THEY’RE BACK

In film, ev­ery­thing old is new again. But is the im­pe­tus nos­tal­gia or cash, asks Don Stein­berg

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FILM - Char­l­ize Theron speaks to Michael Bodey about mak­ing Ge­orge Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road — Page 8

Tina Turner had it wrong. Ap­par­ently we do need an­other hero. Mad Max: Fury Road brings the in­fu­ri­ated Aussie back to the big screen for the first time since Turner sang the theme song to Mad Max Be­yond Thun­der­dome in 1985. Tom Hardy is the hero now, in­stead of Mel Gibson. Fury Road kicks off a throw­back win­ter-movie sea­son when stu­dios are dig­ging up film fran­chises that had seemed buried for ages. Maybe it’s just a co­in­ci­dence that one of them is about re­viv­ing dinosaurs.

Poltergeist res­ur­rects a fran­chise that first scared au­di­ences in 1982 and hasn’t had a se­quel since 1988. Va­ca­tion will be the sixth fam­i­ly­travel com­edy in a se­ries born in 1983. Ter­mi­na­tor Genisys con­tin­ues a fran­chise James Cameron cre­ated in 1984 and Juras­sic World marks the re­turn of a se­ries Steven Spiel­berg launched in 1993. Max’s mad­ness be­gan in 1979.

It would be ro­man­ti­cis­ing the busi­ness to chalk it all up to nos­tal­gia, to sug­gest that 1980s kids grew up to run stu­dios and now de­cide what movies to re­lease based on their child­hood mem­o­ries. Stu­dios own fran­chise ti­tles and are al­ways look­ing to mon­e­tise them.

“Hav­ing a ti­tle that’s recog­nis­able has a lot of value. It’s some­thing there’s good­will to­wards, and it can cut through the clut­ter,” says Jonathan Glick­man, pres­i­dent of MGM’s mo­tion pic­ture group, which pro­duced the new Poltergeist and last year’s RoboCop re­boot. “The goal is to make some­thing mod­ern which would still be great en­ter­tain­ment if it was called some­thing else. Then the ti­tle has the en­ergy to break out to a new au­di­ence.”

What might be called The Re­turn of the Gen X Clas­sics bucks a re­cent trend in which tidily pack­aged movie fran­chises such as The Hunger Games, The Twi­light Saga and The Lord of the Rings have pounded au­di­ences with a new film ev­ery year. The ad­van­tages to that ap­proach are clear: au­di­ences stay con­nected, young ac­tors stay young, and film­mak­ers know how the se­ries will end be­fore they shoot the first film. It’s not so neat with older fran­chises res­ur­rected spo­rad­i­cally. New sto­ry­lines get tacked on, some­times clum­sily. Ac­tors age. Ter­mi­na­tor Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger is 67. Long-time Va­ca­tion dad Chevy Chase is 71. Film­go­ers grow up too, age­ing out of tar­get de­mo­graph­ics.

So how do you up­date an iconic but age­ing fran­chise? This sum­mer’s films take dif­fer­ent ap­proaches. The old-school re­vivals aren’t over. In the pipe­line are new in­stal­ments in throw­back fran­chises in­clud­ing Alien (1979-97), Fletch (1985-89), Rocky (1976-2006) and Ghost­busters (1984-89), and, of course, Star Wars (1977-2005).

Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15)

His­tory: Three films from 1979 to 1985

Na­ture of re­vival: The fourth Mad Max film isn’t a se­quel or re­make. Gibson is gone. It doesn’t connect well to the chronol­ogy of the first three, bor­row­ing only their post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world where ve­hi­cles are trea­sured, hair­cuts are bad and an an­gry ex-cop roams the out­back.

“I tell peo­ple it’s set 45 years from next Wed­nes­day,” says Aus­tralian film­maker Ge­orge Miller, who wrote and di­rected Fury Road and the pre­vi­ous Max films. “Next Wed­nes­day is when all the cat­a­strophic stuff we see on the news, and all the stuff we never an­tic­i­pated, comes to pass, and we end up in the new dark ages.”

This first Mad Max film since 1985 has been on the road for a long time. “I never wanted to make an­other Mad Max movie. But a char­ac­ter lives in your head. A story came to me in the late 90s,” Miller says. He had Gibson ready to reprise the role of Max, but the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks caused the Amer­i­can dollar to col­lapse against the Aus­tralian dollar and the bud­get be­came im­pos­si­ble. (He made Happy Feet in­stead.) Years later, he signed up Hardy as Max and Char­l­ize Theron as a new char­ac­ter. (See story on page 8) Fury Road brings back the high-oc­tane road war that fans of the se­ries love, em­ploy­ing min­i­mal com­puter ef­fects. Un­like Be­yond Thun­der­dome, there’s lit­tle dia­logue.

Poltergeist (July 23)

His­tory: Three films from 1982 to 1988

Na­ture of re­vival: Haunted houses are hot. The tim­ing seems right for an up­dated re­make of the 1982 clas­sic. This restag­ing stars Sam Rock­well and Rose­marie De­Witt as the cou­ple who lose their daugh­ter into a ghostly di­men­sion in their sub­ur­ban house.

“It took one small recon­cep­tion to give this thing a new lease on life,” says direc­tor Gil Ke­nan. The orig­i­nal Poltergeist cel­e­brated the sub­urbs as the Amer­i­can ideal, he says. Pro­ducer Sam Raimi and scriptwriter David Lind­say-Abaire flipped the script, de­cid­ing that in 2015 the sub­urbs are where you go when life doesn’t work out. That cre­ates an aroma of fail­ure that frames the story.

A big chal­lenge the film­mak­ers faced was re­vis­it­ing the ter­ri­fy­ing clown-in-the-bed­room scene from the orig­i­nal Poltergeist. Ke­nan felt he couldn’t leave it out but, he says, the orig­i­nal film made clowns so scary that no kid ever wanted one again in their bed­room, so it be­came un­re­al­is­tic.

“David had to write his way out of that prob­lem, in a way that con­nected to the idea of the sub­di­vi­sion be­ing a stale and fraught land­scape,” Ke­nan says. They still send in the clowns — but in a creepy new way.

Juras­sic World (June 11)

His­tory: Three films from 1993 to 2001

Na­ture of re­vival: Plans for the fourth Juras­sic film, which is set (and re­leased) 22 years af­ter the orig­i­nal, date back to 2001. Many screen­writ­ers, di­rec­tors and ac­tors have been at­tached to the se­quel as it lum­bered to­wards the screen. Story orig­i­na­tor Michael Crich­ton and Stan Win­ston, mas­ter­mind be­hind the fran­chise’s an­i­ma­tronic dinosaurs, both died in 2008. Richard At­ten­bor­ough, who played mad en­tre­pre­neur John Ham­mond, died last year.

Ham­mond’s dream of cre­at­ing a living-di­nosaur theme park has be­come re­al­ity. It’s now open to tourists on fic­ti­tious Isla Nublar (loc- ated west of Costa Rica). Park at­trac­tions in­clude rap­tors and a Godzilla-like In­domi­nus rex. A deadly ram­page seems in­evitable, but park pro­fes­sion­als Chris Pratt ( Guardians of the Galaxy) and Bryce Dal­las Howard ( The Help) try to keep things in con­trol. Spiel­berg is ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duc­ing the film while Colin Trevor­row di­rects.

Ter­mi­na­tor Genisys (July 1)

His­tory: Four films from 1984 to 2009

Na­ture of re­vival: The new film picks up plot­wise af­ter the sec­ond orig­i­nal film ( T2: Judg­ment Day), then sends the char­ac­ters back in time to re­live events of the first film, dif­fer­ently. By show­ing fu­ture events that pre­cede the first film, the new film also has el­e­ments of a pre­quel.

“I’d go with ‘re­set’,” says Ja­son Clarke, the fourth ac­tor to play John Con­nor, the char­ac­ter who leads the fu­ture hu­man re­bel­lion against our ma­chine over­lords.

As fans know, in the 1984 film, the malev­o­lent SkyNet net­work sends a ro­botic Ter­mi­na­tor (Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger) back to 1984 to kill Sarah Con­nor, whose fu­ture son John will be­come leader of the anti-ma­chine re­sis­tance. Re­sis­tance leader John Con­nor re­sponds (in the fu­ture) by send­ing his pro­tege Kyle Reese back to 1984 to pro­tect his mother. Awk­wardly, Kyle ends up be­com­ing John Con­nor’s fa­ther.

Sch­warzeneg­ger, who skipped 2009’s Ter­mi­na­tor: Sal­va­tion while he was gover­nor of Cal­i­for­nia, is back. It ap­pears that one thing so­ci­ety learns in the fu­ture is how to make Ter­mi­na­tors look older. In fact, there’s an ex­pla­na­tion: a Ter­mi­na­tor’s ex­te­rior is or­ganic tis­sue, which ages.

Screen­writ­ers Laeta Kalo­gridis and Pa­trick Lussier are writ­ing two more Ter­mi­na­tor films. John Con­nor fa­mously pro­nounced that “The fu­ture is not writ­ten” in the 1984 movie. “I think it’s be­ing writ­ten now,” Clarke says.

Va­ca­tion, (Au­gust 20)

His­tory: Five films from 1983 to 2003

Na­ture of re­vival: Like all the Va­ca­tion movies, this is a se­quel but the same story as al­ways: the Gris­wold fam­ily takes a road trip. Now it’s the next gen­er­a­tion. Grown son Rusty hauls his fam­ily to the Wal­ley World amuse­ment park, fondly re­mem­ber­ing his boy­hood visit from the first film.

“He’s sort of se­lec­tively forgotten the mishaps of that trip,” says Jonathan Gold­stein, codi­rec­tor and writer of the new film with John Fran­cis Da­ley. Ed Helms be­comes the fifth ac­tor to play Rusty (and Les­lie Mann the fifth to play sis­ter Au­drey), bring­ing the same goofy op­ti­mism that Chevy Chase de­liv­ered as Clark Gris­wold. Chase and Bev­erly D’An­gelo re­turn as grand­par­ents. The big­gest change since 1983 may be in the sen­si­bil­ity of come­dies. The 1983 orig­i­nal was rated R and con­sid­ered racy, but that was be­fore PG-13 ex­isted.

STU­DIOS ARE AL­WAYS LOOK­ING TO MON­E­TISE FRAN­CHISE TI­TLES

Far left, top and bot­tom, scenes from orig­i­nal Mad Max and the new Mad Max Fury Road; mid­dle, Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger in The Ter­mi­na­tor and its se­quel, Ter­mi­na­tor: Genisys; above, Juras­sic Park and its rein­car­na­tion, Juras­sic World

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