It’s time for the big seasonal movies to hit the theaters, and as usual, the major brands are making a showing.
In the past few years, the trend has been to “reboot the franchise” or re-think the origins of some favorite franchises.
The exercise can often result in some radical changes in what some people consider sacred stories.
Three cases in point —
SHERLOCK HOLMES: Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 stories about his hero — the world’s first consulting detective. He was a man of pure reason, using deduction to unravel seemingly impossible crimes.
This is one of the most durable franchises in history. Many movies have strayed from the original stories — the World War II era series of films starring Basil Rathbone might find Holmes chasing Nazi spies. So it’s not unusual to see the stories branch off in new directions.
What purists decry is the way the character is perverted. Two recent reincarnations of Holmes include a British TV series and American Robert Downey, Jr on the big screen.
Guy Ritchie is the auteur who decided that instead of thinking his way through problems, Holmes should strip off his shirt so we can see his rippling abs and pecs and beat evil-doers to submission with his fists, by swinging a stick or fencing.
In other words, this character was not really Sherlock Holmes — this was Generic action hero with a formula action adventure movie.
However, the first movie in 2009 (cleverly titled “Sherlock Holmes”) made so much money that “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is due out just in time for Christmas.
Oh, yeah — in case you wondered, you really don’t need to read the original stories to enjoy the movies. Rather, you don’t need to be able to read at all … as with most mainstream block-buster movies.
But Sherlock Holmes isn’t the only victim of LCD Makeover (Lowest Common Denominator). Yes — other classics and favorites are being dumbed down for the masses, too.
Tom Cruise took over the “Mission: Impossible” franchise in 1996. Long before that, the Impossible Mission Force was established as a top draw on network TV (CBS) from 1966 to 1973. Peter Graves played Jim Phelps, the brains behind a team that included an electronics expert, master of disguise, a femme fatale and a really strong man. They usually tried to overthrow dictators and tip the balance of the cold war.
In the update, the only thing that didn’t change was the signature opening — instructions relayed to the team leader via a recording that self-destructed after playing once (in five seconds!).
Jim Phelps was played by Jon Voight, who was getting long in the tooth and passed the baton to young Cruise. Things turn bad for Cruise, and his team is all killed, leaving him a fugitive from both the good guys and the bad guys.
Everything that made a story “Mission: Impossible” was stripped away. No team. No elaborate con-game with plot twists. Just generic action adventure with high-octane stunts (Cars, motorcycles, trains and helicopters). It could have been anything — but just happened to have the IMF imprint on it.
The perversion that angered fans of the TV show was *** SPOILER *** Jim Phelps was the bad guy. That’s right — the hero of the TV series turned rogue and not only framed Cruise, but killed all his team of agents.
The big-budget series lives on, with sequels in 2000 and 2006. Get ready for the latest installment, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” right before Christmas.
I take the twisting of James Bond the most personally. The latest incarnation of the British secret agent, played by Daniel Craig, was featured in “Casino Royale” (2006).
This particular Bond story has been many times in many ways, probably because it was the first story to feature the character who has become the most popular in all of fiction (arguably ahead of Harry Potter — at least for now).
The first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming was filmed for the first time as a made for TV movie for the anthology series “CLIMAX!” in 1954. It’s really twisted, too. Bond (called “Jimmy” by most characters) is actually an American government agent (played by Barry Nelson) and his liason is Clarence (not Felix) Leiter, who is a British secret agent (rather than a CIA agent as in the novel).
The TV movie is boiled down to a baccarat game with international baddie “Le Chifre” (Peter Lorre) who tries several times to get rid of “Jimmy” and cheat at cards and even steal the winnings back after he loses the game. The ending is a rather disappointing fist and gun fight.
The next attempt was a big screen comedy romp starring David Niven and Peter Sellers (as well as a bunch of other big stars) with a plot that is totally fabricated — no effort to follow the Flemming novel at all.
When the “real” James Bond movies started with Sean Connory in “Dr. No,” (1962) the crew decided not to go back and do a serious version of “Casino Royale.” Subsequent Flemming/Bond movies were made by the same producers and featured serious renderings of the Flemming novels (and books authorized by Flemming’s estate).
So, after they ran out of Flemming novels and actors to play Bond, it was the age of the “re-boot.” And the result — in my opinion — was disappointing.
Starting over chronologically, the first novel became the 21st James Bond movie. It starts out at the very beginning — James Bond isn’t really James Bond yet. He yearns to be a “Double 0” spy (giving him a license to kill). He doesn’t have his Aston-Martin, and worst of all — when he orders a martini and the bartender asks him “Shaken or stirred?” Bond replies, “I don’t give a damn!”
Oh yeah — he has a long way to go. When he gets into a chase scene, its the lowest of the low-tech — on foot. In fact, the first few chases (and there are many) has Bond taking off once again, sprinting after a bad guy or a car. He eventually gets his Aston-Martin (wins it in a card game) and he starts seducing the chicks, so he’s beginning to resemble James Bond. But the trouble is that Daniel Craig is totally a non-Bond. He’s got blonde hair instead of black and he looks like a ruffian — not a tuxedo-clad gentleman.
The plot is updated (after all the novel was written fifty years earlier than this movie) but retains the basic plot and characters of the Flemming novel for the first time on screen. And the ending gives us a certain satisfaction when he stares down the bad guy that he’s just shot and says, “Let me introduce myself — Bond. James Bond.”
He really has become Bond. At least the bare minimum Bond, and there is the promise that he will develop even more — maybe even up to the Connery level of “Dr. No.” If they ever get around to making the rest of the movies.
Sadly, the franchise is in limbo and the latest movie may not be made before Daniel Craig gets too old to play the part and we have to start over.
Who will be the next Bond? Justin Bieber?
I wouldn’t be surprised.