Are you planning to see The Bourne Legacy this weekend? As much as I’d like to muster some enthusiasm to see the series Bourne Again, I find the trend to reboot movie franchises so dispiriting. As a screenwriter, I recognize how rarely Hollywood now dares to shoot an original story idea. The economics of the industry (and audiences’ viewing habits) mostly reward sequels. I discussed this ongoing reality with the Vice-Chairman of Paramount Pictures, Rob Moore. Here is a quick peek into studio strategy, rooted in filmgoers’ patterns. They’re giving us what we want.
The financial risks have risen to such startling levels that filmmaking has become a blockbuster-only game for the studios. From John Carter to Battleship, the stakes (and failures) have been spectacular. But when a series connects with audiences, like Twilight or The Hunger Games, Hollywood can’t afford to end them (even when the source material has run out). So original ideas are stretched so thin they nearly snap. While the epic scope of The Lord of the Rings fits comfortably into a trilogy, we fear how a single Hobbit novel will soon be stretched into three movies.
Which brings us back to Bourne. I have made peace with Hollywood sequels. And I am open to following some characters like James Bond across continents (and cast changes). While I may prefer Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan to Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, I can still embrace the pop appeal of Bond’s conventions over time. (Is it the gun, the cufflinks, or the sexism that ties them together?) So why am I reluctant to switch from Matt Damon to Jeremy Renner? Both are equally talented and intense. The trailer for The Bourne Legacy looks engaging. And Tony Gilroy knows how to craft a satisfying thriller. The prospect of Damon and Renner facing off or teaming up in a future Bourne movie is enticing.
Perhaps I am turned off by the overall concept of a reboot. It is not rooted in creativity whatsoever. The rebooting of Spider-Man and Bourne is a simply a question of economics. The contracts for franchises begin with three editions in mind. So the salaries for Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker or Matt Damon as Jason Bourne are stepped out ahead of time, rising over the first film and two sequels. When the contract is up and it is time to renegotiate, the studios find it far easier to restart or reboot with a new creative team. So Sam Raimi steps out as director of the Spider-Man series or Matt Damon is no longer Jason Bourne.
While I enjoyed what director Marc Webb did with Andrew Garfield as The Amazing Spider-Man, I find it yet another slight to authors trying to craft original ideas. Hollywood would much rather give us warmed over Spider-Man than something like Life of Pi. Kudos to producers like Dean Georgaris taking the long road to get such passion projects to the big screen. So I will refrain from the temptation towards Bourne 2.0 and funnel my enthusiasm (and dollars) towards the brave new worlds envisioned in Cloud Atlas.