Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Need for Epic Heroes in the Hollywood Psyche

So, they're talking about another Rocky movie, eh? I can't say it comes as much of a surprise. A disappointment, yes, but not a surprise. Today's filmmakers seem to have difficulty leaving characters like Rocky or Indy to their rest. C'mon, folks. In some cases, I don't mind (I'd be up for another Indiana Jones flick, as long as it's better-made than #4), but in the case of many, like Rocky, it seems to me they've already told their story.

What is it about these characters, these franchises, that beckon filmmakers back years, even decades, after the stories and characters have been laid to rest? I think I've finally placed my finger on at least one of the reasons behind such obviously bad decisions.

Let me begin by saying that, like most, I was a skeptic of Rocky Balboa, and I was completely blown away by how awesome that movie really was. Same with Rambo, albeit with less skepticism at the beginning and less "blown-away-ness" at the end. However, I unequivocally believe that if Rocky VII is made, it will fail, and what's more, it will ruin the way the younger generation views the Rocky movies that were actually worth watching (which, from my perspective, includes only Rocky, Rocky II, and Rocky Balboa).

So why do filmmakers continue to do this? I think the answer can be found in the human need for mythic heroes. Look at the Indiana Jones franchise, or the Star Wars franchise, or the Terminator franchise, or hell, even the Die Hard franchise; look at the growing popularity for movies about erstwhile comic book heroes. At the same time, look at the singular lack of any new heroes--at least, any with the credibility to keep audience attention & respect for the long haul.

The bitter taste in the mouths of post-Vietnam Americans encouraged a high demand for truly heroic figures, heroes who wouldn't put up with the bullshit politics & ass-covering of the day, and Hollywood was more than happy to deliver. We had Rocky & Star Wars in the 70s, and by the 80s, the Hollywood lore of iconic heroes was in full swing: Rambo, the Connors, John McClane, Indiana Jones, Conan, Connor MacLeod, not to mention the massive number of space-hero (imitation Star Wars) flicks like Krull, Masters of the Universe, Flash Gordon...the list goes on.

The problem is, audiences began demanding a better quality product. Most of the films mentioned above were of the desired quality--they were equipped to stand the test of time--and so it was a natural move for the Hollywood consciousness (perhaps for my purposes I should call it a Hive Mind?) to spawn sequels. I'm not even going to bother to name any of them, because we've all seen them. So now there was a new trend in Hollywood: come up with a fantastic movie, then capitalize on that fantastic movie by making a whole slew of not-quite-as-fantastic-but-still-pretty-damn-good sequels.

"So the Hive Mind said, 'Let there be sequels, and trilogies, and all manner of sequels after that.' And the Hive Mind saw that it was good."

Or maybe not so good. Because I believe this is the thinking at the heart of the sequel-saturated market today. Yes, I love sequels, and yes, I think they should be made as long as they're made well. But this type of thinking, the thinking that leads us to unmitigatedly expect a sequel if the first feature was good, is restricting our other options. Studios are spending huge amounts of money on a proven franchise, and ignoring the new ideas out there. And a lot of the time, the new ideas are crap anyway.

But who cares? That's the best thing about the sequel problem--most of us keep on seeing them! And I'm not saying we shouldn't. After all, the human psyche seems to have an innate need for mythic, iconic heroes, and I'm at the forefront of that crowd--I'm an aspiring Fantasy author, for crying out loud!

Yes, we want our Epic Heroes. But rather than dragging the same characters through adventure after adventure, until we're nearly as tired as they are, why don't you, Hive Mind--dear Hive Mind--explore some new territory? You've done well with the comic book conversion trend; now let's get some completely original hero-flicks made, just one or two to start with, until the talented screenwriters of the world find the courage to bring your attention to those ideas they've harbored in secret for years, but thought you would laugh off as silly.

The old Age of Heroes is past. It is time for a new Age of Heroes.

Even so, I don't think the epidemic of sequel-itis will abate anytime soon, so I'm planning on enjoying the ride. Let us ride onward, into the summer!

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