I must admit I winced – actually, it was more of a pronounced tic – at news of the Disney buy-out of 21st Century Fox.
Admittedly some of the reaction was irrational, in that I have this traditionalist, retrospective (read “rose-tinted”) view of what film studios should be. In truth I really should know better.
For just as the formidable moguls of the past – Cohn, Goldwyn, Warner, Zanuck – have passed into history, so their mindset has been replaced by an all-consuming form of corporate institutionalisation.
And where once there was quality, now there is quantity disguised by (or behind) a conveyor belt of product that churns out a dizzying array of high-concept but, I fear, ultimately empty films.
What’s more, modern audiences have become conditioned to want it and to yearn for more.
It was Disney that arguably – in the opinions of many fans – wrecked the Star Wars franchise by taking the saga in a peculiar direction, simultaneously divesting the franchise of its foundations and reinventing it.
Then the same head honchos began flooding the market with Star Wars offshoots. Perhaps surprisingly, they didn’t perform well. Cue much panicking (allegedly) behind the scenes and the cancellation of some mooted projects. In short, Disney blew it.
Now – lo! – they’re about to pillage the Fox archives. For Disney is under pressure – and under threat – from streaming rivals such as Netflix and Amazon. So if it can’t compete with their way of wooing viewers by creating exclusive product for online platforms, it can at least put out classic titles to new audiences, and maybe remake, reimagine and reboot as well.
The umbrella of what constitutes Disney – with assets nudging a billion dollars – boasts Lucasfilm (which gave it Star Wars), Dreamworks, Pixar and comic book phenomenon Marvel. That is, quite clearly, a lot. Maybe too much. For whilst Disney can shovel out movies on an industrial scale – and many will applaud the House of the Mouse for its boldness – there is a risk that some of it, perhaps even all of it, will be diluted, rushed or just plain ruined. Just like Star Wars.
Back in the day some major movie stars found themselves trapped in gilded cages where they were encouraged (read “forced”) to make movies dictated to them by the studio that had moulded them. Nowadays most big A-listers have their own production companies to launch their own pet projects. Yet they still have to contend with the studios. And with the absorption of Fox they don’t come much bigger than Disney.
I’m perturbed. I’m hoping Disney will embrace quality and not abandon classic filmmaking, that it will acknowledge history and heritage. Pigs might fly, but I doubt it.