Monday, September 22, 2014

The Possible Return of Jason Bourne

This blog has become very dusty as of late due to its author being absent from its pages.  I have been deeply engaged in a graduate program in economics as well as keeping up with the demands of life.  Regrettably, I have not been able to contribute to this ongoing commentary.  Yet, what would draw me out and away from my studies?  Would it be the growing war on ISIS?  The Fed's moves on tapering QE and possible increases in interest rates?  The midterm elections and the Republicans efforts to once-again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?   No.  None of these are so important.  But the possible return of Jason Bourne to the silver screen is.

I am a major fan of the Bourne movies and in the past week it was announced that Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass are in discussions to return to the franchise.  I wish I had time to read the Bourne novels by Robert Ludlum.  However, at the end of the day when my brain is fried and I need something to pass the time, I will watch any Bourne movie when opportunity affords me the chance to watch.  I cannot count the dozens of times I have seen each one. 

When the Bourne 4 movie with Jeremy Renner debuted, my wife and I had to see it in one of the new luxury movie theaters that have been trending in the last few years.   In a small room with 20 other people, I sat in a luxury recliner and had food brought to me as I watched this new character in the Bourne genre try to capture my imagination.  The only problem is that it did not.   If fact, it made me angry at the studio who made the movie. 

I felt manipulated and resentful as I watched The Bourne Legacy, the latest in the series.  The studio did a number of things that were bound to put the audience on edge.  Mostly, the plot was contrived.  There wasn’t a natural story that caused the audience to feel connected to the main character, Aaron Cross, who is genetically modified to have the skills of a Jason Bourne, someone who came by his skills naturally.  The science of genetics is only on the verge of curing cancer, and it is not plausible that science would be producing super human people at this stage of genetic development.  Further, it is not plausible for one of its key scientists, namely the Rachel Weisz character Marta Shearing, to be ignorant of the unethical application of her science.  

But the contrivances did not stop there.  As the movie was drawing to a close, I remember sitting in the theater thinking “this film is rather formulaic.  We are close to the end and there has been no chase scene.”  Sure enough, as soon as I thought that a chase scene appeared.  Every Bourne film has a chase scene and this one showed some invention with motorcycles.   Regardless, it was still a formulaic contrivance that echoes the days when action films were about Cowboys and Indians. 

The most blatant contrived plot twist was really bait for Jason Bourne to re-enter the series.   The Tony Gilroy story includes scenes from Capital Hill that potentially flips the intended outcome of the first three movies in the series.  Jason Bourne spent the screen time in these films chasing down bad guys and exposing the Treadstone and Blackbrier CIA programs that concentrated on assassinating world leaders.  His main ally in this was a CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy, played by Joan Allen, who brought the assassination plots to the attention of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee.   Now, with Bourne 4, all that work is potentially up in the air to where the tables have turned and Pamela Landy is viewed by the public as the potential villain.  The implication is that Jason Bourne needs to return and set things straight in the next Bourne film or the heroin Pamela Landy will go to jail.    Oh come on Universal Pictures!  Give me a break!   Are you saying that the six hours of movie running time in the first three Bourne films was for naught?    That we, the audience, wasted our time?   Do you think we are really that dumb?????

Well, you are a movie studio, so I guess the answer to all the above is yes.

So, what does the movie studio do now?  The problem is that once you have a contrivance in a story line, you need another contrivance to correct it.  The only problem is that one more contrivance is too much and the audience will not believe it.  Or to put it in terms that studios understand, ticket sales will go down – a lot!  

Years ago, the producer of the James Bond films, Albert Broccoli, transferred control of the Bond franchise to his daughter, Barbara Broccoli, and advised her to go back to the Ian Fleming novels whenever the franchise got into trouble.  After four movies with Pierce Brosnan in the title role the producers did not know where they wanted to go next.  This led to a revisit to Casino Royale, a new Bond lead in Daniel Craig, and a more revealed Bond character.  We found out where he came from, something we did not know before. 

The writer of the screenplay for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Jack Sowards, said that films are about people.  When you write a film you start by completing the sentence “this film is about a guy who”, or “a gal who”.  A film is not about bad people chasing good people.  Such chases are tools that should expose the character of good people in an action film.  Films are not about chases per se.   

The Bourne Legacy film had a strong element upon which to build a sequel and that is the relationship between the main characters of Aaron Cross and Marta Shearing.  The next film should develop that relationship, and the bad people who threaten that relationship should be believable.  Further, genetic science behind the Aaron Cross should be downplayed.  The Legacy film was a little too reminiscent of Blade Runner.  The authors need to remember that Bourne is not a Sci-Fi picture, at least, not as Robert Ludlum envisioned it.

I and anyone else who ever saw the first three films will applaud the return of Jason Bourne to the series.  Matt Damon has declined up to now to return.  He wants a good script and Paul Greengrass to direct it.  Greengrass was director of the second and third films of the franchise.  One or both of these demands have been absent up until this point.  There is a lot of potential material for the new Jason Bourne film to explore.  When we last left Bourne we had learned that his real name is David Webb.  Shouldn’t we see him finding out who that is?   What about the Nicky Parsons character played by Julia Stiles?  She helped Bourne fight the CIA and was declared an enemy.  Bourne put her on a bus and helped her run.  Will Bourne get together with her and if yes, why?   There could be an immense story line here too.  But with the CIA exposed, the reason why the CIA will continue to chase him needs to be plausible.  Simply because the CIA is bad and Jason Bourne is good is not enough of a reason.  Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass spent years exploring plot alternatives and they failed to come up with something that solved all the problems that have been discussed here.    I want to see the next film, but I also want to see a good film.

As a final thought I think a good film might be made in about ten years about the mess surrounding the Bourne film franchise.  It would be a docudrama that explores the promise of the original Bourne series and how it came to be, and all the moves and machinations engaged by the studio to persuade principled and highly creative people to compromise by making the Legacy sequels and trashing the original series and the Ludlum tradition.  Hopefully, both the forthcoming Cross and Bourne films will come to us uncompromised negating the need for any such docudrama.