Thursday, October 22, 2015

Back to the Franchise

So, what's the deal with Back to the Future?  Just why do so many people obsess about this movie?  Why did the media go completely over the top the other day when the present finally 'caught up' with the 'future' depicted in the film?  I wish I had answers to any of those questions. The whole thing is a mystery to me.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not dissing Back to the Future.  I watched it back in the day, not at the cinema, but when it first came out on video and thought it was a reasonably entertaining, but not hugely original, time travel comedy.  But that wasn't enough to motivate me to watch the sequels - I really thought that they'd pretty much exhausted all of their ideas in the first one - nor was it enough to make me watch it again on any of its many, many TV outings.  But, clearly, there are a lot of people out there who disagree with me, for whom Back to the Future has become a quasi religion, in the same way the Star Wars films, for instance, have become for their fans.  There are many other examples of this kind of film fandom.  I say 'fandom', but itgoes way beyond that, to borderline obsession.  I mean, I enjoyed the original Star Trek series and still sometimes catch episodes when they turn up on TV, I'd go as far as to say that I'm a fan but, unlike many other fans, I've never felt the urge to learn Klingon or dress up as Mr Spock.  That's just taking things to a level I don't understand.

But why do some films and TV achieve this kind of cult status and others fall back into relative obscurity once their initial airings are over?  I say 'cult' status, but that implies a relatively small, but dedicated following.  Things like Back to the Future and Star Wars clearly go far beyond this both in terms of their fan bases and media profiles.  Both franchises were high profile studio products with widespread general releases.  True cult film fandoms, in my opinion, are centered around lower profile films, often independently produced, which received little or no cinematic release.  Consequently, they remain little known to the wider public and mainstream media.  Their fandom tends to focus on trying to bring such films to wider attention, eulogising their perceived merits.  (On the other hand, many cult film fans like the fact that the objects of their love are obscure, as it allows them to feel like members of a real cult: keepers of arcane knowledge that the masses couldn't possibly understand).  Despite being studio products, it is doubtful that their parent studios envisaged either Back to the Future or Star Wars having the kind of lasting popularity they continue to enjoy.  (Indeed, in the case of Star Wars, we know that they didn't).  But, their continuing success did teach the studios a lesson or two as to the value of building fan bases for their new releases and putative franchises.  If you can catch them for one film, then you've got a good chance of drawing them back in for further releases set in the same cinematic universe: just look at the success of things like the Harry Potter films or the whole Marvel superhero franchise.  That said, there's still no sure fire way of predicting what will or won't catch the public imagination and generate a huge following.  Harry Potter and Marvel, of course, have the advantage of already being popular as books and comics respectively and have a pre-existing fandom to exploit.  Other first entries in would be franchises have been far less lucky - just look at John Carter or, more recently, Pan

Clearly, though, they struck lucky with Back to the Future, despite its lack of a pre-existing fanbase.  I'm still not really sure why.  Perhaps it's popularity lies in the way in which it crosses over several genres: teen movie, science fiction and comedy.  Maybe it was the combination of actors in the main roles.  I just don't know.  If I did, of course, I'd be making a mint advising studio chiefs as to what the next sure fire hit was going to be.



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