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Article – Time: Hollywood’s Best New Weapon

 

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Posted October 21, 2017 by

 
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Time: Hollywood’s Best New Weapon

*WARNING – Contains Spoilers For Blade Runner 2049

Cinema has deployed many techniques in order to keep audiences coming back over the years, to keep the medium fresh and moving forward, sound, colour, widescreen, sequels and er, characters running away from explosions in slow motion. The most prelevant over the last few decades of course has been FX, GCI – whatever you want to call it – the art of making something real out of nothing, this has offered the promise of new worlds, life-forms and adventures. Though that well is beginning to run dry, audiences have become so familiarised with special effects that the selling a film on the promise of its effects alone is no longer guaranteed to bring success, it takes something truly spectacular, like Avatar or Inception to get word of mouth going. But Hollywood has found a new weapon, a new allure for cinemagoers – time.

This has almost been a happy accident, a new form of enticement born out of the dearth of others. In an era where originality stagnates and audiences are harder to draw out from the comfort of their homes, FX bonanza’s and sequels / reboots have been relied upon to keep the box-office ticking over, but this has become harder and harder to succeed with, forcing Hollywood to look further and further back, reviving past glories in hope of renewed interest and financial reward, mainly by looking back through the career of Harrison Ford.

Ford remains one of the biggest stars of all time, if not the biggest, he seems to trade the record for highest grossing actor with Samuel L. Jackson on a yearly basis, and the important word here is remains. Many – like Ford – enjoyed great success in the 70’s and 80’s, but few, if any, can match his longevity, Schwarzenegger’s return to the screen has been decidedly unspectacular, with Terminator Genysis proving a particular disappointment, John Travolta has never been able to build on staggered success and Burt Reynolds has seemed to disappear entirely, perhaps only Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford can boast matched longevity, but they have both had to step behind the camera as well to ensure this.

Putting Ford in your film is usually a safe bet when if comes to making box-office gold, it is no coincidence that three of his past franchises have been revived in recent years, it may have gotten of to a rocky start with the fourth entry in the Indiana Jones franchise, but that was mainly down to now cinematic pariah George Lucas. The memories of The Crystal Skull will be looking to be vanquished in the upcoming fifth instalment, which will in turn look to the undoubted success of The Force Awakens and Blade Runner 2049, with the previous now one of the highest grossing films of all time and the latter earning Ford some of the best reviews of his career.

Many have accused said sequels of merely being cash-grabs, with Star Wars in particular, just another addition to the – frankly scary – Disney box-office behemoth, but while money was no doubt a factor, what these sequels have done is give the characters, and the audience, the gift of time, not time in a narrative sense, like in Interstellar for example, but time passing – in reality – where the characters have aged naturally, not via prosthetics. What the addition of the passage of time has done, amongst the action, explosions and fight scenes, has added real emotional heft, a quality that is often nowhere to be found in your average triple-A release, but something the Ford has been able to deliver in spades of late.

Many films have explored the lives of the characters over a long period of time, Once Upon A Time In America the life of Robert De Niro’s ‘Noodles’ for six decades, using different actors and make-up and Keir Dullea watched his life pass before his eyes in 2001: A Space Odyssey. François Truffaut followed the life of Antoine Doinel for over twenty years and a similar amount of time charted the rise and fall of Michael Corleone. But these saw the character age within the confines of the film, or with a relatively short period of time between films, and when the gap between films was significantly longer, the results were varied, Paul Newman won his only Oscar returning as Eddie Felson in The Color Of Money, but The Godfather Part III and Tron: Legacy paled in comparison to their predecessors. Though the significant amount of time between Ford’s recent endeavours – Blade Runner 2049 being the oldest (live action) sequel to feature any of its original cast in the same roles – has been crucial to their success, mainly through the power of the reunion, both between the characters and the audience.

star wars harrison ford

The reunion, the act of characters reuniting and reconciling after drifting apart is a common theme in cinema, but usually the time is only implied, for it to actually pass in reality affects both the characters and the audience, both being able to express authentic responses in reconciliation, rather than having to imagine. Ford’s return after thirty-plus year absences from both Han Solo and Rick Deckard, both iconic characters have provided almost overwhelming responses, the sight of Solo in particular was subject to an outpouring from audiences. Solo’s reunion with both the Millennium Falcon and Leia Organa required little acting on Ford’s part; he didn’t have to fake anything, and it’s clear how effective these moments are, both playing a large part in the films promotional run, with Ford’s declaration of “Chewie, we’re home” becoming iconic even before the films release. This promise of the return of Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill was also undoubtedly enticing for fans – the effect is already being repeated in trailers for The Last Jedi – but The Force Awakens was Ford’s film, and his presence played no small part in the gargantuan box-office haul.

chewbakka and solo

You could argue that long-gestated sequels are merely fan service, bringing back old favourites to bring in the originals audience, along with the new, providing box-office clout; Star Wars was always going to be good business for Disney, but Blade Runner isn’t a guaranteed financial home run. The original film was a flop and has only gained iconic status through its various updated directors cuts, it is a cult following, rather than offering the mass appeal of Star Wars, with its R-rating and adult themes limiting its demographic, the same goes for 2049.

The subtitle of 2049 suggests that the film is more aimed to those familiar with the original, for those that haven’t seen the original; the date 2049 will hold no significance, and it is indeed a title that shows how significant time is to the film.

The thirty years (thirty five in reality) that have passed between films is used to explore the changing economical and sociological climates, and not to mention the actual climate itself. But again time is most relevant to Ford, the main returning character, like Star Wars, 2049 showcases reunions for Deckard, but rather turns the idea on its head, for something much more twisted. Deckard’s partner in the original – Rachel – is also the subject of much discussion in 2049, hers and Deckard’s first meeting and ‘Voight-Kampff’ examination becoming a source of information and eventually a source of temptation. After Deckard is re-discovered, his hiding spot finally uncovered, and subsequently captured, his co-operation is coerced with the promise of a reunion with his lost love and when he first hears the recording of there first meeting Ford makes the sense of recollection, after so long, physically palpable, then a new version a Rachel is brought forward – reminiscent in style of her entrance in the original – his horror at her revelation is the best thing Ford has done – dramatically – perhaps in his entire career.

2049 was never going to turn a huge profit; it has already opened to lower than expected numbers, but through the natural development and exploration of the story, expanding out the original, using the passage of time to its advantage. 2049 becomes what very few big-budget films can claim to be – interesting – it becomes entertaining through its narrative and character development, rather than through action sequences and explosions. The film has been a huge critical success, with a wealth of 5-star reviews, and its abundantly clear that Ford is pleased with the result, it’s rare to see him promote a film so vigorously, and seemingly enjoy it, often eschewing his trademark ‘grouch’ persona. He has even been touted for an Oscar nomination, which would be an incredible achievement, for what can be categorized as blockbuster film, and a whole thirty-two years after Ford’s one and only Oscar nomination for Witness. But those years have served him well; helping him become a proponent for something that is not passing Hollywood by, the utilization of time is not just limited to Ford’s recent oeuvre.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky has had a famous number of sequels, unfortunately though, like many continuing franchises, declining in quality, it is only time away and a hanging up of the gloves that has brought respectability back to the Balboa name. Creed marked a new direction for Stallone’s creation, the first featuring Balboa in a supporting role, reminiscent of Burgess Meredith in the original Rocky, ex-pro turned trainer, this allowed greater emotional focus for Stallone, rather than being another physical exhibition, which has often been the case with his work in the past. The time away from Balboa allowed Stallone to naturally develop into the newer direction, retirement, something that he hadn’t been able, or perhaps willing to explore in the past. This new avenue of exploration has brought some of the best reviews of Stallone’s career, earning him his first Oscar nomination since the first Rocky, a gap of forty years, again time has been key to success here.

sylvester stallone Rocky

Another ailing franchise will be also looking for re-invigoration with the return of a familiar face, with Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor returning for the sixth iteration of the Terminator, where Schwarzenegger couldn’t rescue Genysis, the sight of Hamilton as Connor again, the emotional centre of the first two films, will hope to spark new life into a franchise whose red pupil has faded out. Returning characters is no new technique, but there recent success can be attributed to a film that perhaps has had the greatest success from using time – Boyhood. While Richard Linklater’s has explored relationships over a long period of time with the before trilogy, but Boyhood, his magnum opus, used a more novel approach, exploring time by aging its characters naturally, shooting events chronologically over the course of twelve years, watching its characters grow up in real time. The result was one of the biggest critical outpourings of this century, seeing the characters age throughout, rather than being replaced by different actors gave the film a unique means of conveying its story and showed that time can be a vital dramatic device, it is unsurprising to see this being exploited in the years since.

Whilst big-budget fare cannot afford to devote twelve years to production, it has utilised returning characters, but there are some more daring projects out there, Canadian project Perspective, currently in production is using a similar method to Boyhood, shooting over the course of nine years. And definitely the most out-there proposition is 100 years, from Robert Rodriguez and John Malkovich, a project inspired by the 100 years it takes to make a bottle of Louis XIII cognac, the film will be released in 2115, and whatever it may feature remains a complete mystery, sealed in a bulletproof safe until its eventual release. This is more of a time capsule of a film, and is more about time for the audience, showing that time is an enticing notion, providing the film survives and that anybody actually remembers, the prospect of an unseen 100-year old film for future audiences will be met with the kind of giddy anticipation of an archaeological dig.

In a time where cinema has been running low on ideas, time has opened up a new avenue to explore, one that create great dramatic success, important for film big or small. Though time is not an easy tool to utilize, it requires, er, time, to pull off, however successful it may prove to be, it is not a aspect that can become widespread, and perhaps that’s for the best, ensuring it wont burn out and its power wont be lost. When Hollywood gets hold of a recipe for success, the market can become quickly over-saturated, fortunately there isn’t an infinite supply of Harrison Ford franchises to revive and time’s recent success will hopefully remain untarnished.

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Written by:

Sam May
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