Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Calvinball Mythology, Applied

A few years ago Jonathan McCalmont remarked the tendency to try and turn every story into a larger mythology, which seemed all the more conspicuous in the particular film about which he was writing at the time, Ridley Scott's Alien prequel, Prometheus, precisely because Alien is such an unlikely candidate for this, and the film ultimately such a failure at developing it in this manner. (Myths, for better or worse, offer explanation, a thing that movie was very short on.)

McCalmont posited that this was a deep-rooted cultural need in an age which has ceased to believe in its inherited myths. (As he put it, "the market has stepped in to fill the gap.")

That's one way of looking at it, one with which not everyone will agree. (There are, after all, those rationalistic types who regard a turn to the mythic approach in the modern world as essentially a cheat, obscuring reality with pretentions of "timelessness.")

Another is to see the market's stepping in in this way as simply a way of milking every last drop from established intellectual properties. After all, fixating on the "timeless" in a particular story, however slight, is an excuse to overlook the ways in which it has dated. And attributing a greater significance to a simple tale is an obvious way of accomplishing that necessary task for making the audience come to the theater and buy a $20 ticket rather than waiting three months and downloading it in the comfort of their home for much less--making them feel that its release is an Event in which they want to participate. That sense that this or that movie is "something more" is equally a good way to justify prequels ("I really care how it all got started") and reboots ("It's timeless; this generation needs one"), which can in their turn also seem like Events.

Obviously the most successful example of this in recent years has been the multi-series Marvel mega-franchise, now including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man (and in a TV version, even humble Agent Coulson) separately, and together in the Avengers. And naturally that success has been emulated. Over at Rolling Stone, David Ehrlich offers a case for the application of this approach to the Bond series being the weak point of its latest, Spectre--its attempting to tie the four rebooted films into a unified whole.

In fairness, the idea of a more unified Bond series is not altogether alien to the franchise. Fleming united the action in his last five novels, with results that have an interest even when they are not always successful. And Gardner followed his example in his own, last three novels (unsatisfactorily, but still functionally). And of course, before Marvel got into movie-making in a serious way, the producers of the Bond movies did toy with the idea of an interconnection with a related series starring a female double-O type. (You remember Jinx Johnson?) Still, the Marvel films were on safer ground doing this, because they were never quite so ambitious as the rebooted Bond films, or so prone to alternating in their course (as the evolution of third Daniel Craig movie into Skyfall demonstrates), making the task a far simpler one. All the same, if Spectre does get chalked up as a disappointment in the end, the series will not come to an end, simply do again what it has been doing for nearly a half century now--correcting course, likely delivering a lighter, brisker, more standalone film.

My Posts on Spectre
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
That Jinx Johnson Movie . . .

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