travelling to space may have, again, seemed ridiculous a few years before, there’s no mistake in that mean feat.
Most importantly, Moonraker will always old a soft spot in our hearts thanks to ‘formative age’.
Check out our previous Fictionside anniversary posts…
FICTIONSIDE 104: Heroes & Villains