Disney-Fox: The Deal Looms

(Above image source: Dark Mamba, DeviantArt)

Article by Tom Holste

Aug. 13, 2018

I’ve reported a couple of times about Disney’s ongoing attempts to buy 20th Century Fox (here and here). There have been a lot of new developments since then.

Some of this is old news, but has not yet been reported on my blog. So just to quickly make sure everyone is up to speed:

Comcast (which owns NBC and Universal Pictures, and is a top rival to Disney) and Sony both put in a competing bid for Fox. They both dropped out, but then Universal showed renewed interest and ultimately put in a $65 billion dollar bid for Fox. But Disney upped its bid to $71 billion, and Fox accepted that. Comcast could have bid even higher, but instead have now bowed out of the running. And the antitrust issues that seemed to be crucial went away rather quickly. (Surprisingly, the government seemed more concerned about Comcast’s acquisition of Fox than Disney’s.)

Dark-Helmet

Now that brings us to two weeks ago…

One of the last remaining hurdles to clear was that the board of directors at each company had to accept the deal. But now, both companies have accepted the merger, in meetings that had so few objections that they lasted less than 15 minutes apiece.

All along, I’ve been trying to caution people against believing that the deal was done yet, for better or for worse. But with the only remaining issue being to clear the deal in a few foreign territories, I would say that the deal is about 90% done at this point. (Yes, I did just make up that statistic. Thanks for asking.)

The lawyers on both sides will probably take about a year to get everything settled, and much of the next year will involve planning the new corporate structure. But things are so close now that I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an X-Men reference in the end credits scene of next year’s Avengers movie.

It’s astonishing that Fox has been brought this low in the first place. For many decades of recent history, a Fox film was at the top of the all-time highest grossing films, unadjusted for inflation (1977-82 for the original Star Wars, then again in 1997 after its re-release; Titanic from 1997 to 2009; and then Avatar from 2009 to 2015). Disney never had a film at the very top during that period until 2015 with–you guessed it–Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And now Disney will own all of those films. I suppose it shows that even the occasional huge success can’t compete with the reliability of Disney’s hit-making machine.

Other new wrinkles in the story:

–Even though it often takes years to develop movies, 20th Century Fox is at a bit of a standstill as they don’t yet know what films will be kept or killed by the new administration.  (Despite such difficulties, there are two completed X-Men movies, Dark Phoenix and New Mutants, heading to theaters in 2019; new Simpsons and Bob’s Burgers movies in the works; and TV reboots for Buffy and 24 in development.)

–Since Fox and Disney each own a third of streaming service Hulu, the combined corporation would own 2/3rds of the service, giving them a controlling interest in the company. (The other third is owned by Universal.) With Disney making plans for a streaming service next year, It’s possible that Hulu could morph into that Disney-exclusive service, with Disney’s and Fox’s extensive TV and film libraries providing the content.

–It remains unclear what Disney will do with Fox’s non-family-friendly franchises such as the Alien and Die Hard movies. Again, not a single article I’ve read states whether Disney gets the Fox logo, or if that stays with the New Fox TV stations, and Disney just owns the titles. If not, they could release those films under a revived Touchstone brand. But at $71 billion, Disney is probably getting the logo.

–While many have talked about the non-family-friendly films, there’s been little talk of how Disney will brand classic Fox movies that are family-friendly. Will Disney put their logo in front of Miracle on 34th Street, The Sound of Music, Home Alone and others, and just pretend like they always made those movies in the first place?

–Yes, Anastasia will now technically be a Disney princess. So will Princess Buttercup, although Fox only retains theatrical rights to The Princess Bride. (MGM owns the home video rights.)

–Perhaps the craziest part of all of this? Back in June, AT&T bought Time Warner…and there was hardly a peep out of the news media about that.

One of the sadder things that also hasn’t got much press about this story is that there will undoubtedly be a lot of layoffs in the company, as many jobs are about to become redundant. (I feel bad that it didn’t occur to me sooner either.) Part of me still wishes this could have played out differently, but there will undoubtedly be some positives to come from this merger. And since I have no control over it anyway, all I can do now is watch and continue to report on both the good and things that happen as this fascinating deal continues to unfold.

 

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Tom’s SCREWTAPE contribution to F&F

I’m waaaay late in posting this, but I wrote an article for a webzine called Fellowship and Fairydust. The issue was entirely devoted to C.S. Lewis. My contribution was “The Screwtape E-mails,” in which I imagined how Lewis’ fictional devil might react to politics in the age of social media. It’s on pg. 34 of the PDF linked below.
 
This is the second time I’ve written something like this; I wrote a Screwtape letter about the Dan Brown/”Da Vinci Code” controversy 9 years ago for Kelly Capriotti Burton when she was editor of SGN Scoops. It was a lot of fun to revisit the character.
 
This isn’t actually about TV and film, but it’s rare for any writing of mine to pop up somewhere else, so I wanted to give it a shoutout. And thanks to Avellina Balestri for this opportunity!

A QUIET PLACE Worth Thunderous Applause

By Tom Holste

Apr. 23, 2018

On the spur of the moment, we ended up seeing A Quiet Place at the theaters yesterday. AMAZING movie! Sci-fi/horror, done with just a few actors on a handful of sets. More suspenseful than gory. Reminded me of M. Night Shyamalan in his prime. Who knew John Krakinski from “The Office” had this movie in him? (He directed, co-wrote and stars in the film with his wife Emily Blunt.)

Quiet_Place

If you’re the kind of person who can’t handle intense and frightening movies, this one is definitely not for you. In fact, normally I would say this isn’t my kind of movie either, but it’s so artfully done that I just loved it. I don’t want to reveal too much (I went in knowing almost nothing), but the clever premise forces Krakinski to tell the movie in an extremely visual way and not use dialogue as a crutch. It’s one of the most cinematic movies I’ve seen in years. 

Also, if you’re the type of person who’s been saying that they’re tired of superhero movies, sequels, remakes and reboots: Please go see this movie. It’s an excellent film that’s completely original and not like anything else out there. If you think Hollywood isn’t willing to take a chance on new ideas anymore, show them that you’ll support a unique movie like this one!

Plus, as a person of faith, there were several things that deeply resonated with me: a scene of prayer portrayed positively; no cussing or sex; and selfless love as a profound theme in the movie. Normally, those last few points only show up (or are attempted) in harmless but not-very-interesting movies aimed directly at the Christian community. To see these things in a modern mainstream film is nothing short of astonishing! (And yet none of it feel cloying or preachy.)

Seriously, folks. Go see this film. 🙂

 

Joss Whedon Broke Up With Batgirl

By Tom Holste

Feb. 27, 2018

Last April, I reported that Joss Whedon, who directed two Avengers movies and also created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, had come on board a Batgirl movie project for Warner Bros.

But apparently, last week, to little fanfare, Whedon exited the project, as seen in this article by the Hollywood Reporter.

Whedon diplomatically cites an inability on his part to crack the story. Unnamed insiders suggest that a woman-centered superhero film directed by a man might face too much scrutiny these days (and, indeed, a leaked draft of his unproduced Wonder Woman script got eviscerated by the Internet last year).

But the one thing that no one is talking about, which seems to be a major piece of the puzzle here, is the Justice League fiasco. After the movie’s original director, Zack Snyder, left the project due to a family tragedy, Warner Bros. asked Whedon to step in and finish the film in time for its November release date. Unfortunately, the film opened to dreadful reviews and ended up performing weaker at the box office than any of the DC Extended Universe movies to date.

JossWhedon_TA

Joss Whedon likely had the same worried look on his face when the first reviews of JUSTICE LEAGUE were released.

Even though Whedon is well known for giving fans what they like, and Snyder’s films have been, at best, divisive, many fans ironically blamed Whedon for the film being a mess, and have demanded for Warner Bros. to release a Zack Snyder cut of the film.

I haven’t seen the movie, but it seems more likely to me that Whedon simply wasn’t able to save the project by being brought in at such a late date. Part of the problem is that Warner Bros. hadn’t bothered to properly set up all the individual characters in their own movies before rushing out their big team movie. Another part of the problem was Warner’s insistence on a 2-hour time limit for the film, probably due to the box office disaster of the critically acclaimed but nearly 3-hour Blade Runner 2049. But without all the individual films for each character, there was too much setup that needed to be done in too truncated of a time frame.

Those asking for a Snyder cut of the film don’t seem to realize that no such cut exists; if the film had been far enough along for such a cut to exist, Warner Bros. wouldn’t have needed to call in another director. The DVD/Blu-ray release will hopefully have a bunch of extended/deleted scenes or possibly even an extended cut that might salvage the film.

At any rate, although no one has said it outright, I can’t help but think that Whedon and Warner Bros. just didn’t want to work together anymore after what happened with Justice League.  So now, the future remains up in the air for both Batgirl (which wasn’t even greenlit until Whedon came on board, so does Warner Bros. keep going?) and for Whedon (who doesn’t have any projects lined up other than a return for a possibly final “season” of Buffy in the comics). It’ll be interesting to look back in another year or so and see what’s happening for both of them.

Brace Yourselves; More STAR WARS is Coming

By Tom Holste

Feb. 7, 2018

Since I blog a lot about Star Wars, I really intended for my next blog post to be about something else. But every so often, a crazy story breaks where you just have to drop all your other plans and focus on the new thing.

Yesterday, Lucasfilm astonished fans around the world by announcing that a new series of movies was on its way from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the show runners of HBO’s immensely popular and acclaimed fantasy series Games of Thrones.

david-benioff-db-weiss

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, two of the happiest guys in the galaxy.

Why astonishing, you ask? These two writers/producers have a great track record, after all. (Indeed, Thrones has made such a cultural impact that I know the catchphrase “Brace yourselves; winter is coming” even though I haven’t seen any episodes.)

Well, it’s astonishing because one would think that Lucasfilm would wait for one trilogy to be done or at least partway through before announcing the next one. We’re not even done with the current sequel trilogy; director Rian Johnson hasn’t shot one frame of his follow-up trilogy; and now we’ve got another series of films announced beyond that. (And note that Lucasfilm does say “series of movies,” therefore not limiting it to just a trilogy.)

After the negative fallout from many fans regarding Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, one would be excused for thinking that Lucasfilm had removed Johnson from heading up the new trilogy, yet the press release clearly indicates that Benioff and Weiss’ films are completely separate from Johnson’s upcoming saga.

Even more baffling is that we still don’t have any official confirmation of the next standalone Star Wars movie. Variety announced back in August that they had heard rumblings of an Obi-Wan movie. Variety has a very good reputation for accuracy, but the “sources” that they mentioned never made an official announcement.

We were expecting to hear an announcement about Obi-Wan or whatever the next standalone film turned out to be either way, but we just got crickets chirping. And then this news — which no one was expecting — gets a straight-up confirmation on StarWars.com.

Mind you, none of this is bad, just surprising.

I am starting to wonder if the next standalone has just simply been canceled at this point. It seems like it would have made more sense to continue doing standalones in between the trilogy installments. But maybe all the production problems that Rogue One and Solo went through have caused Kathleen Kennedy (the head of Lucasfilm) to swear off any more standalones.

Of course, as with anything, one can see potential issues, which are not the same as real concrete issues, just fun/interesting things to speculate about:

1) Rian Johnson is already known for turning in dark and gritty stories. Both Last Jedi and his earlier film Looper fit that bill. I presume his new trilogy will be more of the same. Does it make sense to hire another creative team also known for making dark and gritty stories? It seems like it would make sense to do a different movie (or series of movies) with a lighter, more crowd-pleasing tone, since a lot of people associate that with Star Wars more than the darker stuff.

It’s possible that the GoT producers want to break from tradition and not be pigeonholed, deliberately choosing to do something lighter. But I assume part of the reason why Lucasfilm hired them in the first place is so they could basically market the movies as “Star Wars done Game of Thrones-style,” which should pack people in the theater.

2) On that same note, I initially assumed that Benioff and Weiss understood that Star Wars is more family-friendly than GoT. But considering the fact that Marvel has done some TV-MA stuff with the Marvel brand (albeit only on Netflix), a few people I’ve talked to have expressed concern that these producers were brought on board specifically to bring R-rated content to Star Wars, which I certainly hope is not the case.

3) StarWars.com cites Benioff and Weiss as the creators of Game of Thrones. While it’s true that they developed the TV series, the actual creator of GoT is, of course, author R. R. Martin, who wrote the books on which the series is based. Benioff and Weiss have shown that they know how to adapt a story in a way that makes the fans happy, but this wouldn’t be adaptation, it would be creating something new (although admittedly playing within a very well established fictional universe). I wonder how much difference that’s going to make in the final product.

4) If they had been hired as the showrunners of the upcoming live-action TV series coming to Disney’s new streaming platform, that would be less surprising to me. But apparently these movies are going to exist in addition to Johnson’s movies, plus a live-action TV show on Disney’s streaming service, and another animated TV series following Rebels.

In fact, the same day as yesterday’s announcement, Disney also announced that they have several TV shows currently in development.

Star-Wars-All-Films

Hold on to something — we’re just getting started. (Source: Reddit)

As an old-school fan who’s used to having to wait three years between installments and then decades between trilogies, I am a little concerned about viewer burnout. This feels like the Avengers effect: Because Marvel has been so successful at having multiple movies and TV shows on all at once, every other franchise feels like they have to do the same thing. But Star Wars is special, and I’m concerned that this abundance of media will make it less special. (To be fair, though, it used to feel like there weren’t enough Star Wars movies, and that certainly won’t be a problem now.)

I do think / hope Disney means that they’re developing multiple ideas and trying to figure out which one they want to take all the way to the finish line, rather than saying we’ll have 20 Star Wars shows on the air at the same time.

I must again heavily emphasize that these things pique my curiosity, but I’m not an angry raging fanboy about them. In the world of fandom, there’s probably nothing bigger than Game of Thrones right now, so Lucasfilm has really gone all out and gotten the top people to work on these new movies. Metaphorically speaking, I just got told that Michael Jordan got hired for my favorite basketball team. That’s a good thing, and I want to show a proper level of gratitude for that.

My concerns are small, and hopefully none of them will be realized. I plan to keep an open mind. These are just my initial thoughts.

Finally, there have been many Tweets weighing in on the news, but this one was by far the funniest: (SPOILERS for The Last Jedi ahead!)

 

Blake Schultz‏ 
@AsAlwaysBlake

What are the Game of Thrones writers going to bring to Star Wars?  The siblings already kissed, and the beloved characters are dead…. #starwars #GameOfThrones

THE LAST JEDI: What Happened?

By Tom Holste

Jan. 16, 2018

There has been a grave disturbance in the Force.

The new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, released last month to an astonishing level of critical acclaim, with “the best movie in the series since The Empire Strikes Back” being a common refrain. But once fans started seeing the movie, a much different anthem started gaining traction: “the worst movie in the series, worse than The Phantom Menace.”

Rotten Tomatoes, a site that pulls reviews from around the Web and compiles percentages based on positive and negative reviews, has been at the center of the controversy. At the time of writing, Last Jedi’s critical consensus stands strong at 90%, but the Audience Score (which can be affected by any user who signs up and votes) has currently plummeted to 49%.

LAST-JEDI-on-RT

“Oooooh. Triggered, people on the Internet are. Hmm, hmm, hmm!”

So, what happened to cause such a wide gap in reception between critics and audiences? What follows is not a review, but an attempt to objectively show both sides of the argument. (Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD if you haven’t seen the movie!)

It’s Different. A common sentiment after the release of The Force Awakens is that there were too many things that felt like clichés from other movies in the series. People wanted (or thought they wanted) the sequel movies to be different. Writer-director Rian Johnson took the message to heart, and ironically delivered a movie that felt so different in its tone and structure that it became off-putting to many fans. For critics, though, who probably like cinema as a whole more than they like Star Wars in particular, any change was welcome.

It’s Sad. Rather than playing it safe and having nothing bad happen to characters from the Original Trilogy, as one might expect from a major corporation reviving a franchise, Disney-owned Lucasfilm has surprisingly taken a lot of risks, putting the classic characters through the ringer. In Force Awakens, we learned that Han Solo failed to be a good husband and dad and that he went back to a life of crime before ultimately being killed by his son. In Last Jedi, we find a bitter, depressed Luke Skywalker who failed to revive the Jedi Order and enabled his nephew to go on a killing spree. (In fairness, all of these ideas are already in Force Awakens, but in Last Jedi, everything gets spelled out in detail.) In the end, Luke also dies.

These sequels have also shown us that Leia failed in her diplomatic duties to restore the Republic. By the end of this film, the heroes are once again broken and on the run. And since actress Carrie Fisher has passed away, there’s no chance for her character to take part in any happy ending in the next sequel. All of the major classic characters are now dead. While critics enjoyed the risk-taking elements, fans are crushed from watching their childhood heroes meet such sad fates.

Luke-Skywalker-LAST-JEDI

“I hear there’s going to be a new TOY STORY trilogy, where Woody dies, Buzz dies, and Jessie gets written out of the story.”

It’s All About the New Characters. Unsurprisingly, Disney has made the new heroes—Rey, Finn and Poe—the focus of the new trilogy. As already mentioned, the major characters from the Original Trilogy are now all gone (with no mention of whatever happened to Lando Calrissian), and supporting characters such as Chewbacca and the droids have been reduced to cameos in films that juggle a very large cast. Critics appreciate the focus on the new, interesting characters; nostalgic fans come away with an empty feeling.

A Twist or Not a Twist? Poe’s subplot is about trying to stop Admiral Holdo, who he believes to be a spy. He recruits Finn and Rose to help him. Ultimately, their plan fails, but it doesn’t matter because Holdo’s plot succeeds. For anyone who thought that Poe’s plan was going to succeed, this movie has two great twists in it. For those who guessed that Holdo was in the right, though, the Poe/Finn/Rose subplot has no twists.

Elsewhere on the plot-twist front: Virtually no one saw the twist coming that Rey’s parents aren’t anyone famous or connected to the overall Skywalker/Solo saga. For those who enjoyed the feel of the original movies, and remember that Luke Skywalker himself started off as an “everyman” character from the middle of nowhere in the original movie, this twist feels like a return to form. However, with this saga’s famous shocking family reveals, and with the previous director (JJ Abrams) known for crafting mystery stories like the TV show Lost, this reveal fell flat for some.

Another genuine surprise was when the villainous Snoke was abruptly killed off in this installment, when nearly everyone expected him to make it to the last film in the trilogy. Critics loved the surprise and the renewed focus on Kylo Ren as the main villain. Fans who wanted to know more about his backstory were frustrated that he was dispatched so quickly.

Social Commentary. Many critics gushed over the apparent social commentary, with the movie seeming to take an anti-war stance and to criticize wealthy people. Many fans hated this aspect and preferred the saga when it was more mythic in its storytelling. Ironically, Star Trek fans were upset when the new movies became like theme-park rides rather than the social commentary that they’re known for; now Star Wars is criticized for its commentary from fans that are used to the movies being theme-park rides.

Star_Wars_Porg

Star Wars fans: “I hate the Ewoks! They’re too cutesy.” Also Star Wars fans: “Porgs are adorable! I need to buy all the toys!”

With all of these issues in mind, the Star Wars franchise stands at a tenuous crossroads. Last Jedi has made a ton of money despite the backlash (it was #1 for three weeks in a row and quickly became the highest-grossing movie of 2017), but many long-term fans have sworn off seeing Ep. IX. To Disney’s credit, they’ve tried playing it safe and got criticized, and they’ve tried taking chances and gotten criticized. Where do they go from here?

The questions remain as both the studio and audiences find out that Star Wars means something very special to nearly everyone, but we all have different ideas about what exactly it is that makes it special.

Disney Out-Foxes Its Competition

By Tom Holste

Dec. 14, 2017

Last week, I reported on the potential merger between the Walt Disney Company and 20th Century Fox. As of today, via their website, Disney has announced that the merger is officially happening.

Some of the terms of the deal are even weirder than initially expected: Disney will own FX Networks but not the Fox Network. Disney will own both ESPN and Fox Sports. Fox will own a controlling interest in Hulu, but are already planning on launching a streaming service to compete with Netflix in 2019.

According to some of the reports I read, this deal is bigger than any of Disney’s previous acquisitions combined (for Pixar, Lucasfilm, the Muppets, and Marvel). Disney will now own about a third of the entire entertainment industry.

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The Fox Fanfare is now as much a Disney song as “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” (Image source: Slashfilm)

Many questions still remain, the biggest one in my mind still being: If Fox Networks will continue to function independently, who gets to own the logo? Will one of them be forced to change their name?

If Disney gets to use the Fox logo, then I can see them using that brand for their R-rated releases, such as the Alien and Die Hard movies. If Fox Networks keeps the logo, I expect that Disney will revive its nearly defunct Touchstone Pictures. Lately, Touchstone has been a shell of its former self, only existing to distribute DreamWorks live-action movies (and DreamWorks is moving over to Universal). But if Fox keeps the logo, I expect Touchstone will release the Alien movies and so forth.

Other weird aspects of this deal:

–Universal Studios, Disney’s chief competitor in the theme park arena, recently opened a Simpsons area of the park. They’ll now be licensing those characters from Disney. Since Disney also owns the Marvel characters, which are in Universal due to a prior licensing arrangement, Disney will now own about half of the characters in the Universal park.

–Disney will own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly (although those will also probably be distributed under the Fox logo or Touchstone, as mentioned above). Expect their long-running comics at Dark Horse to end, and for new series to start up at Marvel. The same thing happened to Star Wars.

–Disney will own all of Fox’s animated movies, including the Ice Age films. Expect those characters to show up in the parks soon. Anastasia will also technically become a Disney princess, although whether that will just be a humorous footnote or something we’ll actually see in the parks remains a question.

There are good aspects to this deal. (And not everything mentioned above was bad, just sort of weird.) Kevin Feige’s track record with producing excellent Marvel movies is unparalleled. I expect the upcoming X-Men movies to be amazing. And we’ll probably finally get a good Fantastic Four movie for once.

Anyway, one source I read said it would take a year for the deal to finalize, and the current Fox movies in production (Deadpool 2, X-Men: Dark Phoenix) will probably reach completion before the big reboot. It’ll be fascinating to sit back and watch what happens in the coming years with possibly the biggest entertainment merger in history.