Saturday, April 13, 2013

Talking about: The new Evil Dead and franchises

Seeing the new Evil Dead recently got me thinking about its place in the overall Evil Dead franchise. I have had several discussions with people about the movie. Some felt it was an entirely unnecessary retread, like most remakes, while others felt that it brought something wholly new to the series, revitalizing a franchise that has been languishing in stasis since the 90s.

Sure, there have been a few comic series, along with some movies that were in part spiritual successors, such as Drag me to Hell and My Name is Bruce. However, until now, the possibility of getting a brand new Evil Dead film seemed remote at best. Now that the film has been released, and proved itself a success by scoring number 1 at the box office, there are talks about a sequel to it, a possible sequel to Army of Darkness, and even a crossover between the two in the future.

It's hard to say how many, if any, of these movies will ever actually make it to a theater, much less film, but it's hard to deny that the remake has brought the series back to life.  I may sound cynical about the ultimate reality of these films, but at this point you could pitch the idea of Evil Dead 0: The Rise of Henrietta, and I would be pretty excited.

All of this got me thinking, wondering, what is it about franchises that draws me in?

I can remember a while back when The Blair Witch Project was the hot new thing. They had announced there would be a sequel. I immediately wrote the idea off as a worthless cash-in to a movie that had no need of a followup. Not long after, I heard rumors that a 7-picture deal had been signed. Whether that was anything more than rumors, I'll never know. In doing research now, I can find no evidence of the deal ever existing. Regardless, it would have been unlikely to move forward after the dismal failure of Blair Witch 2: Book of Waste of Everybody's Goddamn Time.

But! Between first hearing the announcement of a sequel and the later tedium of actually watching said sequel, something had happened. After I had heard this rumor of an entire slew of Blair Witches, my attitude quickly shift from “Worthless cash-in sequel” to “A whole series, eh?” and my interest had been raised. Not just interest, but actual excitement.

So what the hell happened? Why did I perceive one sequel as cash-in but 6 or more as exciting? To the producers,every movie is money at the end of the day, so what's the difference?

The difference, I think, is mythology. As more movies are put out, a world is created, whether it wants to be or not. For every new movie produced, as print is put to script, new ideas have to be formed. As the new ideas are added up, an alternate reality begins to form. Like the Greeks telling stories about the stars, the mountains and the underworld, an impossible and fantastical realm begins to form in our imaginations.

And honestly, the more hackneyed the idea, the more gigantic the plot hole, the more interesting I feel the mythology gets. When you have a series of 6, 7 or more movies all written by different people, different crews with different plans and different ideas on where the series will go in the future, you wind up with a continuity with more confusion than a mental ward. That's when the viewer's imagination begins to stretch.

I'm not kidding, go to a message board sometime. The mental acrobatics people will go through to connect plot point C to plot hole F would impress the performers in Cirque du Soleil. This is done on a person by person basis. Fractures of opinion form, and soon a franchise will have as many interpretations of its mythology as it does fans. Take the James Bond films, for example. People have theories trying to fit all of the films into one consistent time line, going so far as to explain different actors playing the same characters.

So, I suppose I have the answer to my own question. I like franchises, at least in part, because I enjoy the world building. I like mythology. A movie's purpose is to tell a story, and that story's purpose is to take us on a journey. In one Friday the 13th, you have the story of a woman driven mad by the death of her son. Over the course of 11 Friday the 13ths, you have the story of an unkillable man, returned from the grave, given unearthly power by the Necronomicon (Oh boy it connects to the Evil Dead series, even more world building!), eventually being sent to hell and ultimately into outer space.

How the hell do you go from a simple angry mother to shooting axe murderers into space? For better or worse, it takes a franchise to travel that kind of distance.

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