Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Franchise Resurrection

'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines'/Warner Bros.
Kristanna Loken and Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines"

Which movie series are worth revisiting ... and which should remain in the can?

By Don Kaye

Special to MSN Movies

It sounds like a line from a horror movie ad: Nothing stays dead forever. But in the movie business , that's literally true. There has rarely been a good idea in Hollywood that has not been unearthed, revisited, resurrected, reimagined or rebooted, either as a continuing series of films or, particularly in recent times, as a remake -- as long as it makes money, of course. Since the turn of the 21st century alone we've had three "Spider-Man" flicks, a "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy, a horde of "X-Men" and a trio of "Ocean's," and, recently, Indiana Jones' return (with mixed results) -- and that's just scratching the surface.

But we're here to talk about those franchises that have been quiet for a while, or at least have seemed to be in their last throes. With a few exceptions, each of the following film series has been inactive for at least five years -- and in many cases even longer. Yet a number of properties going back 20 years or more have all been mooted for revival in recent times -- as clear an indication as any that today's studio execs are either pining for their childhood favorites or are simply out of original ideas.

We happen to think that some of these concepts could benefit from a new approach or an updated story line, and we'd love to see a few of these characters (RoboCop, for instance) back on the big screen. But not every iconic film series can simply succeed with a fresh coat of paint or a hefty dose of CG. The "Die Hard" and "Alien" product lines are just two glaring examples -- although we admit we wouldn't mind ditching the woeful "Alien vs. Predator" installments in favor of a rematch with Sigourney Weaver's Ripley.

So here is a list of some film franchises we think could work again, and a few we'd like to see stay dead. For those we approve of, we've included our own humble proposals for a plot. No need to thank us -- just get the movie right.

The Terminator
Last film: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (2003)
Status: "The Terminator" was one of the great geek movies of the '80s, a low-budget sci-fi flick that delivered action, suspense, violence, a great story and Arnold Schwarzenegger in his defining role. "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991) expanded the tale into an epic, with groundbreaking visuals and an elegant completion of the time-travel saga. They should have left it there -- "Terminator 3" was far from the disaster that many feared, but it made nonsense out of the first two entries' logic. Based on early script reports, next year's "Terminator Salvation" stretches the story well past its breaking point, changing the timeline entirely. And Arnold isn't even in it! This franchise has said "I'll be back" at least once too often.

Mad Max
Last film: "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" (1985)
Status: "Thunderdome," the third entry in the series about a rogue cop wandering a postapocalyptic wilderness, was initially perceived as a disappointment after the brilliance of the second film, "The Road Warrior." Nevertheless, a new movie, "Mad Max IV: Fury Road," has been in "pre-production" since late 2007, with creator/director George Miller once again slated to get behind the camera. But with Miller planning to film in Africa, concerns about security have slowed the start of production. There's also the little matter of finding a new Max -- Mel Gibson says he's too old for the part now.
We like the idea of resurrecting Max with a big budget and a fresh approach, so why not have Gibson cameo as an aged Max, on his deathbed, dispensing wisdom and passing the torch to one of the now-grown tribal children from "Thunderdome"? The fledgling society set up by the children in the ruins of Sydney could be endangered by a new threat, and it's up to the youthful leader to "become" the legendary Max and save his new civilization.

Dirty Harry
Last film: "The Dead Pool" (1988)
Status: Although Clint Eastwood said not long ago that he wasn't interested in returning to one of his signature characters, vigilante-like San Francisco cop "Dirty" Harry Callahan, his denial alone seemed to spark interest in reviving the franchise. Rumors abound that a newly announced Eastwood picture, "Gran Torino," is the next Dirty Harry picture, although that speculation seems to be have been dismissed by Eastwood himself. The actor has stated that he's too old to play the role again, but we think that could work in his favor.
Plot: Eastwood's own films in the past 20 years or so have portrayed the all-too-grim results of violence, and, in the case of his masterful "Unforgiven," what happens when people take the law into their own hands. A new "Dirty Harry" film, showing an aged Callahan grappling with these issues, could fit nicely into that narrative. Pit Harry against, say, an urban terrorist, set him at odds with a corrupt government agency and younger cops within his own force who see him as a role model, and you've got the makings of a compelling and timely thriller.

Last film: "RoboCop 3" (1993)
Status: Like so many third films in a series, "RoboCop 3" was a pale imitation of its predecessors, severely hampered by a PG-13 rating that took the teeth right out of the franchise. But the idea of continuing the saga of the cyborg law enforcer has never quite gone out of style. It was recently announced that director Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream" and "The Fountain") will helm a reboot of the character. Aronofsky -- whose radical take on Batman a few years ago was reportedly even darker than the one eventually filmed by Christopher Nolan -- could be the perfect choice to switch RoboCop back on.
Plot: The original "RoboCop" themes of corporate control of society, media manipulation, and rogue law enforcement are even more topical now than they were 20 years ago. Since today's society has quickly caught up with the original film's dystopian future, we propose something radical ourselves: Have RoboCop sent back in time to the present, and watch what happens as various factions try to gain control of this particular weapon of mass destruction. Perhaps he'll even meet his parents or himself as a young child, reactivating his humanity. I'd buy that for a dollar.

Austin Powers
Last film: "Austin Powers: Goldmember" (2002)
Status: You know Mike Myers is looking at the box office returns of the dismal "Love Guru" and thinking, "Hmm ... time to get my hugely successful retro spy spoof on again." In fact, an "Austin Powers 4" has been reported as going into production in 2009, with Myers stating in several interviews that the film would focus more on Dr. Evil than Austin. There's only one catch: "Goldmember" was just not that funny. In fact, neither was "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." Only "The Spy Who Shagged Me" really worked. Based on all that, and the turn Myers' ideas have taken recently, the idea of a fourth "Austin" film just doesn't make us horny, baby.

Next: More film franchises we'd revive ... and some we'd leave dead

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