We finally got around to watching ‘Mad Max – Fury Road’ last night (yeah, yeah, I know its been out for ages .. but you get that sometimes)
It’s not my intention to review the movie (except to say it was lots of fun, lots of ‘splosions, plot holes big enough to drive a War Rig through…)
It did make me think, however, about the nature of ideas and entertainment.
As we were waiting for the movie to start, I asked Shirley whether this would be a prequel, a sequel, or a reboot. She didn’t know, and neither did I. And at the end of the movie I still wasn’t sure which category it would fit. It was sort of a sequel, and sort of a reboot. But then again, the original ‘trilogy’ didn’t exactly hang together as a coherent narrative, anyway.
Whether it is Bond, or Star Trek, or Star Wars, or Marvel, or DC Comics, or Mad Max, or Pixar, or whatever, many of the movies fall into that franchise category.
And the majority of books that I have read have been ‘shared universe’ novels .. from Peter F Hamilton’s Confederation and Commonwealth sagas to David Weber’s ‘HonorVerse’, or his Safehold series, or SM Stirling’s Emberverse (and the flipside of that series, the Nantucket trilogy), plus of course George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, and Narnia, and Harry Potter, and … well, I could go on and on. Apart from a handful of standalone novels, almost everything I read these days is part of a series, or franchise, of shared universe.
So why is that?
But there’s a flip-side to that: If I like a book by an author, and then like the follow-up less, I’m unlikely to continue in the series – the old ‘you are only as good as your last (game/book/election result/whatever)’
But there’s probably another reason why I, and many others, like ‘franchise’ entertainments … It’s a ‘comfort’ thing.
Because we have already read one book in a series, we know the main characters, and the setting, and the protagonists, and the general thrust of the plot.
We KNOW that the Manticorians will find themselves in a bad spot, will face their darkest hour, but will eventually pull the iron from the fire at the last moment … or that Harry will continue to face the minions of Voldemort until eventually they MUST meet, and Harry must triumph, or that The Foundation will eventually help form the nucleus of a new civilization, or that Temperance Brennan will -eventually- decipher the science that leads her to the killer.
But we don’t know the -details- leading to that eventual denouement, and that’s what makes us read on. We know these people, we know this situation, and we want to see how they resolve whatever is the conflict they face.
We don’t have to learn a whole new background, a new jargon, a new mindset … they are all provided by us and our memory from previous installments in the franchise.
So it makes the experience more like a tapestry than a pastiche .. and while some may see the offerings as bland, for most of us it’s more a case of comfortable and familiar.
Some like every new experience to widen their horizons. Some want every new world they explore via the page, the screen, the canvas or the ear to be just that: new.
I must admit, after a while I do move on to other authors, other auteurs, other artists – occasionally.
But then, if I like their work, I’m likely to seek out more of the same .. and so the cycle continues 🙂