Once upon a time TV was the despised younger sibling of feature films. The place where nothing was ever quite as good as in features. The medium that lagged so far behind feature films in terms of technique, moolah, and customer satisfaction that most TV executives didn’t even bother to try to make their material “good.”
More and more, though, it’s looking like those days are gone, possibly forever. Now the feature film biz is all about imitating the small screen. Congrats, little sister/brother, you’re in!
by Jeff Peterson
t’s never been quite so tempting — or quite so easy — to become a permanent couch potato as it is today.
For the last decade or more, scripted television has been experiencing a golden age, matching and sometimes even surpassing movies in terms of production values, writing and overall scope.
But while TV series have become more and more cinematic with the kind and quality of stories that they are able to tell, a lot of recent and upcoming movie releases suggest that movies themselves might be becoming more and more like TV, just on a massive scale.
This seems true in both the way they’re being conceived and the way they’re being made. And if this is indeed a trend, it could be bad for film as a medium in the long run for a few reasons.
Franchise building is par for the course in Hollywood. Even something with as humble a concept as “The Fast and the Furious” has spun off into a multi-billion-dollar property (complete with a Universal Studios theme park ride).
But now, movies are even being pitched and sold as full-blown series, just like in television.
“Sherlock Holmes” director Guy Ritchie’s upcoming King Arthur adaptation, for example, which is currently filming for a planned July 2016 release date, is the first of a six-movie saga that will try to turn the Knights of the Round Table into a 6th-century Avengers. (At least Hawkeye wouldn’t seem so out of place, right?) Assuming each installment is average length, the whole thing will wind up clocking in at around 10 to 12 hours — in other words, the same as a season of most cable shows.
“Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur” is part of the franchise arms race going on in Hollywood.
Studios now depend on the annual or semiannual guaranteed blockbusters — the Harry Potters, the Transformers, the Hobbits (or “Hobbitses,” as Gollum would say) — so franchises are willed into existence by executives with multiple sequels already in the works by the time the first movie hits theaters. Case in point: Last year’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was meant to lead into a full-fledged Spider-verse for Sony with at least two more solo installments as well as movies based on the Sinister Six, Venom, an undisclosed female hero and even a young Aunt May all in development and/or officially announced. The problem is, they were all contingent on “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” being a billion-dollar blockbuster, which it wasn’t. In fact, it turned out to be the worst-reviewed and lowest-grossing Spider-Man movie to date.
In general, new properties are treated essentially like pilot episodes for TV series, albeit very expensive ones. This can be a costly gamble. Look at a misfire like 2012’s “John Carter,” which lost Disney an estimated $200 million, according to Entertainment Weekly. But when they do connect with audiences and manage to spawn multiple successful sequels, like “Transformers” or “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” it can be worth billions.