Episodes: Friday mailbag (July 14)


Hey there, newsletter subscribers. I'm about to hit a big, busy time of year, with a few business trips and Comic-Con and TCA, so I dunno if this newsletter will be happening much until mid-August. So let's go out with a bang!

Billy writes:

What's your favorite Bond film? Who do you think played the best Bond?


There are a couple of the more ridiculous Roger Moore entries I just haven't seen. I had always planned to watch all of them in a row before the release of Spectre, to write an article about the franchise for Vox, but it just never happened. So I've probably seen 75 percent of the movies, but I haven't seen the ones most often written off as "the worst."

That caveat in mind!

I'd probably come down to a face-off among From Russia with Love, Casino Royale, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, probably roughly in that order. From Russia has maybe my favorite action sequence in the series (the train fight), as well as a really terrific, stripped down plot. Casino Royale is a neat exploration of the series' iconography, and it has maybe the best performance AS Bond (Daniel Craig's attentions grew listless in later movies, but he's locked in in his first appearance). And I love On Her Majesty's way of taking chances with what was then still a pretty new mythos. That skiing sequence also kicks ass.

But I love a lot of the Bond movies! Skyfall's cinematography alone is worth watching for. Goldfinger feels a little more ridiculous with every passing year, but it's definitely iconic. And I think Goldeneye has become a little underrated in the wake of how bad the Brosnan movies got.

The best Bond, though, will always be Connery to me. Craig comes close, and I probably should see all of Moore's entries. But Connery just defines that role in every way that's important, and his movies probably have the higher batting average, too. I'd say only one of them is genuinely bad, whereas everybody else (save Dalton and Lazenby, obviously) has at least two bad ones that I've seen.

Kim writes:

I just read that the first cut of the new Black Panther movie is 4 hours long! My question is... At this point, having paid for cast and crew and all that, why wouldn't they just make 2 movies instead of 1?


First things first: a long, long first cut of a movie isn't all that unusual, especially a big blockbuster, where there's often more material shot than used. (Sadly, much of what's cut is often the character stuff, or the interpersonal scenes, because the special effects stuff costs more. This has, I think, contributed to the impersonal feel of a lot of franchise films in the last several years.)

But there are a bunch of reasons to not slice that movie into two pieces. The first is that it's almost certainly conceived and scripted as one movie, so splitting it into two pieces would probably lead to two big, ungainly movies that didn't work as standalone things. (Most likely, you'd get a movie split at the midpoint, which can sometimes feel like an intentional cliffhanger but most of the time... doesn't. See also: Mockingjay, Part 1.)

But there are practical and contractual reasons not to do this, too. Union contracts essentially ensure that actors have a lot of protection over how their images are used, though when you sign up for a movie like Black Panther, for instance, you're likely signing a contract that says the studio can use your likeness for action figures or commemorative cups or whatever.

But part of this is also that if you sign up for a movie, you almost always signed up for that movie, and if the studio tries to turn it into a bunch of movies or something like that, they have to pay you for the extra films. This ensures that, say, Marvel doesn't pay Chadwick Boseman once for Black Panther, then split all of those scenes into four or five films, or add them to new Avengers films or whatever.

Now, Marvel's situation's a little different, because they usually sign their actors up for multi-film contracts. So Boseman is probably locked in for five or six films, covering Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, the next two Avengers movies, and then a theoretical Black Panther sequel. (He also might have a clause for cameos, so Marvel can pay him slightly less to have him turn up to shoot a day on some other Marvel movie.) But they still have to pay their actors for each film they work on, and if they split Black Panther into two, they'd ALSO use up two films in his multi-film contract, just like that. So if it's a hit, then they find themselves having to pay him a higher rate for that theoretical Black Panther sequel.

So, yeah, there are good creative reasons to not split the film into two parts. But there are also economic ones, and let's be honest -- those economic ones are the reason they won't make one Black Panther movie into two.

Sarah writes:

Planet of the Apes: I'm confused. For the past...many?...months I've been suffering through its trailers (before Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and probably others). This trailer plays to me like a GIGANTIC freaking dog whistle for all things white supremacist/alt-right, to the point where I began groaning audibly when it came up. But after reading your review and seeing Woody Harrelson on Colbert, it seems that the trailer was pulling a fast one, in that he's NOT the protagonist of the film, like the trailer implies (to be fair, I haven't seen either of the other two films in this trilogy, though did read the book).

What's going on? Is this a bait and switch for racists, trying to subtly change hearts and minds? Is it a bad trailer? Or have I just been spending too much time on Twitter?


The truth is: I don't really think it's any of the above, yet there's been pretty vocal concern that this latest Apes movie is white supremacist pandering. I get it -- the history of the ape being used as a racist symbol (primarily against black people but also occasionally against other people of color) is an ugly one, and most of the Apes movies post 1970's Beneath the Planet of the Apes use their apes as a sort of free-floating metaphor for any underprivileged class (which in America will often lead you back to the same sorts of groups who are stigmatized against via racist ape depictions).

So my "Escape from the Planet of the Apes (the first Apes movie to make the apes the protagonists) is a savage satire of American racist attitudes, especially for being made in the early '70s" could very well be your, "Maybe, but there's too much baggage around the ape as a symbol to even play around with those ideas." (And, of course, as my friend Lindsay Ellis has pointed out brilliantly, there are plenty of times when something that strikes most viewers as satire is seen by other viewers as an endorsement of their horrible views. Satire is a powerful weapon, and even used perfectly, it can backfire, because we can never control completely for what the audience will take away from something.)

That said, I would be very surprised if any white supremacists saw War for the Planet of the Apes and came away thinking it validated their horrible thoughts about non-white people. That movie wears its heart on its sleeve, and it pretty clearly believes that the humans in it are grasping desperately at straws, trying to hold onto what little power they still have, even as the intelligent apes are ascendant.

In a way, it reminds me of the movie A.I., where it depicts the death of humanity via the point-of-view of the group that ultimately supersedes humanity. The three Apes movies of the 2010s accomplish this by always following the same ape characters but switching out the human characters from movie to movie, depicting our fall, as a species, from planet dominating, to tentative post-apocalyptic hoping, to utterly destructive. The main argument of this Apes trilogy is that if humans (or, if you want to read the films symbolically, the existing white patriarchal power structure) can't have everything, then they want everybody to have nothing.

And the movies aren't at all subtle about this critique, either, which has made some of the confusion over the films' aims harder to understand. If you see any single one of them, you'll realize that even if you don't like them, they have their hearts firmly on the side of the powerless against the powerful. Hell, War blatantly reframes the journey of the apes as an explicitly Biblical one, reclaiming a key cornerstone of white American Christianity's vision of itself for all of those that vision doesn't cover.

So maybe the trailer was bad? But I just rewatched it, and, granted, I've seen the other films in the series, but it still struck me as being centered on the apes as the protagonists and Woody as the bogeyman come to destroy them. Or, more likely, we have a bad tendency to see marketing materials for movies and TV shows and zero in on what we think the worst possible versions of those stories could be and worry they'll be that. As I said several months ago: beware marketing.

That's all for now! I'll hopefully check in a few more times in the next month.

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Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox