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Pursuits: The big summer blockbusters

They started out being called sequels. Somebody made a hit film. And then, the studio took the

characters from that movie and put them in a new movie. When Francis Ford Coppola made the film version of Mario Puzo’s bestseller, The Godfather, nobody had any idea

that there would ever be a second Godfather movie, let alone a third. (God knows; it had been hard enough to make the first one).


   But Coppola wrote a second screenplay (with Puzo’s help) and Godfather II was ever better than the first movie. Eventually, many years later there was even a Godfather III. And each year, Coppola gets sent scripts for a Godfather IV.


   When you do more than one sequel, then you call it a series. And when all the movies seem to make money, it is called a franchise. Because the movies keep coming, so do the profits.


   Studios love franchises. The audiences are guaranteed for each installment. The characters are well-established. And the cast is pre-decided. But because most movie screenplays are written as one-offs, studios have to raid other media for material and concepts for their franchises.


   The longest-lasting and most successful franchise of them all is James Bond --- and that came from a series of novels. Other franchises came from TV shows: Mission Impossible or Charlie’s Angels, for instance. And increasingly, the big franchises, these days, come from comic books.


   Franchises can be complicated affairs. When Robert Ludlum wrote the first Jason Bourne novel, he was not hoping to create a franchise. He was already a best-selling author with a backlist of unconnected (but similarly plotted) bestsellers to his credit. When Ludlum was writing another book, many years later, he thought to himself “why not put Jason Bourne into this one?”  And so two more Jason Bourne novels followed.


"Renner is a good actor but would you go and see a Bourne movie that has no Jason Bourne in it? Would you see a Bond movie with no James Bond? A Batman movie with no Batman?"

   Ludlum sold his first Bourne novel to TV and a miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain duly went out on television in the 1980s. That should have been that except for Hollywood’s determination to revive Bourne 20 years later for a new version of The Bourne Identity that departed considerably from Ludlum’s plot. The success of that movie led to the creation of a Bourne franchise which owed virtually nothing to the Ludlum books. (And now there are new Bourne books written by other people after Ludlum’s death.)


   If you like franchises, then brace yourselves because many of the big movies of the next few months are going to be new installments of Hollywood’s most successful franchises. Mission Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol has already come and gone and made a fortune. The Avengers is packing them into the cinemas now and seems set to become one of the biggest movies of all time on par with the blockbusters that James Cameron has made.


   And there’s more to come. Christopher Nolan took over the Batman franchise and rebooted it in 2005 with Batman Begins. His 2008 entry, The Dark Knight was a super-hit. And now there’s The Dark Knight Rises which will be released in July. Nobody is revealing any details of the plot but we do know that the villains include Bane and Catwoman. There is some suggestion that the plot is inspired by a comic book called Knightfall but we will just have to wait and see.


   Also due in July is The Amazing Spiderman, a reboot of that franchise which will pretend that none of the older Spiderman movies existed. There is a  new actor playing Spiderman ---Andrew Garfield who is British – and a new director. The film carries great advance reports and is expected to be a hit.


   How can you make a Jason Bourne film without Jason Bourne? Matt Damon has announced that he has no interest in playing Bourne again so the fourth installment of the franchise, called The Bourne Legacy, will not have Jason Bourne in it. Instead Jeremy Renner (from The Avengers and Ghost Protocol) will play a new character called Avon Cross. Apparently Cross attended the same indoctrination program where Bourne was trained to be an assassin and will effortlessly slip into doing the kinds of things that Damon did as Bourne.


   Will it work? That is hard to say. Renner is a good actor but would you go and see a Bourne movie that has no Jason Bourne in it? Would you see a Bond movie with no James Bond? A Batman movie with no Batman?


   The producers claim we will not notice Damon’s absence. But it will be a tough one to pull off. We should find out soon enough: the movie is due in a few weeks.


   These are the big  summer blockbusters. But more are on the way. Daniel Craig is busy filming Skyfall, the new Bond movie. And the latest Superman movie, starring Henry Cavill, another Brit, as the very American Superman, should be released next year.


   So, if you are as hooked on to franchises as I am, order the popcorn. We have much to look forward to in the months ahead!




  • Shiva Bharathwaj 15 Jul 2012

    Eric Van Lustbader, the author who is continuing to churn out new Jason Bourne books every year summed up the decision to make this new Bourne film precisely, "That’s Hollywood for you. Don’t expect rational decisions from a profoundly irrational industry."

  • Awdhesh 28 Jun 2012

    We cannot blindly asume that Matt Demon's absence will not make a good movie, after all it is a movie. Like in Avengers we have Mark Ruffalo instead of both previous character. And frankly Mark Ruffaloes build matched with the Hulk's character better than previous two actors.
    Indeed good article.

  • somnath karunakaran 20 Jun 2012

    Vir, Am sorry to hear about Matt Damon refusing to do the Bourne series, i feel that with this this series will slowly peter out, like so many other serials, which died when they tried to alter the plot too much. A great read though, as usual worth its weight in gold. I keep sharing all your articles with my select friends at Facebook, thought Id tell u this...

Posted On: 20 Jun 2012 10:10 AM
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