Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
On the origin of...
by Chris Bellamy

Writing Fantasy

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At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
    by Chris Bellamy

On the origin of...

A look into the future finds Hollywood in a very specific rut

January 21, 2020

It's been another year for the history books in Hollywood. There were the highs, such as the latest Avengers sequel becoming the first film to cross the $2 billion mark at the domestic box office. And then there were the lows, like James Cameron's widespread introduction of Smell-O-Vision in Avatar 5: This Movie is Totally a Metaphor, which backfired when the natural body odor of the Na'vi proved far too pungent for mass audiences to handle.

But just as President Kucinich is preparing to take on a full crop of challengers in this fall's election, so, too, is Hollywood preparing for its next crop of box-office juggernauts and Oscar contenders. And boy, this year's lineup certainly is a veritable who's-who of beloved characters and ubiquitous franchises littering both the big and small screen. Rest assured, if you're a fan of finding out the complete personal histories of all of your favorite characters, you're in for a treat in 2020.

Studio insiders have confirmed that an estimated 71.2 percent - a new record - of all films and television series released over the next two years will focus on origin stories within existing mythologies. The trend began in full force several years ago, when the major studios - faced with the prospect of their most reliable properties running out of steam - decided to double-down on those properties and explore them from the beginning in a series of origin-based spinoffs and prequels. In a matter of just a few years, we, the lucky audiences, got origin stories of - among others - Peter Pan, Boba Fett, Willy Wonka, King Kong, Commissioner Gordon, Saul Goodman, the Wizard of Oz, the Smurfs, the Minions, the Penguins, the Monsters of Monsters Inc., the Huntsman of Snow White and the Huntsman, the Wolverine, Puss in Boots, Han Solo, Yoda, Santa Claus and . . . sigh . . . Spider-Man's Aunt May. And just like that, a glorious new era was upon us.

That bold storytelling innovation has now become the Hollywood standard, and indeed the upcoming 2020 movie season promises to bring an exciting assortment of shopworn ideas and stories. But, y'know, with younger faces.

Perhaps the year's most anticipated film is Untitled Jason Bourne Project, which reimagines the titular character as a wayward teen who overcomes an abusive childhood and a crippling speech impediment to become one of the world's most highly trained brainwashed assassins. Bourne is drafted into Project Treadstone - which, in this new, modernized interpretation, injects its volunteers with a super serum that makes them indestructible - before being recruited to join the Avengers by none other than Nick Fury, played by Jaden Smith.

Publicity around the new Bourne film - which producers hope will kickstart an entire new standalone series, in addition to the character's ongoing involvement with the aforementioned crimefighting team - has been hobbled by the controversial decision to cast a lead actor with no charisma or screen presence. (Bourne star Josh Hutcherson could not be reached for comment.)

Of course, Jason Bourne isn't the only action hero getting a youthful makeover. One of the most controversial developments in recent years was the announcement, after nearly 60 years and 25 movies, of an origin story for none other than James Bond. The as-yet-untitled reboot will star Nicholas Hoult as James Mortimer Bond in his younger days before adopting the legendary 007 call sign for MI6. This gritty new take on the character's backstory will show James as a wayward youth who overcomes an abusive childhood and a crippling malaria infection to become a decorated war veteran who, according to the film's official logline, "like probably fights the Taliban or something."

A veil of secrecy surrounds the new Bond films, however, as director Christopher Nolan has taken the reigns, bringing his trademark coyness along with him. However, the Bond gig didn't come without a price for Nolan, who after a series of contentious negotiations finally gave up the prequel rights to Inception. Columbia, in conjunction with Warner Bros., wasted no time getting the new film off the ground, casting Dane DeHaan as the young Cobb (the role previously filled by Leonardo DiCaprio). The film, tentatively titled Before Inception, will follow Cobb's globetrotting adventures in the mind thief trade as well as his on-again, off-again relationship with the enigmatic Mal, played by Pauline Burlet.

And it's not just Nolan - the new Hollywood model seems to have opened the door for myriad respected auteurs to cash in on their creations. After 35 years of maintaining their undisputed artistic integrity, Joel and Ethan Coen finally sold out last summer, agreeing to produce origin stories for three of their most iconic characters - Anton Chigurh, Barton Fink and Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski.

Tom Hardy will play all three characters.

Producers have assured us that the upcoming prequels will finally answer all the questions that have agonized fans for decades, and put all mysteries of each character's background to rest once and for all. At long last, we will discover exactly what happened to the fated original Port Huron Statement before the compromised second draft sent Jeffrey into an emotional tailspin. We will finally see doe-eyed, idealistic Walter as his worldview is shattered when his buddies die face-down in the muck in the Vietnam War. And of course we will see both Jeffrey and Walter as they befriend a talkative young athlete named Donny, who teaches them to bowl in an afternoon that will change all of their lives forever.

Meanwhile, in Cormac McCarthy territory, the Chigurh standalone film will begin with Anton's troubled childhood, the pageboy haircut that changes the direction of his life, and the pivotal day he receives a lucky quarter. You know, just the kind of thing we always wanted from this unstoppable force of nature - a childhood psychological profile!

Rob Zombie is set to direct.

And finally, the prequel A Portrait of Barton Fink as a Young Man will explore his working-class upbringing, his apprenticeship under his fishmonger father, his crippling fear of wallpaper, and his lifelong aversion to wrestling. Early reports suggest that he will move to the big city to become a writer and befriend a dame. Or else a young kid. A dame or an orphan, one or the other.

Meanwhile, the major studios have their sights set even higher. Peter Jackson is currently completing work on an origin trilogy about Aragorn, and is contracted to make additional trilogies about the genesis of Legolas, Galadriel, Gimli and Sméagol. The 15-film project - the entirety of which will be shot in "groundbreaking" HFR of 96fps - is anticipated to be the one of the largest undertakings in cinematic history, and Jackson reportedly has not ruled out setting a separate trilogy around Frodo's origins once the other films are in the can.

And the biggest fish of them all, James Cameron, is making an origin story of his own. Loyal movie fans will remember that in his third Avatar sequel, 2018's Avatar 4: A Very Important Movie About Real World Issues, Cameron inserted himself into the movie as a film director who singlehandedly saves Pandora from his odious human compatriots. But Cameron is planning to explore that character even further in the upcoming prequel, which will show the character's origins on Pandora as he assimilates with the Na'vi tribe and mates with all of their women.

James Cameron's Avatar: The Beginning is expected to hit theatres in 2024, just in time for the new wing of Avatar Land to be completed in Orlando.

Of course, these are but a few of the hundreds of origin films currently in development. Now that Liam Neeson is through with his Taken trilogy, the series will shift back to the character's beginnings, with Michael Fassbender starring as a young Bryan Mills, who develops a very particular set of skills in the hotly anticipated The Take.

Meanwhile, the Mission: Impossible series is going back to the past as well, as the upcoming entries will explore the young Ethan Hunt, set to be portrayed by Shia LaBeouf. (In an odd side note, Tom Cruise is still reportedly insisting on performing all of the stunts in Ethan's action sequences.)

Three more Spider-Man reboots are on the way as well - each telling the same origin story, each with a different cast and each released simultaneously - as Sony attempts to find a formula that will work. And Colin Hanks will take over for his old man in The Young Robert Langdon Chronciles.

Finally, over on the small screen, HBO is planning standalone prequel spinoffs for each of the 357 characters on Game of Thrones. And receiving even more buzz is the recent revelation of a True Detective prequel series exploring the origins of detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. Garrett Hedlund has been tapped to play a young Matthew McConaughey, while McConaughey himself will play the young Woody Harrelson.

Indeed, it's clear that this is a golden age for movie and TV fans everywhere. Now, at last, our most cherished characters will stay with us, essentially, forever. We will never be lonely again.

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