23 August 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: You're the End Bone

Once more into the breach - with a couple more big flicks popping out this day (and no, none of them are particularly that big), we reach the final Friday of Summer, and so our final installment of the Road to a Blockbuster. All Summer long we've been analyzing the critical, commercial, and cultural potential of each big film to hit theaters. Making a lot of cash at the box office is one thing, but we've also been keen to keep our eyes peeled for that big cultural phenomenon - the films that really get people talking or the films that will stick with us for twenty more years. Take this recent article on Blade Runner (1982), for instance. Blade Runner was a product of the Summer of '82. Thirty-One years on we're still writing articles on it and it remains a heavy influencer of pop culture. What movies this summer will we be writing about in 2044?
If it's not a forbidden Frankenstein / Mummy
romance, I am NOT interested.

I can bet it won't be the first big film coming out this weekend, but it's possible the other two have some damn decent cultural merit. Getting the widest release today is The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013), which is another young adult novel adaptation. It's easy to imagine the incredible amount of wealth generated by all these YA fiction writers who were approached after the Twilight novels gained such success. After The Hunger Games also caught on, to some extent even surpassing Twilight, studios tended to snatch up every other novel series out there.

This year has not been kind to YA adaptations, however. Beautiful Creatures (2013), The Host (2013), and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) have all failed to take off culturally and commercially. The only real success has been Warm Bodies (2013), but that had a hefty amount of crossover appeal with zombie fans along with its YA fiction reading audience. The Mortal Instruments actually looks exactly like Beautiful Creatures, and with its arguably worse release date, will likely be one of the worse bombs of the year. And apparently a sequel is in production. Woof. What's next?

Oh - You're Next (2013). I'd say out of all the horror films released in a given year, there's always about one good one that sets a trend for the next couple years and then everyone else copies. This, of course, has been going on for literally, forever. You could date it back to Dracula (1931) for goodness' sake. In more recent years we've had our SAW (2004), our Paranormal Activity (2009), and even Insidious (2011) a few years back. James Wan sure does help. Will 2013 become a banner year for the successful horror film? Since kicking off with Mama (2013), we've had The Purge (2013) and The Conjuring (2013), which both set records for R-rated Horror Opening Weekends. In Summer. That's really unheard of, and we're going to be getting a ton of Summer Horror flicks in the years to come as a result.

This will all pail in comparison to You're Next. I'm not even a horror fan and I want to see this damn picture. It's tough to imagine another horror film, or even any other film that has had a better marketing effort this year. It's a premise that is aesthetically similar to The Purge, but without the futuristic or political overtones. Still, the premise has been very clearly delivered and the stakes of the family dinner home invasion have been quickly demonstrated - but the key here is the little bit of edge and dark humour lent to the proceedings. This commercial in particular really sells the film - fresh, scary horror with a little bit of really dark goofiness to it all. It's a spectacular effort. Not to mention the mysterious masked characters invading other movies' posters.
Who knew that a bakery catchphrase would
spawn such a terrifying movie

A lot of viral marketing comes off as cheap or forced, but this style works really well for You're Next. It creates this insane mythology behind these characters that we really know nothing about besides the fact that they want to kill us and will invade other posters to do so. There has also been website-specific posters singling out specific writers from sites like Shock Till You Drop and Bloody Disgusting. All this couple with reviews that actually indicate the film to be spectacular and refreshing is textbook horror marketing that ought to be followed for years. Of course, You're Next does need to actually be a success first, but that should be no prob and these animal killer masks will one day be as iconic as Freddy's fedora and Jason's Red Wings Mask. Maybe.

Lastly this weekend we have the triumphant conclusion to the Cornetto Trilogy, The World's End. Starting with the British series Spaced, the trio of actors Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright have collabo'd on some of the bigger cult hits of the past decade, decreed the Cornetto Trilogy based on both the flavor of ice cream enjoyed in each film and as a riff on Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colours Trilogy. Starting with Shaun of the Dead (2004), each film has walked a careful line between parody and homage. Shaun expertly spun the Zombie genre as a comedy, which in the wake of Zombieland (2009) and Warm Bodies seems the norm nowadays in a genre that has been thoroughly deconstructed. The foresight of Shaun of the Dead as now one of those films that initiated the Zombie Craze of the 2000s is palpable.

Hot Fuzz (2007) was widely anticipated and although it didn't register as quickly as Shaun did, it equally makes fun of and honors the Buddy Cop / Action Genre. The Trilogy is interesting because while Wright, Pegg, and Frost can't really be considered a comedy troupe, and each subsequent film assuredly aren't sequels, they're unified in abstract high concept (genre parody / homage), primary cast, and both the style of crisp writing and directing. Wright is like Guy Ritchie with a better sense of humour and without Madonna baggage. It's almost a stretch to call the films parodies, because they also maintain a lengthy distance from the absurdity of Mel Brooks, the surreality of Monty Python, the non sequitors of the Zuckers and Abrahams, or the pop culture junkiness of the Wayans brothers and their descendants. There is another line the films walk.

Shaun of the Dead is equal parts a comedy film and a genuine zombie apocalypse film. There are moments of hilarity coupled with moments of actual terror. It's great and balanced on both accounts without coming across as desperate, schlocky, or misguided. Likewise, Hot Fuzz has spectacular set pieces and action sequences along with genuinely interesting mysteries and plot twists to pair with its razor-sharp script that foreshadows just about everything to follow while maintaining hilarity. Both films are very rare pieces of cinema.
The British Mayans were right!

So here we have The World's End (2013), which is not to be confused with It's a Disaster (2012), Rapture-Palooza (2013), This is The End (2013), or even Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007). From all accounts the film seems to give the same Shaun / Fuzz treatment to Disaster / Sci-Fi films and will hopefully continue to be equal parts parody and homage. The Cornetto Trilogy, despite being comprised of only two films, has been pretty damn reliable, as has Wright, who has only directed a single film outside the Trilogy so far, 2010's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. While that film famously did not catch on with mainstream audiences, it remains one of the better films of the past decade. In essence, Wright hasn't done a thing to sully his reputation yet. We can all pray that with all this goodwill and hype, the Cornetto Conclusion doesn't disappoint. If it does he'll be shunned forever.

The closest analogy I can think of is the Broken Lizard troupe. They too make movies that aren't sequels to each other, but have similar casts, callback jokes, and similar writing styles. Of course, their movies tend to be a bit dumber than the Cornetto Trilogy (though that doesn't impact how funny they are), and they tend to produce like the old Star Trek movies used to - making every other film great. Club Dread (2004) was a hideous follow-up to the immortal Super Troopers (2001). When they came back in a big way with Beerfest (2006), they soured all this goodwill with The Slammin' Salmon (2009), and haven't really been heard from since then. Let us all pray that Wright and Co. avoid this distinction and go three for three for immortal comedy homages.

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