Superman returns...again...and again
Disturbing numbers coming out of Hollywood. There will be a record for sequels this year – a whopping 28. It’s a figure that has rising steadily in the past few years. More disturbingly, things like Harry Potter 7b (essentially an 8), Fast Five, X-Men First Class (essentially another 5), etc makes the average sequel number 3.7.
How did we get here? Franchises seem to live forever these days. And maybe it has to do with digital technology making everything available. It’s never been easier to catch up one something.
Take reunions. With a band like Pulp in the CD era, people would have put away their CD copies of Different Class, occasionally bringing it out for nostalgia. In the era of iPods, many lapsed Pulp fans can carry around Pulp songs in their pockets every single day.
Every band in history is on equal footing. Every album ever made might as well be a new release. They are all equally easy to find. No wonder there is so much money in reunion shows. I’m not sure if bands can even break up anymore. Looks at artists like Pavement or the Pixies. Despite disappearing, their popularity never waned. They reunited to equal, if not bigger, audiences than ever.
Stock issues are disappearing. The idea that a record can fall out of print is outdated. In the 90s and the 00s, it was kinda hard to get Pixies albums in Australia (compared to say Britney).
There are a bunch of golden albums that used to never go out of print, and would be discovered by every generation. Be it Tapestry for thoughtful young women, or the first Violent Femmes album for nerdy young boys. And even the smallest CD store would stock them. Now there is no such thing. Every album is a golden album ripe for rediscovery.
I used to carry CDs in my school bag. I’d fill it with anything I might want to listen to. But no school bag can fit as much as an iPod. And soon those iPods will be streaming from an infinite harddrive in a cloudy sky.
The same used to apply to old movies. From hoping something would be re-run on TV to searching for a DVD at a shop. There was always limits. But no more. There is an infinite database of films online.
Which is why sequels work better than ever. I have friends who have just caught up on all seven Harry Potter films in just the weeks leading up to the 8th. It is the reason films like Fast Five can exist. Because Fast One to Four are so easy to get.
It goes on. Look at reboots. The first Scream movie never fell into an oldies film. Freddie Krueger never died. Even Wall Street was given a sequel 23 years later. Why invent a new brand to discuss the financial crisis? Just use the one that everyone still talks about.
Then there’s good old “nerdstalgia”. Transformers used to be so 80s. Now it’s the biggest franchise there is today. This year, both the Muppets and the Smurfs are back on the big screen. Nothing ever dies.
TV Shows of course fall into the same category. Although huge gaps exist, so many TV shows live online. Most are at unreasonable prices, but hey, that’s how you give birth to a piracy market.
You can always catch up to the story. Season 4 of Breaking Bad is out and you’ve not seen the first 3? It’s really not a problem anymore. Hell, you could have been waiting to be born when the first Harry Potter film came out and you’re probably the target audience for the new one.
Slightly ironic that the very first physical format – print – is the last to drag itself into the digital world. But you can see it going the same way as it’s louder and brighter cousins. Books will never go out of print. They will be instantly accessible to anyone who wants them. The stories will never get old.
This new world brings with it some new concerns. Making something that’s timeless pays off. Flash in the pan also never dies, but who’s going to be looking for it? You don’t need to go back at watch some shit network sitcom because they still make those. But the Sopranos will remain timeless.
What happens to plot twists. I don’t know how it would feel to try and watch Lost now. I think it’s widely known that the ending was a let down. With a show so structured towards an ending, does it lose something?
Then there is the big fight over copyright issues, and when things fall into the public domain. When the UK write copyright rules that allowed people to own their music for 50 years, no one thought Paul McCartney would be one year away from losing the rights to Love Me Do. Or, indeed that ANYTHING 50 years old would have any value.
Public Domain is a funny thing. And I think, on the whole, if something falls into Public Domain, it is terrible for that thing. Because the old arguments about it being free and easy to access are gone. We have solved the access issue. And it just means anyone can make money off someone’s work. No one is going to give it to you for free.
(One of my favourite movies ever – Charade – is one of the more interesting copyright cases around. Many cheap DVDs are no better than people filming shaky cameras in a theatre. But it’s legal to sell that. Proper prints with decent quality are hard to find because they are hard for anyone to sell any.)
The UK are seeking an extension to be in line with the US – 100 years (or so). There needs to be a worldwide consensus because we are dealing with the worldwide web. There is an argument that those rules need to be more lax (in regards to thing like sampling). But really – do they not imagine another Muppets movie in 50 years time? Maybe 100 is not enough.
Are we ever going to forget anything again?
Reboots have become part of our popular culture now. I think the idea was perfected in the comic book world. Bit reboots are getting sooner and sooner. Including the upcoming Avengers film, there will be three Hulks in ten years. Each one a reboot to some degree.
I find it interesting that people can just decide that OK, we are now starting again. Forget the past. This is a new Star Trek. This is a new Spiderman. Is anything sacred?
Franchises are worth more and more. Bands reform to take advantage of it. What happens when HBO realises that another generation has discovered the Sopranos? Will they remake that too?
It’s all up for grabs. Nothing ever dies. The idea that they could recast Star Trek means that they can recast anything. Imagine Star Wars movies picking up after Return Of the Jedi. Why not? We are getting new Spidermen, Supermen and Hulks. The next Batman movie is not even out and they have already announced a reboot to follow. Anything to keep the brand alive.
Try to imagine a situation where they would cancel the Simpsons. They could replace the voices. Get in a whole team of new young writers and producers. Reinvent the show for a new current audience. Use technology to make it cheaper to make. Really, maybe that show will outlive me. And all of us.
With so much information out there, the problem is not finding entertainment. It’s finding something you like. Filters will be the next big thing.
What do my friends recommend. What lists tell me what the greatest movies are. What the hell should I watch next?
It is the next big question in our cultural lives.