Fictionside 105: When Franchises Head to Space!

Jokerside's Fictionside105-Heading to Space

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)

Dracula AD2014 on television and filmThere 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. Read more…

FICTIONSIDE 103: Who needs a shared cinematic universe?

Fictionside 003 Shared Universes

 

To mark Jokerside’s fourth birthday, another Fictionside. This time exploring the one thing that everybody in Hollywood wants: A shared universe.

Framed in 10 questions…

 

SOME THINGS START WITH SUPERMAN AND END WITH SUPERMAN. AND THAT’S HOW THIS ANNIVERSARY POST WILL PAN OUT. That legend of the alien child, dispatched to Earth as the last son of his dying planet is one of the great pop culture stories of the 20th century. While Big Blue’s character took shape over a number of years, gaining powers of flight and heat vision until he became the cultural pinnacle of those abilities, it took a mere two for him to bump into a fellow comic character. That would be young pretender, by one year, Batman. The two first stood next to each other on the cover of 1940 New York World’s Fair comic book with only a Robin in-between.

That was the first time any two comic characters had appeared together, and of course it was the light and dark, then in happier guises and brighter colours. Although they’d fail to interact inside, it set a precedent for the extended Super-Family and the growing Bat-family join other parts of the burgeoning and acquiring publishing universe that would become known as DC.

The Teen Titans, the Suicide Squad, the Justice League. The latter would later inspire the envious eyes a stone throw’s away in Midtown Manhattan. As just one of the highlights of his extraordinary mid-1960s productivity, Stan Lee assembled his own super team from fresh and veteran characters in the marvel fold because DC had done the same. So why not him? And 50 years on, it’s those assembled Avengers who lead the charge in a different media.

Where did it start?

On paper – straight from the pen

Many universes have been expanded from a creator’s original sprawling world by other willing hands… And that’s the point

Jplerside Fictionside #2 The RulesOf course, shared universes didn’t start with comics, that’s just a nice four-colour example. Expanded universes are so innate to the prose world that their late appropriation by new-fangled art-forms of the 19th and 20th centuries could be page-curlingly embarrassing. And that’s within genre and without. Expanded universes stretch as far as the might of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Richard Scarry’s Busytown, Edgar Rice Burroughs fantastic and rip-roaring adventures… Many of these universes have been expanded from a creator’s original sprawling world by other willing hands eager to explore the potential, often posthumously. And that’s the point.

What’s a shared universe?

Choose your collaboration carefully

This is shared, not expanded or expanding…

An overarching work where more than one creator independently contributes segments that stands alone while complying with the joint development of a greater storyline or world. That’s the definition of a shared universe. Distinct from a collaboration, a cross-over or string of sequels, spin-offs or the interlinking work of one auteur: it’s a definition ready-made for the ambitions of Hollywood’s studio model.

Hannibal meets Penny DreadfulOn the big screen Quentin Tarantino has built a loose connectivity between his films, through throwaway references and characters, as has Kevin Smith. Bryan Fuller has had great success doing the same thing on the small screen, through often cruelly curtailed series. The same is true of Joss Whedon. But the Whedonverse, Fullerverse and Tarantinoverse don’t count, no matter the involvement of other creators, as theirs are slotting into a singular vision. The involvement of separate properties and distinct creative forces is crucial. This is shared, not expanded or expanding.

It’s no new idea, but while the first major developments came on the page, it wasn’t from the great weight of published genre that shared universes became a public commodity. Hollywood didn’t shirk on seizing the potential.

What’s the Monster in the Room?

The days of Universal Studios

The ensemble that kick-started Hollywood’s original gigantic shared universe

In September 1923, 93 years ago, Universal Studios produced an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a lavish film that became their highest grossing silent movie. Read more…

FICTIONSIDE 102: Jokerside’s 10 Rules of Engagement

Jplerside Fictionside #2 The Rules

To mark Jokerside’s third and a half birthday, another Fictionside. This time exploring the central tenets that Jokerside loves to stick by / completely ignore.

Here are nine of Jokerside’s rules of engaging with pop culture (full explanations below):

  1. Anything deserves credit
  2. A writer should want (need) to write themselves into a hole
  3. Change is a luxury
  4. Never count on renewal because, bluntly, Networks aren’t often wrong
  5. Works of fiction can’t have plot holes
  6. A creator cannot rely on an audience to fill in plot holes
  7. Remakes, sequels and prequel cannot diminish the original
  8. Enemies must be used sparingly
  9. Narrative knows no bounds, everything has its medium
  10. Canon is there to help fans, not deny them

 

Let’s jump in…

  1. Everything deserves credit

If it took people time and effort…

Hellraiser Pinhead and the Lament ConfigurationAnything that makes it to the small or big screen has taken time, effort and thought. No matter how tempting it is, no matter how flawed the end product, no matter how much you disagree with it, there’s more chance of Batman V Superman crashing at the box office than a group of people dedicating months to producing something that deliberately failed against their goals. Yes, even rush jobs like Hellraiser Revelations, which a Pandemonium’s worth of evidence might suggest was a cynical attempt to retain franchise rights, deserves some credit because aside from any studio or legal issues people persevered to make it happen. Clive Barker has every right to dismiss it, Doug Bradley too, and many others. But anyone who’s handed the keys to the franchise, even with a sharp production schedule and light budget is unlikely to resist opening that puzzle box.

From top to bottom, there are big credits that reflect every collaboration and rewards them. So, it’s unfair, bordering cruel, to disparage that work. And after all, everything is an acquired taste…

Jokerside seldom slips at the negative, even considering half the Hellraiser franchise on an equal plane, but it’s tricky. Take a trip to Victor Frankenstein last year. That was Jokerside’s first, long-awaited trip to see a Frankenstein adaptation on the big screen (you know, we love Frankenstein) and while the end result was a disappointment it just shows how behind the scenes nonsense can get in the way of incredible talent working in front of and behind the camera. That kind of mess can be impossible to decipher, it might be aspersion and it’s doubtful the behind the scenes tales will ever spill out. But really, what needed to be said about a film that crashed at the box office, was poorly treated by British cinema chains and was surely not what the creators envisaged.

Always remember the glasshouses. No matter which demon, scientist, captain or bunch of pixels built them.

  1. A writer should want (need) to write themselves into a hole

With a quill you are fearless…

It’s one thing to set a cliff-hanger at the end of film, book, comic, television series… And another to use it to pitch the direction an intent of a whole second stab. As arc shows have fast become the accepted norm, that’s all the trickier to navigate when a huge weight of concept shows appear year after year, propelled by hubris and concept and are… Promptly cut off after one season. Step forward Flash Forward. It’s the kind of thing that makes people utter inane comments like “Oh, if I’d have known it was only going to last one season, I’d never have bothered…” Really? It comes to something when a full US season of over 20 hours requires years of promised story yet to be written to warrant investment. After all, why bother with the second year when it could just as easily be cut off before the third…

For all the success (and contemporary criticism) The X-Files found by asking constant questions, giving few answers and hedging bets, there was an early warning shot when the ambitious five year plan of Dark Skies was cut short.

Television is both serial and finite, it’s Schrödinger’s Idiot Tube and you don’t get to both turn on your cathode ray and turn it off.

The Leftovers - A JokersliceA flip-side comes with renewals that are taken for granted or when there’s an occasional guarantee of multiple seasons. Lost was a prime example of the latter, with later truncated runs balanced against a fixed six season commission. Wonderful, but could it have been to the detriment of the show’s story? Recently, one of the sublime break-outs of the past two years, The Leftovers, had the mixed blessing of a confirmed but final third year. In that case it is very good news, and feels exactly right. But only as that show has bold, risky storytelling at its heart. And that’s rare.

Hannibal was another bold show that knew full well it was lucky to run three years on prime time network. Bryan Fuller would have had no issue keeping its intoxicating story going longer even though [spoilers] he ended the third year with a superb Reichenbach moment. Though we all lament for Fuller’s take on The Silence of the Lambs (truthfully, already echoed in earlier seasons), that was both a satisfying conclusion and a huge hole to write himself out of. A hole it might be said that Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t bothered to write himself out of over a hundred years ago. Back to the X-Files, the recent limited run poked fun at the outrageous stretching enigma that typified its original nine year run, but ended with a satisfying cliff-hanger that will likely, but possibly never, be resolved.

Jplerside Fictionside #2 The RulesWe’re well past the days when episodes reset every week with a laugh on the Bridge of the Enterprise. Writers should always aim for the boldest and most satisfying conclusion for a story, no matter the difficulty it causes their future selves. They should be confident that no matter how dire or finite the ending, a writer or writing team can pen themselves into a new story the next time round. After all, real life carries on regardless, and it takes writing itself out of ridiculous situations for granted every second. That is life. It doesn’t stop.

So writing to a limit or writing to infinity is a trap to be avoided at all costs. And come the end of a series, no matter how demarcated, no matter how Blake’s 7 it all seems, a writer must be ready to continue that story. That’s what Charles Dickens was doing week to week far before a TV writer hedged their bets. Read more…

FICTIONSIDE 101: Five types of Hollywood Reboot

Hollywood reboots Jokerside

Film is about 125 years old, television nearing 90 and this week: Jokerside turns three! As the next year will see this blog cast its sideways glance even further – with even more splintering of pop culture to come – this anniversary is marked by the start of a new series. Jokerside’s Fictionside will look at storytelling trends and memes – in this first instalment, five recent ways that Hollywood has coped, or perhaps failed to cope, with ageing franchises.

SOMETIMES IT’S BEST TO START SMALL, AND THAT’S BY NO MEANS LESS. 1976. WHEN THE DOCTOR WHO PRODUCTION TEAM TEMORARILY GAVE WAY TO FOURTH DOCTOR TOM BAKER’S CONVICTION THAT HE DIDN’T NEED A COMPANION IT WENT FAMOUSLY WRONG. But that resultant mess, where the Doctor is forced to talk to himself, there aren’t traditional characters to draw out the danger and in its place are long, dull scenes, failed to materialise as the ever-brilliant Robert Holmes crafted a classic tale from adversity. In fact, the fantastically named The Deadly Assassin, heralded a number of reboots. A key one was controversially defining the Time Lord culture that the Doctor had rejected – an astonishing 13 years into the show’s lifetime. But then Doctor Who is a show that, thanks to luck, brilliant decision-making and the marvellous eccentricity of its state-owned production company, has change built into its core. From one episode to the next the sets, characters and even the lead actors can be completely different. That poses a huge and irresistible challenge and one that hopefully can roll on forever. But it’s a freedom that’s all too rare in fiction, scared as it is to paint itself into a box with confidence that a writer, as should be their raison d’etre, can paint themselves out of. Even in Who’s incredible fictional framework, one which had no issue with running that small mid-70s experiment, we have a great demonstration that reboots often don’t go the way they should.

And that’s on television. On film things are slower. Much slower.

Hollywood’s war of franchises may be more heated than ever as studios create, reassert, reboot and continue whatever their rights can manage. It may seem that a lot of energy falls on that mythical and never ending quest to find a new young adult property, as indeed it does, but there are older blockbuster sagas that have asked the question. And the answers vary greatly.

Aging Action – James Bond

Method: Whether shamelessly ignoring continuity or making a joke of it, there aren’t any hints or suggestions that marketing and a few years can’t spin. Welcome to timelessness.

The franchise has remains charged by that cusp it emerged from

A worthy early nod to the British-themed champion of change. Is there a coincidence that Britain lies behind Bond and Who, if not always in money and creative talent? Certainly changes in British society have been tied into the genesis of both. While the Doctor would struggle to hide away in an East End Totters Yard in a Police Box these days, unlike his birth 18 years after the Second World War, Jamaica had gained independence from the shrinking British Empire in the time between the first Bond film, Dr No’s filming and release in 1962. The franchise has remained charged by that cusp it emerged from, external change and Bond’s response to it has played very real role in the super spy’s longevity.

In 2012 Jokerside looked at the intricacies of the Bond timeline, a vague and intriguing string of adventures that have often shamelessly overcome any sticking points by confronting them early and full on. Even when Bond changed his looks five films in, the script took pleasure in smashing these alterations through the fourth all (with the rather balletic punch of George Lazenby). In dropping back to a more faithful take on Fleming, it even had Bond meeting Blofeld for the first time in the second film in succession. It was clear that consistency wasn’t a top priority – clearly a less important consideration in the 1960s without home media. And as wonderful as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is, the return of Sean Connery in the following film left the real legacy of OHMSS as proving that audiences accept a change of Bond.

Read more…

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