“Ben-Hur” (2016) movie review

BenHurJust as epic a story today as it was during Hollywood’s golden age! Paramount Pictures and MGM Studios present the reimagined classic historical drama of Ben-Hur. Appropriately released by two of the most recognized names in the industry harkening back to the early days of cinema, Ben-Hur plays out almost as well as it did decades ago. Sitting in the auditorium last night, I wondered what it was like to see a larger-than-life nail-biting story on the silver screen when the original was released in 1959, just before the final decline of the former powerhouse of motion picture production, the studio system. The grand experience of this film is only overshadowed by the unusual pacing. Typically epic stories require a minimum of two hours, and often come close to 3-hour runtimes in order to do the story justice and tell it visually and emotionally in the most impactful way possible; however, this film is just over two hours. This moderately quick pacing hinders one’s ability to really appreciate the foreground and background stories. The grandeur of the Roman Empire fails to show as prominently as it should have in this film that bares a striking resemblance to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator in many respects. There are many sweeping shots of the Circus (chariot racing arena) that are disappointingly mostly CGI’d. Still, there is something remarkable about this story. Whether you are approaching this film from a historic standpoint (historic in an appreciation for classic Hollywood stories), religious perspective (forgiveness and sacrifice), or simply for the bad ass racing of chariots in a grand arena, you will likely find something to enjoy about this movie.

On the backdrop of the final years of the messiah, Ben-Hur is about a Jewish prince named Judah Beh-Hur (Huston) who is falsely accused and betrayed by his adopted Roman brother Messala Severus (Kebbell). Sentenced to a life of perpetual rowing of Roman galleons in battle, Ben-Hur endears harsh treatment and near-death experiences in order to one day seek his vengeance. Meanwhile, Messala becomes a war hero and favorite of the people and the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate. When the destruction of his ship opens the door for escape, Ben-Hur finds himself washed upon the shore to be picked up by a wealthy African (Freeman) who races chariots–or pays for young men to race chariots. Striking a deal between them, the wealthy African and Ben-Hur work together to train for Ben-Hur to defeat Massala in the circus in order to reclaim his name and truly hit the Romans where it hurts–losing at their own game.

One of the most unique aspects to this film is the parallel plot between the background and foreground, the plot and subplot. At the end of the day, the message of Ben-Hur is one of forgiveness. The forgiveness between brothers and the forgiveness of Christ. Although this is not a film based upon the story of the messiah (or passion), the character of Jesus is an important element in the journey from vengeance to forgiveness. On three occasions, Ben-Hur encounters Jesus, not knowing who he is. Each of these chance meetings can be read as symbolic of the different acts (or stages) in the film itself. As the story of the passion of the Christ is one that many recognize (even those who are not Christians), it helps to get an idea of what is going on in the background at the same time at the story at the forefront of the film.

Cinematically, the film was a little disappointing. It feels like a lot of potential and opportunity for incredible cinematography and production design was wasted. Although there are many wide or establishing shots, the majority of the film consists of American medium shots. It would have been exciting to see more of the physical world of Jerusalem and the Roman Empire but instead we spend a lot of time indoors or in close proximity to our cast. Likewise, I would have liked to have seen more in the way of physical production design. The world on screen should have been one that I could have almost felt. Furthermore, I find that the pacing of the film was not adequate enough to actually tell the story in the manner in which it should have. It’s mostly like there was a 2.5-3hr movie condensed into a typical 2hr runtime. Sometimes epic films are guilty of way too much exposition, but Ben-Hur definitely could’ve benefited from additional development and exposition. Everything just happens too quickly and with minimal challenge.

Chariot racing. That is synonymous with Ben-Hur. And you will get plenty of horses, chariots, and crashes. Not unlike NASCAR of today, chariot racing was all about the violence and crashes. Thousands of spectators gathered to watch heroes battle it out on the ground of the circus (or race track) to see who will be the “first to finish…last to die.” Many early films were more concerned about the spectacle of cinema more so than the story or message. After all, MGM’s famous logo states Ars Gratia Artis (latin for “art for art’s sake”), meaning the goal of cinema was to contribute to the world of the visual and performing arts. Not necessarily to entertain, although that is certainly part of it, but to create beauty, intrigue, and push the boundaries of the mind and eye. One of the most mesmerizing elements of the original Ben-Hur was the chariot racing. Likewise, the most exciting parts of this new incarnation are the sights, sounds, and spectacle of the chariot races.

Although there are certainly areas of the film that disappointed me, as I have mentioned, I highly recommend for anyone who appreciates historic dramas that wax nostalgic the days of the golden age of Hollywood. And who doesn’t love a great chariot race???


“Florence Foster Jenkins” movie review

FlorenceFosterJenkinsBrilliant! Absolutely delightful. Paramount Pictures and BBC Films proudly present a magical film about one of the most legendary musical talents Madame Florence Foster Jenkins. This is the perfect film for the times that we live in. Just when so often we hear news about the worst in people, this film is about the best that people can be. Whether you are a musician or vocal artist yourself or simply appreciate the beauty of music, you will undoubtedly find this film fascinating and endearing. Meryl Streep provides audiences with a command performance as Jenkins, and will have you rolling around in your seat. Like classical music? This film has it. Prefer big band or jazz? This film has it. What about opera? It has that too. I doubt that there are many people as committed to the art of music as Jenkins was. One part musical and one part dramedy, Florence Foster Jenkins is a crowd-pleasing work of cinematic excellence. From brilliant writing to phenomenal acting, this film is a must-see for music lovers. Who would have known that someone with such a unique voice would have sung herself into the heart of millions. This film has a little something for everyone, especially those who are in the creative fields. May this film be an inspiration to all those who have drive, passion, a love for, and are dedicated to the pursuit of the arts, and open up that world to those who may not otherwise be able to experience it. Not sure what’s bigger…Jenkins’ heart or her stage presence. Whatever the case, this film is definitely one to catch on the big screen!

Return to New York City in 1944. Amidst the glitz, glamour, and sound of the very heart of the performing arts is a story of laughter and tears, but most importantly about a true unconditional love for both music and our friends and neighbors. Meet Florence Foster Jenkins (Streep). She is a well-known New York socialite who is a dedicated patron of the  arts, specifically music. She has transferred her love of music to a love of bringing people into her world. With ambitions dreams of becoming the next great opera singer, she records albums and books Carnegie Hall. There’s only one small problem; unfortunately her ambition is only succeed by her lack of an ability to carry a tune. In her head, she is an absolutely incredible talent. However, to everyone else, she sounds laughable. It matters not! She is determined to showcase her love of music to the world. Giving away 1000 tickets to military service members, she plans to fill the hallowed halls of Carnegie with the sounds of music and love. Her husband/manager St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) and accompanist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) both stick by her as she plans to take Carnegie Hall by storm! Together they embark on a legendary journey that is still talked about and listened to today.

It’s so hard to know where to begin. There is quite possibly no film that truly captures the love of music and our fellow man nearly as remarkably as this film. Truly inspirational. From the writing, to the acting, to the sound track, it is a flawless story that is definitely best experienced on the big screen for Jenkins was truly a larger than life talent herself. You’ll laugh, laugh some more, and even cry a little. In many ways, this film fits the drawing room comedy subgenre of films. There are very few set changes, it is mostly dialog driven, and features various forms of comedy all working together to support a light-hearted film about the love of music. Instead of taking place in the drawing room of a home with a dynamic set of manners and social criticisms, this film takes place mostly in the homes of Jenkins, Bayfield, with a visit to the humble abode of McMoon. There is one common thread between all of them, there is either a piano or other device playing music that greatly affects the narrative. Paralleling real life, you have the grand piano in a magnificent Manhattan apartment belonging to someone who cannot play or sing very well–anymore, anyway. There is the basic, beat up upright piano in the home of a wonderfully talented pianist. And finally the home of the one without much talent at all who makes a better manager, there is a radio. Three different characters who seem to come together in the most brilliant of fashion. Each with a different part to play in the grand scheme of things. I greatly appreciate the film for keeping the focus on the love of music and not on the comedic flat, sharp, and howling notes of Jenkins’ voice.

As we are on the cusp of Oscar season (typically beginning in October), Streep’s portrayal of the, say, Ed Wood of opera singers could very well give her an Oscar nom. Making it her 20th! I don’t think there is anyone who could have played the roll as well as Streep. Yes, Strep is–no surprise–excellent at everything she does; still, there are roles that even surprise us. This is definitely one of the latter. When exploring the eccentric character of Jenkins, I am reminded of a character that is essentially a Norma Desmond of sorts. A faded star who refuses to admit her years and has extreme determination to return to the silver screen, or in this case, the stage at Carnegie Hall. Other than the inspirational message and creative storytelling based on actual events, I greatly appreciate the characters of the movie. Seems as though that Jenkins, Bayfield, and McMoon were made for each other. All unique in some form or fashion, depend on one another to achieve goals, and are more talented in their respective heads than in real life. Except. You cannot really say that about McMoon. He is definitely aware of his talent, but is so incredibly timid, shy, lacking confidence that he has extreme difficulty in allowing his talent to flourish. Much like Jenkins, Bayfield is a dedicated actor. Unfortunately, he too is much more talented in his mind than on the stage. Comedy is born out of conflict, and this beautiful film has plenty of conflict with which the characters to engage one another.

This film also highlights how incredibly devastating one critic’s review of a performance can be. Whether we are exploring film, theatre, music, or literature, a critic for a high profile outlet can make or break dreams. There are two kinds of critics, speaking as one myself. There is the critic who is so fixated on the technical components or surface level performance that he or she misses the soul of the performance or movie. Not that having a beautiful message overshadows poor production quality. However, there is a delicate balance that is important to strike to truly review or analyze a creative work. Did Florence Foster Jenkins’ performance accomplish what it set out to do? Indeed it did. Was it effective for injecting laughter into the lives of the soldiers and Manhattan music patronage community? Absolutely. She was and is truly a legend of incredible talent. Maybe not in the conventional sense, but she left a lasting impression  that has captured the imagination and attention of the world for decades. Director Stephen Frears successfully applies his vision of the story of Jenkins and translates it to the screen in a way that will inspire you to perhaps continue to pursue your own dreams no matter how much talent, or lack thereof, you have.

Don’t allow this movie to quietly slip by. Definitely catch it in theaters because Simon Helberg introduces the film and there is a behind-the-scenes/Q&A with Streep, Grant, and Helberg following the old-school credits.

“Star Trek: Beyond” movie review

StarTrekBeyondOld school charm paired with impeccable visual storytelling! From Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot, Producer J.J. Abrams once again returns audiences to the world of Captain Kirk aboard the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) in a film that encompasses much of what was loved about the original series/movies, and combines that soul with the film production technology of today. Despite the subdued anthropological subtext, which is one of the primary differences between the Star Trek and Star Wars universes respectively, this story will definitely keep you entertained with brilliant writing and a nostalgic feel. For long-time fans of the franchise that’s been around since the 1960s, you will find that Abrams handles the settings and characters with care and respect. The third film in this reboot series, Star Trek: Beyond is one roller coaster of a ride that boasts a narrative pace that moves at warp speed. If there is one fallacy in the storytelling of this installment, in the Abrams reboot of the Gene Roddenberry classic, it is the lack of social commentary on the human condition that has been at the core of Star Trek since its creation. With a fantastic cast, incredibly strategic direction, and beautiful cinematography and visual effects, Star Trek: Beyond will whisk the audience away to the final frontier and “boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Following an encounter with an alien species at the York Town space station and colony, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is requested by Starfleet leadership to investigate the causes of distress in order to render help. With the possibility of accepting a Vice Admiral commission from Starfleet, Kirk sees this as his potentially final mission aboard the Enterprise. Concurrently, Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also at a crossroads in his life when he receives word that Ambassador Spock has passed away, as he contemplates picking up where Ambassador Spock left off. Gathering the crew together for what may be the final mission of Kirk and Spock, the Enterprise sets out to uncharted deep space to evaluate the problems and bring about peace. Unknown to the Enterprise crew, they are about to encounter their darkest times yet and a villain named Krall (Idris Elba) who seeks an artifact in the possession of Kirk and has a mission to destroy the Federation and bring about his own version of peace–called chaos.

As a long-time Star Trek fan myself (TNG & Voyager), one of the very first elements I picked up on at the beginning of this installment was the trademark bridge sound effects from the original Star Trek TV series. Employing a little suspension of disbelief, what with all the flat panels and touch screen displays and all, the bridge of the NCC-1701 Enterprise still boasts the old soul of the bridge that started a universe of adventures that continue to this day. Fortunately, visionary producer J.J. Abrams, director Justin Lin, and writers Simon Pegg & Doug Jung craft a story that mostly takes what made the franchise so endearing and channel it into an exciting story for audiences today. From the characters to the dialog, and from the interpersonal interactions to the settings, this Star Trek movie effectively leads the reboot of the franchise in the right direction. Having just watched Abrams’ Star Wars: the Force Awakens back in December, I was very curious as to how similar Beyond would look and feel as compared to the aforementioned. Forced to decline the director’s chair for Star Trek: Beyond, Abrams turned the reigns over to Lin while still serving as the creative producer. Directing Star Wars and producing Star Trek could have left audiences with similar cinematic experiences; however, both movies are vastly different but provide fans with excellent additions to the respective universes.

Prior to screening the movie, I was very skeptical going into it since the various trailers for the film were disappointing–looked like the film was going to be cheesy. To my surprise, the film was definitely not hokey and played out exceptionally well. Compared to the previous two films, I definitely like this one much more. That is mostly attributed to the fact that Beyond felt like a Star Trek movie. The previous two installments felt like a Star Trek movie taking place inside a Star Wars-esque universe. Hopefully, this film will redirect the reboot of the motion pictures in a direction more closely aligned with the original series and movies. With Star Wars and Star Trek trying to find their respective places in today’s culture of media, entertainment, and gaming, it is important for both series to be distinctly different from one another. Now, I don’t mean different stories or characters–obviously, that’s a given by default–but I mean the feel of the stories needs to be unique. Star Wars is an action-adventure mostly concerned with good v evil and Star Trek is science-fiction that concerns itself, traditionally anyway, with the human condition. Both take place in the future, but are different experiences. There is demonstrable evidence in Star Trek: Beyond that the franchise is seeking to stay true to its roots in anthropology and psychology; whereas Star Wars: the Force Awakens is staying true to its roots in futuristic good v evil in a galaxy far, far away.

From a technical perspective, the film is flawless; however, it would have been nice to have seen more practical effects and miniatures more so than digital effects, albeit, the effects were impressive. I appreciated the focus on the interpersonal relationships between the characters, and how it upstaged the actual conflict. Yes, the conflict in the story is important and is what drives the action, but it’s the characters themselves that are the most important element in the narrative. Does this film shift the dominant focus off Star Wars and onto Star Trek? Not particularly. But does this movie pave the way for the Star Trek movies to be on par with the Star Wars movies? I believe that we could begin to witness that trend. Star Wars has the massive advantage of being owned by the Walt Disney Company; and therefore, TWDC is integrating that IP into the parks, cruise line, and merchandise. That is HUGE. Unfortunately, Star Trek does not benefit from being owned by a distribution company and legacy studio with theme park investments in the United States, anyway. Paramount did have amusement park investments, but sold them off to Cedar Fair many years ago. Perhaps the interest in the Star Trek movies and upcoming TV series in 2017 will generate a desire for this IP to become part of a themed entertainment property as well.

With so many choices this weekend for movies it is hard to decide what to see! I am looking forward to watching Lights Out now that I have watched Star Trek: Beyond. Whether you are a fan of the original series or movies OR you are a new fan to the Star Trek universe, I feel confident that you will find much to enjoy in this newest installment in the Abrams reboot. Hopefully the film will perform well over the weekend and begin to generate an interest in the upcoming TV series as well.

“Rat Race” movie review

RatRaceTalk about a throwback movie this week! Ordinarily, most Mondays each week are reserved for Macabre Movie Monday with some friends of mine. We screen a horror movie and talk about it. It’s a tradition that began with an American Horror Film graduate class I took as part of my M.A. at the University of South Florida. However, my roommate is not terribly fond of horror movies and I know he grows tired of them week after week. Haha. So, we agreed to watch a comedy this past Monday. I cannot remember how, but when we thought of a fun comedy to watch, my friend Dani and I almost in unison shouted Rat Race. Such a star-studded comedy. And other than SmashMouth, it really still holds up today. Well, SmashMouth and the fact that airport security is vastly different than it was when this was shot. Although I watched it when I was a kid, it’s amazing to look at it now and wonder why my parents allowed my sister and I to watch it. Well, I am glad they did because I have always thought of this comedy as one of my favorites. If you have never seen it, and enjoy watching comedies for which you can turn off your brain and laugh until you cry, then definitely watch this one. Let’s go back to 2001 and talk about Paramount Pictures’ Rat Race.

What do you get when you combine greed, money, Las Vegas, manipulation, the ticking time bomb plot, and a star-studded ensemble cast? You get Rat Race! Eccentric casino tycoon Donald Sinclair (John Cleese) selects 6 ordinary people (and by extension, their families) to race against each other for great fortune in Silver City, New Mexico. $2Mil is stashed in a locker in an old train station and there is only one rule for the lucky 6, “no rules.” Unknown to the lucky six, Sinclair is monitoring their every move with some of the biggest high rollers in the world who love to bet on any and everything. From the famous Venetian to Silver City, this group of people will stop at nothing to get their respective hands on the money first. Whether it’s commandeering a rocket car or crashing a WWII memorial service dressed as Hitler, there is little that will come between a contestant and the fortune that awaits!

Ensemble cast films are nothing new. They’ve been around as long as the medium itself. So, the fact that Rat Race is an ensemble movie is nothing unique or special; however, the fact that it is so incredibly successful in combining the subplots and individual adventures of the six racers with the main plot is something to be admired about this film. Each of the six (and their families) have a story within the main story of the film. The writers did an excellent job at spending just the right amount of time with the individual stories without sacrificing time spent with the main plot of the film. As I have mentioned in reviews before, whether film or television, no story exists without conflict; likewise, no comedy exists without “drama.” Many film scholars and writers describe the comedy genre as drama in disguise. Let me clarify a little bit. When the casual movie-goer thinks of drama, they typically think of a film that is rather heavy, primarily dialog driven, and mostly serious. Those same casual movie-goers would likely describe comedy as funny movie with lovable characters, witty dialog, lots of laughable moments, with little degree of seriousness about it. Well-developed and written comedies are those films who integrate humor into the conflict-driven drama between two or more people. In other words, a drama is primarily focussed on the drama of a situation whereas comedy is primarily focussed don the humor of a situation. The best comedies are those that have prolific conflict between characters, but a humorous twist is added to the mix. Why did I say all this? Because in order to understand the brilliance of Rat Race it is important to recognize that it holds up so well because it’s full of drama that has irony, satire, and facetiousness thrown into the mix.

Besides the writing, this film also successfully continues to cause uncontrollable laughter because of the fantastic cast. Just look at this list of leading talent: Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, John Lovitz, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr, Breckin Meyer, Seth Green, and Kathy Najimy. In addition to that amazing list, you also have a great group of chief supporting players and an A-list cameo: Amy Smart, Wayne Knight, Dave Thomas, Dean Cain, Vince Vieluf, Paul Rodriguez, and Lanei Chapman, and special appearance by Kathy Bates as the squirrel lady. There were also many others extras and atmospheric players that helped pull together this brilliant comedy including the performance by 90/2000s hit band SmashMouth. All the elements are here for a successful comedy! Between the writing, directing, and this phenomenal cast list, how could this movie not do well??? On that note, the movie did not fair so well with critics then and even now; scores poorly on MetaCritic, Rotten Tomatoes (no surprise there), and IMDb. However, I argue that any comedy that can still hold up and significantly create a room full of laughter over and over, is a successful comedy. Comedies are seldom going to win awards, significantly contribute to the world of the arts, or serve as inspiration for someone; but Rat Race offers an escape from the doldrums of reality and whisks you away to an over-the-top world of money, hookers, gambling, crazy exes, a buss full of Lucys, and Nazis. It offers an incredibly entertaining journey that still has a heartwarming ending.

I think it’s the utter unashamed ridiculousness of the whole plot that keeps me entertained. Furthermore, it does such a good job of telling a funny story that is both clever and well-paced. One of the best parts of watching this movie is getting to feel like at least one of the leading or supporting characters. Each have a unique set of traits that can identify with someone of a similar personality. You’ll probably also see some of your friends as one or more of the characters. These characters are so much fun to watch and just when you think it can’t get anymore ironic, unfortunate, or satirical, it surprises you. Trying to remember the first time I watched it, and even to some extent this time, I remember thinking that it really isn’t that predictable. Not predictable in that it is so ridiculous! But that’s what I love about this comedy film. It sticks to a tried and true ticking-time-bomb plot with characters that are unconventional and unpredictable in every way. Well, mostly anyway. Haha. I think my favorite part of the movie is the Pear family crashing onto the stage at the WWI Vets convention in Hitler’s car with Randy (Lovitz) trying to speak but the cigarette lighter burnt his tongue and he has a Hitler mustache caused by Eva Braun’s dark lipstick. I know, right?!?

If you are ever looking to just kick back and enjoy a comedy that is guaranteed to make you laugh hysterically, then check out Paramount Pictures’ Rat Race (2001). Whether you just want to see some of your favorite Oscar, Golden Globe, or Emmy winners in an over-the-top comedic race to the finish or just a fun movie that will keep you entertained, this one is a winner!

License to Create: Theme Parks and Intellectual Property

ThemeParkHighAngleLicense and registration please. With 20th Century Fox, Sony Entertainment, and Paramount Pictures entering the themed entertainment game as potential heavy hitters, and to some extent Warner Bros. as well, questions about cinema, television, and video game intellectual property (IP) begin to rise. Only having really had two main players in the industry for the last couple of decades, unless you count CBS/Paramount before selling off the amusement park investments to Cedar Fair, Disney and Comcast (parent company to NBC Universal) utilize their own respective IP libraries as well as licensed properties from other media companies. Not having as vast an IP library as Disney, many of Universal’s theme park properties have come from companies like TimeWarner, Viacom, and Fox. Whereas Disney primarily uses their own extensive library, they too have licensed other companies’ IP such as MGM Holdings, 20th Century Fox, and CBS. Although some of the once-licensed properties by either Disney or Universal have now been officially procured (i.e. Disney’s LucasFilm and Universal’s DreamWorks Animation), a common practice in the themed entertainment industry is to license, borrow, barter, trade, etc. But, with these new players demanding a slice of the hospitality and tourism pie, could we see more original television programming or movies?

SpyroThink about it for a moment. Let’s look at some of the most well-known IPs from Sony, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. Although there is a mild to moderate degree of subjectivity in what constitutes “well known,” I am going to go with commonly thought of properties. Starting with Sony. In no particular order, some of the most popular Sony properties include: James Bond (formerly MGM), Spider-Man, Men in Black, Smurfs, Terminator, Silence of the Lambs, Hotel Transylvania, Spyro, The Nanny, Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Price is Right, Final Fantasy, and Crash Bandicoot. Switching gears to Fox. Some of the most well-known Fox properties include: Avatar, The Simpsons, Rocky Horror Picture Show, The X-Men, Bones, New Girl, American Horror Story, Alien, X-Files, Die Hard, Futurama, and Family Guy. Although not well known in the US, Warner Bros. operates a theme park in Australia and what is now called Movie Park Germany. Some of the most popular Warner Bros., IP are: Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Looney Tunes, DC Entertainment, Lord of the Rings, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Lego Entertainment. Viacom, parent company to Paramount Pictures, is one of the original Hollywood studios and owns IP such as: Mission Impossible, Titanic (partnership with Fox), Star Trek (films and TV shows), Forrest Gump, and the valuable Nickelodeon. Obviously the aforementioned lists are not exhaustive, but I wanted to try to paint as brief but effective a picture as possible to understand why IP is a hot topic.

JamesBondLogoRecognize some of those titles? You probably recognize most, if not all of them. Unfortunately, these companies have already licensed out some of those properties to Universal, Disney, and Six Flags. Avatar and Alien are licensed by Disney. Marvel Entertainment, Harry Potter, and Nintendo are licensed to Universal, DC Entertainment and Looney Tunes are licensed to Six Flags Parks, and the Nickelodeon IPs are split amongst different entities. Of course, when the licensing agreements were drawn up, it is unlikely that either Sony, Fox, Paramount, and to a lesser extent Warner Bros., thought that they would enter or re-enter into the themed entertainment industry. Now that this part of the tourism and hospitality (and live entertainment) is exploding, Sony, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. need to rethink how to play catchup–and FAST. But, when you have licensed out some of your most valuable properties, how do you make up for it? The short answer is (1) refuse renewal when the license expires or (2) develop original content. Since some licenses run for decades, the former isn’t really an option unless the license is coming up for renewal in the next few years; so, we are left with one logical conclusion: pump out original content that is adaptable to a live experience. This is where research like mine comes into play since I have studied the relationship between cinema and theme parks, and moreover how to successfully translate a movie or TV show into an attraction. It’d be nice if one of these companies would snatch me up. But, I digress.

Film Strip BoardIt is entirely possible that Sony, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. will be forced to generate new ideas for movies, tv shows, and video games. More specifically, original creative media content that can and needs to be able to be translated from the screen into a theme park near you. When developing original content that has the ability to be translated to a live experience, companies need to keep in mind that a high-concept plot with unique settings, characters, and action sequences are necessary for a movie turned attraction. There is a lot more to it than that, but at least this gives you an idea what is required and backed by empirical evidence. Although blockbusters are typically the sourced content for theme park attractions, not every blockbuster is appropriate. Take Titanic for example. It is a movie about the 20th century’s worst and most infamous maritime disaster. So, I don’t think Paramount or Fox will add “Titanic: Ride it Out” to its parks. The ability to cross-promote intellectual property is of great importance for the strategic exhibition and integration of movies, tv shows, or video games. One of the reasons why the Disney parks are so successful is because the Disney movies can be (1) seen in the cinema (2) character meet and greets in the parks (3) the platform for a video game (3) used in theming on the cruise line (4) A-list artists can record covers of the songs from musicals (and broadway musicals can be produced) and (5) the platform for attractions in the parks. Sony, Fox, Paramount, and Warner Bros. need to concentrate on producing movies and TV shows (and by extension video games) that can be used in strategic and creative cross-promotion.

X-Men TASReturning to the present state of IP in the parks. Fortunately, some of those companies still–at least to the best of my knowledge–retain the theme park licensing for a few of the properties that were mentioned earlier; but for the most part, the most well-known movies, video games, and TV shows are already licensed by other companies. Viacom/Paramount operates the Nick Hotel near Disney in Orlando, so it still retains some licensing to its Nick IPs. However, since other parks use some of the Nick characters, there is probably some red tape to go through in order to fully use them in the Paramount park in the United Kingdom near London that is under development. Just like Disney wants to get their hands on Universal’s Marvel properties, Fox really needs to work on getting the X-Men back. On that note: since The Avengers is Disney’s heaviest of hitters and the same for Fox and the X-Men, perhaps eventually we will see that Disney has access to The Avengers and Fox the X-Men. Disney doesn’t really need The Avengers as much as Fox needs the X-Men. The X-Men is arguably Fox’s most successful film franchise in the last couple of decades and it is still going strong. Another Fox property that is licensed by Disney is James Cameron’s Avatar. As for Sony, they have not licensed out as many of their properties to themed entertainment companies, with the obvious exceptions of Terminator and Men in Black. Another area to explore is the reason why non Disney and Universal parks are mostly being built overseas. But that is the topic for another article; however, it is directly linked to IP and copyright.

maps_game_of_thrones_a_song_of_1024x1024_wallpaperfo.comCurrent IPs that would make for great attractions in a U.S. Sony, Warner Bros., Paramount, or Fox theme park would be Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, X-Files, James Bond, Lord of the Rings (but that is a whole other discussion in and of itself), Hotel Transylvania, Spyro the Dragon, Maze Runner, Hunger Games (need to be licensed from Lionsgate), Ice Age, or Mission Impossible. Content is king. More innovative and original content from the big studios who also have theme park investments means that there will be more movies to see each year!! It will also open the door for new ideas from comics, literature, history, and legend. Instead of reboots and remakes, you will enjoy new ideas and narratives. So, the long and short of it is that media conglomerates with movie studio and theme park investments are at a crossroads. They can either not go full-force into themed entertainment and play around with the current IP in their respective libraries or can rise up to the challenge to develop original movies and tv shows that can also find their ways into theme parks in the U.S. and around the world.