Scroll

Why a cure for Hollywood franchise fever is never going to be found

Rather than just a single film, viewers are tempted to consume many in a series.

The latest remake of The Mummy has hit the big screen in Australia. Dating back to the 1930s, The Mummy franchise is far older than the other venerable blockbusters (such as Star Wars or Jaws). Its plotline has been recycled every few decades, from Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr’s portrayals in the 1930s and 1940s to the 1999 hit starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. Universal Pictures envisions this latest iteration of The Mummy as the first in a “Dark Universe” multi-film franchise, which will include characters such as Frankenstein’s monster, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in The Mummy (1999). Image credit: Universal Pictures.
Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in The Mummy (1999). Image credit: Universal Pictures.

Universal’s move is the latest foray by a major studio into building up a “shared universe” that incorporates a slew of multiple film releases tagged with the usual commercial products and accoutrements.

In the late 2000s, film studios, particularly Marvel Studios, realised that they could tap into the potential for creating stories that laid out a trail of breadcrumbs. Rather than just a single film, viewers would be tempted to consume many in a series.

Coupled with the merchandising successes that the Star Wars franchise had enjoyed since the 1980s, Marvel realised it had stumbled on a goldmine. Marvel was quickly bought up by Disney in 2009, resulting in the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a hyper-commercialised endeavour that, spanning decades and involving billions of dollars, represents the apex of big budget filmmaking. The studio has produced 15 films film to date, including Iron Man, Captain America and The Avengers, with at least nine more planned.

The Mummy has been being rebooted since films were in black and white. Image credit: Universal Pictures.
The Mummy has been being rebooted since films were in black and white. Image credit: Universal Pictures.

Marvel’s comic book film franchise is now a multi-media offering, with tie-ins being the norm rather than the exception. Tapping into a form of brand loyalty, the it appeals to viewers on an emotive level, where the content of these films extends beyond the big screen. The hyper-commercialisation of Marvel’s bloated, CGI-laden releases begins months before the release of their films. For example, LEGO tie-in sets from Marvel’s upcoming films are already available for purchase in stores.

Buoyed by the successes of Marvel, every major production studio is now jumping on the shared universe bandwagon. Beyond Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars franchises, we have Warner Brothers’ DC Comics and Monsters franchises. Paramount is already planning a spinoff from their latest Transformers film and have laid out preliminary details for a “Transformers Cinematic Universe”, with reportedly 14 stories under consideration. Warner Brothers also has another massive franchise underway with the Fantastic Beasts films drawing on the world of Harry Potter.

Play
Avengers: Infinity War (2018).

Even smaller budget films are embracing the idea of shared universes. M Night Shaymalan’s recent surprise hit Split has connections to his earlier film Unbreakable. Conjuring director James Wan’s latest horror film efforts are pitched as “part of the Conjuring universe”. There are even rumours that new adaptations of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and IT might tap into this shared universe zeitgeist.

With a legacy spanning decades that is arguably older than Marvel and DC, it remains to be seen if Universal can replicate these franchises’ successes. Indeed, the marketing campaign for Universal’s Dark Universe taps into nostalgia for black and white film monsters and Hammer Horror.

Play
Dark Universe Monsters Legacy (2017).

Arguably there are two important factors that underpin the success of these franchises: big budget film franchises are both recession as well as critic proof, important considerations in a post-GFC world that has witnessed the rise of online “film critics” on aggregate sites such as IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.

Post recession, the price of entry to the cinema (the price of a smashed avocado breakfast or less) has sustained movies as a form of popular entertainment. It is arguably in this climate that the idea for the Marvel cinematic universe first began, after the release of John Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008. Indeed, the film industry has long been regarded as “recession proof”.

Big budget franchises also have a track record of being critic-proof. The Transformers film franchises have consistently poor ratings but are commercial successes. DC Comics’ offerings have not fared much better, with releases such as Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad receiving low ratings among critics, but nevertheless commercial success. The Mummy, despite savage criticism and a lacklustre performance in the US, is doing well overseas.

And a few have been both critical and commercial successes. At the time of writing, DC’s latest offering, Wonder Woman, does appear to have bucked this trend both at the box office and in the ratings department.

Play
The Mummy (2017).

In the past, films were considered risky businesses. Film production, at least from the perspective of the blockbuster, has traditionally been a very expensive enterprise. A shared universe approach to filmmaking enmeshes viewers to such an extent that repeated successes, at least from a financial perspective, are almost assured. This contributes to a presumptuous and repetitive form of filmic storytelling.

Instead of vehicles for telling audiences compelling stories, shared universe franchises represent an ultimate form of commercialisation that begins with the hook of purchasing a movie ticket, expanding into merchandising, DVD sales and repeat trips to the movies.

Despite my cynicism, I am also reminded that major production studios are, after all, money making enterprises driven by a bottom line. This was true in 1932, and it still rings true today.

Colin Yeo, PhD Candidate, English and Cultural Studies, University of Western Australia.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The quirks and perks of travelling with your hard to impress mom

We must admit that the jar of pickle always comes in handy.

A year ago, Priyanka, a 26-year-old banking professional, was packing her light-weight duffel bag for an upcoming international trip. Keen to explore the place, she wanted to travel light and fuss free. It was not meant to be. For Priyanka was travelling with her mother, and that meant carrying at least two extra suitcases packed with odds and ends for any eventuality just short of a nuclear war.

Bothered by the extra suitcases that she had to lug around full of snacks and back-up woollens, Priyanka grew frustrated with her mother. However, one day, while out for some sight-seeing Priyanka and her family were famished but there were no decent restaurants in sight. That’s when her mum’s ‘food bag’ came to the rescue. Full of juice boxes, biscuits and sandwiches, her mother had remembered to pack snacks from the hotel for their day out. Towards the end of the trip, Priyanka was grateful to her mother for all her arrangements, especially the extra bag she carried for Priyanka’s shopping.

Priyanka’s story isn’t an isolated one. We spoke to many people about their mother’s travel quirks and habits and weren’t surprised at some of the themes that were consistent across all the travel memoirs.

Indian mothers are always prepared

“My mom keeps the packed suitcases in the hallway one day before our flight date. She will carry multiple print-outs of the flight tickets because she doesn’t trust smartphone batteries. She also never forgets to carry a medical kit for all sorts of illnesses and allergies”, says Shruti, a 27-year-old professional. When asked if the medical kit was helpful during the trip, she answered “All the time”, in a tone that marvelled at her mother’s clairvoyance.

Some of the many things a mother packs in her travel bags. Source: Google Images
Some of the many things a mother packs in her travel bags. Source: Google Images

Indian mothers love to feel at home, and create the same experience for their family, wherever they are

“My mother has a very strange idea of the kind of food you get in foreign lands, so she always packs multiple packets of khakra and poha for our trips. She also has a habit of carrying her favourite teabags to last the entire trip”, relates Kanchan, a marketing professional who is a frequent international flier often accompanied by her mother. Kanchan’s mother, who is very choosy about her tea, was therefore delighted when she was served a hot cup of garam chai on her recent flight to Frankfurt. She is just like many Indian mothers who love to be reminded of home wherever they are and often strive to organise their hotel rooms to give them the coziness of a home.

Most importantly, Indian mothers are tough, especially when it comes to food

Take for instance, the case of Piyush, who recalls, “We went to this fine dining restaurant and my mother kept quizzing the waiter about the ingredients and the method of preparation of a dish. She believed that once she understood the technique, she would be able to make a better version of the dish just so she could pamper me!”

Indian mothers are extremely particular about food – from the way its cooked, to the way it smells and tastes. Foreign delicacies are only allowed to be consumed if they fulfil all the criteria set by Mom i.e. is it good enough for my children to consume?

An approval from an Indian mother is a testament to great quality and great taste. In recognition of the discerning nature of an Indian mum and as a part of their ‘More Indian Than You Think’ commitment, Lufthansa has tailored their in-flight experiences to surpass even her exacting standards. Greeted with a namaste and served by an Indian crew, the passengers feel right at home as they relish the authentic Indian meals and unwind with a cup of garam chai, the perfect accompaniment to go with a variety of Indian entertainment available in the flight. As Lufthansa’s in-flight offerings show, a big part of the brand is inherently Indian because of its relationship with the country spanning over decades.

To see how Lufthansa has internalised the Indian spirit and become the airline of choice for flyers looking for a great Indian experience, watch the video below.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.