Thursday, September 3, 2009

Forget Pixar – Bruckheimer could be a more immediate Disney partner for Marvel

Since Marvel bought Disney a lot has been made of the potential for a Pixar -Marvel match up - the company has even revealed that Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer John Lassetter has met with Marvel staff to discuss possible collaborations. But I haven’t read anyone discuss a more obvious Disney partner that may also be likely to take an interest in Marvel’s properties : uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Bruckheimer is one of the most successful and controversial producers in Hollywood. Known for massive action heavy and critically unpopular productions his long list of credits includes Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, The Rock, Bad Boys, Con Air, Crimson Tide, Armageddon, Enemy of the State, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, Pirates of the Caribbean, King Arthur and the National Treasure films. For television he produces the successful CSI franchise, Without a Trace, Cold Case and The Amazing Race.

So given that the action genre is right in his wheelhouse and the fact that he has been known to help Disney develop their properties in the past with Pirates of the Caribbean, a Bruckheimer produced Marvel film, like for instance Power Man and Iron Fist, Deathlok or Daughters of the Dragon, could appeal to Disney execs. For television he could even produce procedurals based around concepts such as SHIELD, Jessica Jones or X-Factor.

Of course the fan reaction to such a move would be mixed at best, and Marvel’s Ike Pearlmutter and Kevin Feige would likely be resistant to such an intrusion into their domain. But by talking about teaming with Pixar they have already opened the door to such collaborations, and given the fact that Pixar productions have a long development process working with Bruckheimer could be a faster way to ramp up new productions.

The popular spin on this merger is that it helps Disney broaden its appeal to young boys and adolescents. Up until now Bruckheimer has been Disney’s go-to man for this type of thing – with initiatives like Pirates of the Caribbean and the recent G-Force films. Inherent in the coverage has been an acknowledgement (sometimes made pretty explicit) that this hasn’t really worked. Could Bruckheimer be pissed about this implicit criticism? This move certainly makes his role at Disney a little less crucial. Disney may wish to reinforce their attachment to the producer by giving him access to some of Marvel's properties if he wants them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Is Marvel Studios fifth Paramount movie a potential source of dispute?

Marvel studios seems to be locked into a distribution deal with Paramount for its next five movies, but exactly what properties those movies will be about is a bit unclear. Specifically after Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and Avengers – what is the fifth and final film? some coverage says that it will "most likely" be Iron Man 3 (note the uncertainty) while others suggest Ant Man. Indeed when the distribution deal was first reported by Nikki Finke Ant Man was listed as the final movie.

Ant Man has been in development since 2006 with Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim writer/director Edgar Wright at the helm. Wright was still connected with the project as recently as this July and Marvel Studio's head Kevin Feige has discussed the project in numerous interviews.

I’m guessing that the idea of producing this Ant Man movie has suddenly become much more attractive to Feige – you have got to believe that if they could, Disney would seize the opportunity to own Iron Man 3 outright. Ant Man is clearly a riskier project with a narrower appeal.

Added to that are some logistical issues – all indications are that Marvel wants Favreau to direct their big Avengers movie. That means that to make Iron Man 3 the fifth film either Favreau leaves the franchise or the movie is pushed back from 2013 and the Paramount deal is extended for another few years – neither of which is too desirable for Disney/Marvel, I would imagine.

Also worth thinking about here is the fact that when this Paramount deal was first agreed it wasn't clear which of these properties were going to be the most successful – so it’s by no means a sure thing that Paramount locked down sequel rights to any particular characters in their 5 film deal. Indeed it is still possible that Iron Man 2 will be a flop or that either Thor or Captain America might be an even bigger hit, making Iron Man 3 less attractive.

One other possibly crucial detail - in June Feige revealed that another, as yet unannounced Marvel movie was planned for release in 2012, the same year Marvel/Paramount's 3rd and 4th movies (Captain America, Avengers) are due to be released. He seemed to hint that an announcement would come at San Diego, but none materialised. Maybe I'm crazy but the timing (and the probable delay in any announcement) makes me suspect that this could have had something to do with Marvel's acquisition of the Marvelman property. At any rate is this new movie part of the Paramount deal? is it even still in development?

Nikki Finke recently published a quote from Rich Greenfield at Pali Research, in which he discussed the Marvel/Paramount deal:

Marvel’s current distribution deal with Paramount (Viacom-owned) covers the next five Marvel pictures including Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011),Captain America (2011), The Avengers (2012) and Iron Man 3 (2012/2013). Paramount confirmed the films to be produced under their Marvel agreement.

He apparently did not check with Marvel though. Could this be Paramount putting down markers to indicate to Marvel that they believe that Iron Man 3 is part of the deal? is it that they are actually on board with Feige's secret new film project and are just being coy with Greenfield? or could all this speculation be way off-base -have Marvel and Paramount already agreed that Iron Man 3 is the last film in their agreement?

All this reminds me of the dispute between Pixar and former Disney chief Michael Eisner over Toy Story 2. That mess took years to sort out and almost destroyed the very lucrative Disney/Pixar relationship. Hopefully all my speculation is groundless and the terms of the Marvel/Paramount deal are clearly set-out.

Disney buys Marvel: great for Disney, bad for Marvel Fans

Okay I’m studying for exams at the moment but the big news has drawn me out of my temporary sabbatical. I have a lot of thoughts about the whole thing but Ill start off with my first impressions: I think it is great for Disney, but bad for Marvel fans in the long run.

I understand that some are claiming that Disney overpaid but I don’t see it, these superhero movies can make a half billion each when they are successful and much more when they are massive hits, which is not uncommon. The merchandising potential is massive and has already been growing consistently for over 20 years – the appeal of superheroes is much more than a fad. Over time the investment will pay off in spades for Disney.

Whatever way you look at it, practically speaking, Marvel Comics just got a whole new tier of management. As a fan, I worry that this means the company will take less risks and become slower, more bureaucratic and less innovative. As I see it Marvel’s main competitor DC Comics’ problems can ultimately be traced to its corporate culture – as a small part of a massive media conglomerate they are tightly structured and too fractured creatively. Marvel’s biggest strength, especially in recent years, has been its dynamism – its fresh approach to its characters, looseness of its editorial culture and willingness to take storytelling risks.

I’m aware that Marvel and Disney are claiming that the company’s independence will be maintained – but that is clearly a vague intention, not a strong guarantee. Does anyone really believe that Marvel will make a potentially controversial move with a character – like for instance the recent death of Captain America - without making senior executives at Disney aware of it first? of course not.

However I can say that I see at least one obvious example where this new oversight may have been a positive thing had it been around a few years back. I’m pretty sure someone at Disney would have realised the madness of having a pact with the devil be the central plot point in a major Spider-Man story, and would have objected to it. Nevertheless I still think that most of the time Disney’s natural instincts to avoid controversy will be a negative influence.

Hovering over this is a threat to the comic business as a whole. Disney has actually abandoned successful comic book operations in the past because the business and the margins are too small. In the past Marvel has seemed to justify its comic business as a sort of research and development division for other media, but who is to say that should the business become less profitable or more controversial Disney would not just abandon it? Marvel already has a wealth of material built up after all (though the 7,000 character thing is nonsense – less than 6,000 have received Official Handbook entries and those books have been if anything overly comprehensive).

Disney has shown little sentimentality about this sort of thing in the past. Their most synonymous properties - Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck etc - have had only minimal new development for decades. Disney seems to prefer to rely on library material to spur licensing rather than risk their appeal by trying anything new. Let’s hope that this attitude doesn’t seep into their new acquisition.