Anghus Houvouras on why film fans need to stop their relentless pursuit of the next big thing...
The Summer movie season is almost upon us. Even though technically Summer doesn’t start until late June, the big budget popcorn movie machine is already cranking out enormously budgeted blockbusters. We’ve already had a handful of epic productions released. March brought us the sinking ship that was John Carter and the worldwide smash that is The Hunger Games and in two dozen countries you can already watch the alien invasion flick Battleship (which doesn’t open up in the States until mid May).
In just a few weeks we will see the worldwide release of the much anticipated Avengers. Everyone’s talking about it. Expectations are high and the film is being talked about endlessly online. One of my friends said something to me the other day that struck me as odd. He said:
“I’m taking my kid out of school on May 4th so we can go watch The Avengers together.”
That wasn’t the strange part. Sure, some people might find denying your child educational opportunities to watch The Hulk team up with Iron Man a little negligent, but it’s nothing to lose sleep over. It was the sentence that followed that struck a nerve:
“I can’t wait for him to see it. It’s going to be the Star Wars of his generation.”
I’ve been writing online for a long time. And I’ve heard that phrase bandied about far too often and with way too much leniency. Proclaiming a film to be “The Next Star Wars” is a sucker’s bet. Star Wars was an unparalleled phenomenon. There had been nothing like it. It was revolutionary in so many ways. Culturally, technically, and financially it changed the game. Movies are made differently because of Star Wars. Movie merchandising is a multi-billion dollar industry because of Star Wars. And ever since the original trilogy ended in 1983, film fans have been entertaining the question: ‘What will be the Next Star Wars?’
The Avengers is the most recent film I’ve heard that phrase attached to. Before that it was John Carter, which is of course laughable in the aftermath of a $200 million dollar Disney write off, but two weeks before release every geek online was declaring we were at the dawn of a new age of cinema and that John Carter would be 'The Next Star Wars'. You can go back and find a number of examples. Before The Matrix Reloaded came out, people were referring to it as ‘The Next Star Wars’. I read a review that called Tron: Legacy ‘The Next Star Wars’, which seemed ironic since many called the original Tron Disney’s attempt to launch a Star Wars-like franchise.
Some people think Avatar was the closest thing we’ve had to a Star Wars in the past three decades, but I’d argue that while it made a lot of money, Avatar didn’t penetrate the pop culture consciousness like George Lucas’ original trilogy. You don’t see kids running around playing with Avatar toys, and there isn’t the kind of frantic excitement for the inevitable sequel. How many Avatar fan films have you seen online? Technically ‘The Next Star Wars’ was The Phantom Menace, but I think the less we say about the prequels, the better off we’ll all be.
My point is this: Star Wars had no contemporary and since it’s come out rabid film fans keep wanting to adorn the title of ‘The Next Star Wars’ to every big budget geek friendly film on the horizon. The next Star Wars can’t exist. We need to stop using this thirty-five year old space opera as some kind of benchmark for success. The next Star Wars won’t be anything like Star Wars because it will be something original that redefines cinema. It’s difficult to even comprehend a movie that could have such an impact in a day and age where there are a thousand television channels, unlimited online content, smartphones and video game consoles that can provide interactive adventures. In 1977 there were three television networks and Space Invaders. That was it. It was a time when there weren’t ten thousand different things vying for your rapidly eroding attention span.
To keep using the phrase ‘The Next Star Wars’ is actually hurting fandom because it forces us to try and package everything into an already established shape. It’s a faulty expectation used by people who feel that relentless hype is the only way to qualify something cool. We can’t let a film just be something fun. It has to reach or surpass some kind of impossible measurement of perception. We’re choking the life out of our blockbusters before we’ve even seen them on the big screen.
So why don’t we all agree to abandon the phrase ‘The Next Star Wars’ and just let movies be the movies they are?