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Timothy Burroughs: Bond sets the bar high

By Timothy Burroughs, Columnist
Published November 11, 2012

Just like all spy movie fans, I have been desperately looking forward to the release of the 23rd James Bond movie, “Skyfall.” The third Bond film starring Daniel Craig opened to rave reviews similar to his first film, “Casino Royale,” from 2006.

Craig, who offered the series a reboot by portraying a younger, less experienced Bond, flourishes in the role. The new directors along with Craig have, as The New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis put it, “honored the contract that the Bond series made with its fans long ago.” This back to basics approach along with new positive innovation has set the bar for new additions to classic movie franchises for years to come.

“Skyfall” has been an instant box office success. After putting up historic numbers in the United Kingdom and Ireland, The Hollywood Reporter projected that “Skyfall” could open in the $80-million range. After the film’s critical and financial triumph, it's safe to say the Daniel Craig restart to the Bond franchise is an overwhelming success. Fortunately for us Bond fans, it’s rumored that Craig has already signed on for two more films.

The success of the Craig restart has only recently dominated the second biggest story in Hollywood. On Nov. 1, Disney purchased George Lucas’ Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion including rights to the Star Wars series. And Disney has already started writing the Episode VII script. Entertainment News reports there will be a completely original storyline which sent major shock waves through the industry. Speculation and rumors about the upcoming film, scheduled for 2015, have skyrocketed. Lucas, the creator of the series and director of five of the six films, will be on call as a creative consultant but will primarily be uninvolved in the project. Some fans see this as a positive shift after the overall negative reception of Episodes I, II and III, while others worry “Star Wars Episode VII” will stray too far from its roots.

Regardless of the creative direction of the film, Disney has made a huge financial investment in the thought-to-be-dead franchise. The precedent for this type of deal was set in 2009 when Disney purchased Marvel, creators of “The Avengers,” “X-Men” and “Spiderman” for $4 billion. The deal has been a huge economic success for Disney, highlighted by the May release of “The Avengers.” The film has become the third highest grossing of all time at $1.5 billion worldwide. Furthermore, with the release of “Iron Man 3” scheduled for May 2013, Disney is already reaping the benefits of the deal. This is clearly the same outcome the company executives are hoping for with the Lucasfilm deal.

The true debate and frustration occurs when fans of these huge movie franchises feel the entertainment companies are simply turning out movies just for the profits. I can hardly point a finger at the firms with billion dollar profits on the table for making the movies, but fans worry, and are consistently correct, that the quality of these multiple sequels are subpar.

The obvious example of this occurred in the “Indiana Jones” franchise. Grossing $786-million worldwide, the fourth film in the series, “Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, was met with extremely negative reviews from critics. However, the $786 million earn is about $300 million more than “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”, the second highest total for the franchise. The negative critical receptions clearly didn’t translate to the same gap in box office earnings.

This realization has worried many Star Wars fans including myself, who have already had to suffer through the acting of Hayden Christensen and the addition of Jar Jar Binks, which surprisingly still resulted in the franchise’s highest box office earnings.

Bond has set the bar high for the rejuvenation mark for movie franchises. Disney is clearly confident that they can top that effort and re-kindle the love for Star Wars many of us share. Probably regardless for how Disney proceeds creatively, the box office results will be there and shareholders will be pleased. For the shareholders, this is a great system because regardless of quality the financial numbers will be staggering. However, we can hardly put the blame for this lack of emphasis on creative quality on the industry. Maybe we should prepare for another painful mark on the Star Wars legacy, but it’s irrational to accuse Lucas, Lucasfilm or Disney for their clearly savvy financial move.

Timothy Burroughs can be reached at timburr@umich.edu.