James Bond, the British MI6 agent created by author Ian Fleming, is the star of pretty much the world’s most commercially successful movie franchise. Since 1962 the character has headlined 23 feature films, not including two rogue productions in 1967 and 1983; at the time of writing a 24th is in production. The James Bond formula has served the franchise remarkably well over the decades; however it has always faced a regular creative dilemma. There is a pressure with each succeeding sequel to top its predecessor. As a result the franchise has regularly had to undergo a sort of ‘reset’ process.
The most significant resetting of the James Bond formula came with Casino Royale, a 2006 production – and the 21st in the series – that not only reset the style of the franchise but rebooted it entirely, returning Bond to the early days of his career and demonstrating how he became the suave yet cynical spy with whom audiences were familiar.
A complete text version of this essay is available at FictionMachine.
Japanese animation turns 100 years old in 2017. The art form initially flourished in 1917, as animators including Oten Shimokawa and Seitarou Kitayama produced short comedic films that ran for only a few minutes each. While the vast majority of those early animated shorts are now lost – due variously to time, humidity, earthquakes and the American fire-bombing of Tokyo – Japan’s animation (or ‘anime’, to use the borrowed Japanese term) industry has continued to thrive ever since.
Numerous directors have been and gone over the decades, and the industry has expanded and contracted. If we were to highlight a single filmmaker as the best artist anime has produced over that time, it’s a fairly safe bet that the majority of fans, critics and observers will cite Hayao Miyazaki. Furthermore if we were to highlight the very best film Miyazaki had directed, I suspect the majority would cite his 1988 fantasy My Neighbor Totoro.
Mention the name Edgar Rice Burroughs to many people and they’ll immediately recognise him as the creator of Tarzan, the popular pulp hero of novels and film who endured throughout the 20th century as one of the world’s most popular fictional characters. Less well known that Tarzan, however, is John Carter. This Virginian Civil War veteran travelled to the planet Mars in a string of pulp adventures, all written by Burroughs.
While the Tarzan books were adapted to cinema as early as 1918 (in Tarzan of the Apes and The Romance of Tarzan), John Carter’s road to the cinema took almost exactly 100 years, three movie studios, six directors and countless writers, artists and designers along the way.
Goldman’s original take on the classical fairy tale was first published in 1973. The book in itself is a literary classic, and wonderful to read. It is eclipsed these days, however, by its motion picture adaptation. Despite all of the strengths of the original novel, in 1987 director Rob Reiner took The Princess Bride and somehow adapted a fantastic book into an even better film. Its fans have included both United States President Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II. It really is one of the most broadly enjoyable movies ever produced.
Here's a story about how they made it.
In the late 1970s Walt Disney Studios entered one of their most unusual periods, eschewing their standard family films for darker and more risky projects. The period saw the company experiment with science fiction in The Black Hole and Tron, dark fantasy in Dragonslayer and Return to Oz, and even light horror with The Watcher in the Woods. Generally speaking, these films were not commercially successful – although many of them have developed strong cult audiences over the following decades. It should be noted that these were all generally high quality, entertaining films. It simply seems that for the movie-going audience the dissonance between the wholesome Walt Disney brand and the strange, dark content was too great with which to cope. The company’s live-action fortunes did not recover until the release of Ron Howard’s Splash in 1984.
Of the 17 live-action features released by Disney between The Black Hole in 1979 and Return to Oz in 1985, far and away the best film is Something Wicked This Way Comes. It is not a lightly creepy supernatural story for children, like the company’s earlier film The Watcher in the Woods (1980). It is a genuine horror movie; the first such film produced by Disney and the last until the walking corpses boarded the Black Pearl in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003).
It would seem that good musicals require good partnerships to succeed, and if that is true then the best partnership of all time is arguably that of Gene Kelly, co-director Stanley Donen, and producer Arthur Freed. In one combination or another these filmmakers collaborated at Metro-Goldwyn Mayer on some of the most extraordinary feature films ever made. Of their films, Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is the most popular and almost certainly the best.
I don’t really ascribe to the idea that there can be a singular best anything in the world but when pressed to name ‘the best movie ever made’, in the absence of a more definitive choice, I generally pick Singin’ in the Rain.
This is the audio version of an essay first published at www.fictionmachine.com.
A Christmas Carol has remained popular since publication, and has subsequently been adapted for theatre, opera, television and, of course, motion pictures. The first film adaptation was Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost, a short film produced in London in 1901. It was followed by further short and feature treatments: at least 20 different direct adaptations between 1908 and 2009, not to mention further related films and parodies over the decades. Despite a wide variety of Christmas Carol films to choose from, one of the best – and surprisingly most accurate – is Brian Henson’s 1992 film The Muppet Christmas Carol, in which most of the cast are played by puppets.
This is the podcast version of the FictionMachine essay "A fuzzy blue Charles Dickens". To read the entire essay, head to the FictionMachine website.