Indieflavor Blog

Quantum of Solace: The Life and Death of Film Franchises

submitted by Larry Eitel

All film franchises die at some point in time...

If you grabbed a chance to see the second of the Daniel Craig James Bond films, Quantum of Solace (QOS), this weekend, you may have gotten a peek at the latest trailer for J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek XI. Other QOS reviews have focused on diverse aspects of the new Bond film (everything from its anti-imperialistic take on the villains and their establishment enablers, to complaints about the absence of the old Bond “humor”, and lack of such characters as Moneypenny and Q. Not to mention the view that Quantum is a depressing, soulless placeholder which will hopefully be redeemed in the expected third Craig outing).

This is my take: all film franchises die at some point in time – they no longer draw the interest and enthusiasm of the audience. But occasionally a franchise is made into something genuinely different, and the new work, while successful, is erroneously identified as the old product. (Of course the very thought of film franchises extending over multiple films, and over periods of almost half a century, only became imaginable after 1977 with the gift/curse of the Star Wars phenomenon.)

You can reinvent franchises, if you are lucky, a few times, but eventually the audiences change: nostalgia fades or is inadequate to hold older viewers, and younger viewers simply don’t have the emotional, historical, or other personal contexts to make what they see of any more than curiosity value. Star Trek lasted as a franchise way beyond any reasonable temporal expectation – by the last season of Star Trek Enterprise on television, and certainly by the time that the boring and irrelevant Star Trek Nemesis came to and tanked at your local multiplex, it was pretty clear that the product was more a matter of nostalgia for my generation, and obsession for a core of Trek cultists. The broad audience appeal and genuine affection was disappearing. From the looks of the new Trek trailer, all we have to look forward to in May of 2009 is mind numbing, screen-filling explosions, and an expensively mounted tele-teen imagining of the old Kirk-McCoy-Spock personality ticks and clashes. ( Gossip Girls at Warp Drive?) Who cares?

What makes the Craig James Bond films interesting, and this post- Casino Royale episode alternately worth seeing and irritating to watch, is that the makers of and actors in the film are on the rocky road to creating something new, not reinventing James Bond a la Pierce Brosnan. Unfortunately, different parties are trying different strategies within the same film, and one has the sense of watching two films slapped together into one.

However, whether they realize it or not, the creative parties are opening up the possibility of saving the cinematic Village of Bond by destroying it. I see an attempt on the part of the key actors, the producers, and on the part of the director and editor to create something that is really not a James Bond film but is still called a Bond film.

Judy Dench and Daniel Craig’s scenes together, and the arc of their relationship in the story, are intense, well acted, and at a level that makes a return to the old joky Bond (replete with gadgets, bad jokes, and tired sexism) unthinkable. Clearly influenced by the character-driven aspects of the Bourne series and Craig’s own dramatic skills and interests, this portrayal of Bond is compelling because he has a brain, has feelings, and is a killer who is trying to balance his professional obligations with his personal feelings, vulnerabilities, and inconsistencies. This is a Bond who is not a caricature. Consequently, there is an emotional interest and complexity, along with a somber tone, that makes it impossible for the film to be experienced as a romp.

The patchwork aspect comes from the different creative approach behind some of the key action sequences. These sequences (especially the back-to-back blockbuster set pieces at the beginning of the film) are almost parodies of the handheld, jump cut editing of the Bourne action sequences at their most intense. (Does that chase across the roofs in Siena seem a bit familiar?) Although some of the less intense (and less flashy) action sequences work well with the dramatic and spare tone of the acting, the biggest action sequences seem to be from another film altogether. They may take the Bond series in an entirely new direction, but not the same direction as the acting and the plot – they are derivative of the Bourne films, possibly crowd-pleasing, but ultimately jarring and unsatisfactory.

So – my point is that at some point franchises die. And in rare instances, as with the Daniel Craig Bond films, there is (consciously or not) a superficial resurrection of the franchise which is in fact the creation of something new with the old name and some of the old trappings. One hopes that Craig will make at least one or two more of these “Bond” films. However, for the next one to be satisfying, the hyper action sequences, and the direction in which they take the new series, need to be replaced by something exciting but not debilitating, and consistent with the new dramatic tone. Are these still Bond films? No, but they are interesting departures which bear watching.

Larry Eitel

November 17, 2008