Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jason Segel Joins the Lego Race but will it Get Overwhelmed with Franchise Overkill


Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are long touted as the magical duo that can turn seemingly bad ideas into massive box office and critical hits. I don't think there was anyone that was excited about film adaptations of a barely remembered goofy 1980s police procedural or an adventure based off building blocks. Yet both now are major franchises that their respective studios have high hopes for (even if the directors' end credit mocking of the idea for a continued 21 Jump Street franchise was seemingly mistaken as a road map).

The Lego Movie launched what Warner Brothers clearly has sights for a massive animated franchise with a long shelf-life. So, I think it is sort of fitting that one of the directors and writers for an upcoming spin-off happens to be someone that has a bit of a reputation for reviving franchises or turning dead genres into something fresh. Jason Segel is better known for his acting, but his writing credits include two of the delightful surprises of the past decade Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the 2011 The Muppets.

The Muppets were a pretty lagging property when 2011 came about, but Segel wrote a self-aware and slightly self-deprecating script that also had all the energy, heart, and humour from the classic movies that turned the lovable talking plush toys into hot items again. The movie is a pure pleasure with memorable songs and an incredible charm that turned it into one of the very best movies of 2011. It was so good that the rather delightful follow-up Muppets Most Wanted was a bit of a letdown in comparison.  

Forgetting Sarah Marshall revitalized the tired raunchy romantic comedy genre with something that mixed sly satire with wit and even heart. It is a movie that is equally sweet and hilarious. It also launched a spin-off picture in the almost as good Get Him to the Greek

Though some would consider Sex Tape a major flop, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It had moments of authenticity with the struggling but loving marriage, but also had some brilliant moments of insane humour like the sequence at the Rob Lowe character's home. So for me, Segel is on a pretty solid streak as a screenwriter.

It was his skills with the Muppets that has me the most excited about him being attached as both writer and director of The Billion Brick Race. He proved in that picture to be equally skilled at appealing to adults and nostalgia while also making something engaging for kids. He has a solid mind for a fantasy world, and I'd love to see some more musical numbers thrown into Bricksburg. Much like Lord and Miller, he can affectionately mock the world he is in while also offering up some fresh spins.

He'll be teaming up with Iron Man 3 and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation writer Drew Pearce. Pearce is clearly more proven in action, but his Marvel script is actually filled with tons of self-referential humour and doesn't take itself too seriously (think the Ben Kingsley character for an example). Plus it was actually Pearce's idea for this Lego movie that sold Warner Brothers on greenlighting it. I'm excited that this picture was birthed from actual creativity and ideas rather than just the demands of the studios. There are lots of reasons to be excited about this team up and I think we have a legitimately exciting and fun movie to look forward to watching.

Except there is a huge reason for some eye-rolling and groaning too. Because before this movie makes it to the big screen, we will be overloaded on Lego features. We have Ninjago in 2016, The Lego Batman movie in 2017, and in 2018 we will have Lego Movie 2 (because apparently we didn't just have two movies come out prior to this). Essentially with this year being the only reprieve, Warner Brothers has its eyes on a Lego movie for every year up to 2019, and of course, that is only because the 2020 Duplo movie and the 2021 Lego Harlem Globetrotters haven't been announced yet.

This leaves us with one most aggravating and money grubbing trend by major movie studios. The almost yearly churning out of movies based on a franchise with both sequels and spin-off under the guise of a cinematic universe. There is a chance there is a legitimately good idea and movie behind every single of these Lego movies. Do we really need these many features about building block trotted out in a row?

On top of that, every studio seems to be jumping this craze. I'm eagerly anticipating this year's Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but then we have the Star Wars: Rogue One spin-off next year, Episode VIII the preceding year, then another spinoff, and if Disney has their way, it will continue that way every year. I love Star Wars and the universe may be able to handle it, but that is a whole lot of light sabres and there is no proof the market can support a Star Wars every year.

Then of course there is the Marvel Universe that has two a year and soon coming to a theatre near you, it will be three in a single year. They've been really great at creating different pictures, but eventually that starts getting to be a whole slew of guys in capes and armour. On top of that, Warner Brother and DC will be churning out their comic book characters at a yearly pace (sometimes even twice a year). Sony will do whatever it can to have a yearly franchise picture be it Ghostbusters or Robin Hood or whatever they're giddy about in a given week.

Simply put, some of these movies will be great and some will flop. But the important word that studios seem have forgotten is burn-out. Even if every Lego or Star Wars movie is awesome, you can get too much of a good thing. You can tire of seeing a similar movie set in the same world every year. The anticipation and excitement fades when there isn't any wait period between getting movies and countless trailers every year. The market just can't sustain this many franchises churning out a movie a year. Fatigue will set in, and may take longer for the larger cinematic universes, but eventually, all will suffer.

Yearly sequels from numerous franchises really haven't happen at this level at any other time in movie history. Yes, we've always had sequels. But the old Star Wars series was more than a year apart each time. Sequels usually weren't announced until it was clear audience still wanted more. Now, we have an army of movie dates locked up for sequels to movies that haven't even screened yet. There is no proof the world will be clamouring for The Billion Brick Race after already seeing three other Lego inspired movies.

In 5 years, we will probably have a really good idea what effects have been made on the movie industry with this obsession of never-ending series. Some of the series listed here will either be in morgue or have a much longer waiting period due to decreased demand. At this point, I can see why people like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were warning the movie blockbuster machine was about to explode and the industry will be badly shaken up.

On the positive side, hopefully the constant force feeding of "Big Event" pictures (and how can something be big when there are 5 or more of these a year), will likely leave a major hunger for smaller and more intimate pictures. I have high hopes this will open up the chance for at least one studio to realize there is a demand for forgotten genres like romantic comedies or personal dramas or low-key slice of life features or a competently made thriller. The multiplexes will still be clogged with brands and sequels, but I also think fresh and original pictures on a smaller budget will make a comeback.

All my nay-saying doesn't discount that many of these franchises will deliver some really great entertainment. On the Lego front, at least every movie seems to be aspiring for originality and like Marvel and Star Wars, is better equipped than most to actually be a cinematic universe. While I don't know where my excitement will be with this franchise in even two years, for now I'm pumped for some brick racing with Segel and intrigued to see what happens at the finish line.

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