Henry Bevan on whether toys and theme parks are cinema’s last hope…
The busker appeared on Southbank and began playing an original song. The song was interesting but people just walked on by. His original song flopped and the busker changed tact. He broke into a nondescript cover and people soon started dropping 5p coins into his guitar case. Busking is the freest musical expression. All you need is an instrument, a location and a bit of musical talent. You can play whatever you like but in the end, copying more popular chords makes the money.
Filmmaking is no different. Technology has democratised the medium and has given established filmmakers the chance to do whatever they want. But, it is rare to see an original film gain traction and make money. Like the Southbank busker, more money is made by “covering” someone else’s ideas. Now, this isn’t necessarily a filmmaker’s fault. Movies are market driven and as much as audiences cry out for original movies, they fail to show up when they arrive. Known IPs – “covered” movies – are more successful so people just have to get used to the multiplex apocalypse of branded entertainment.
But, there is hope. A hope where original stories and branded entertainment can go hand in hand.
Toys. Theme parks. Emojis.
These things sound horrible but they may be our last hope. As the movie that can only be described as a glitter bomb, Trolls, is released into cinemas, we are shown a small slice of potential. Movies based on these type of IPs can be Trojan horses where original stories smuggled inside branded entertainment.
There is no collected preconceived idea of what these worlds are. Sure, a character has a name but they don’t have a personality. Where as Batman has an immense back catalog in a variety of media, a movie based on Stretch Armstrong only has the stories unspooled from your childhood imagination to compete with. With no canon, there is no other story to prefer. Admittedly, this makes Stretch Armstrong’s stories more personable, but the lack of baggage gives filmmakers the ability to tell any story they want to tell.
Now, the hatred of an Action Man movie comes from the fact that films based on this type of IP can only be described as bad. Pirates of the Caribbean started strong before cannibalising itself, The G.I. Joe films are laughable attempts at an action franchise and the Transformers franchise is the cinematic equivalent of being kicked in the balls. But, love him or hate him, Michael Bay was allowed to make his movie and robot wars are undiluted Bay. Bay was able to do this because there was nothing except a long-dead cartoon in front of him. Compare this to Henry Cavill’s Superman, who is always compared to Christopher Reeve’s Superman. There is already an idea of who this character is and it makes a filmmakers job much tougher.
These type of films allow for unfiltered originality. Just look at The LEGO Movie. Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s animated hit knows that making a movie about LEGO is a bizarre capitalist hybridisation where characters exist to sell LEGO products. But, isn’t Toy Story the exact same thing? Both films tell original stories but because Emmett’s story is based on an established IP it was originally scoffed out. The LEGO Movie exists as the golden boy of what stories based off toys or theme park rides can do — if every movie is as original and as fun as that animation then we will be lucky.
Using popular properties that have no physical content attached to them is a great way to merge the market driven need for branded entertainment and original stories. They create a world where “it’s not my…” can’t be said and allows filmmakers to craft movies unshackled by previous ideas, and those that are as unhinged and original as a kid playing with their toy box.