In A Polarized World, Will The Future Of Cinema Be Alternate Takes?

At the exit to a gallery in the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is a display of opinions about the future of cinema. For example:

“THE FUTURE OF CINEMA IS INCLUSION NOT EXCLUSION”

–Kimberly Steward                                                                          Film Executive

Or:

“THE FUTURE OF CINEMA IS A FUSION OF TECHNOLOGY AND IMAGINATION”

–Thomas Duffield                                                                           Production Designer

Well, here’s a modest addition, minus the block lettering, from yours truly, outside observer:  “The future of cinema is alternate takes.”

That thought, profound or otherwise, occurred alongside the realization that Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife—a fourth entry in the Ghostbusters cycle—is set for release a week from Friday, on Nov. 19.

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The film is unusual not in its reiterative nature—in the blockbuster world, franchise pictures are the rule, not the exception—but rather in the fact that it overlooks its predecessor, Paul Feig’s female-driven Ghostbusters reboot from 2016.

This, of course, caused some hard feelings. Back in 2019, Leslie Jones, a lead player in the reboot, declared on Twitter: “So insulting. (Expletive deleted.) We dint count. It’s like something trump would do. (Trump voice) “Gonna redo ghostbusteeeeers better with men, will be huge. Those women ain’t ghostbusteeeeers” ugh so annoying.”

Reitman then paid polite homage to the reboot. Jones apologized for her language, not the sentiment. Columbia Pictures, which made both films (actually, the new one involves kids), forged ahead, and is obviously hoping for the best next week.

But doesn’t the contretemps suggest something even better than a model for soldiering through movieland embarrassment? Might it actually hold a key to the Future of Cinema, in an age when you have your truth, I have my truth, and we can no more agree on what we want from a film than on political candidates, vaccine statistics, or the proximate date of climate Armageddon?

Let’s face it. We’re not coming out of our cultural caves any time soon. With help from social media and narrative-obsessed news organizations, we’ve become comfortable living within cocoons of safety and affirmation.

For the film industry, this is a problem. The biggest films, once targeted at “four quadrants,” risk losing one side or another of a polarized audience that divides over casting or story points that touch on race, gender, social justice or, just as often, the competing expectations of an empowered fan base. Marvel’s Eternals is just the latest outsized film to struggle with split opinions and come up short of predecessors at the box office.

But the Ghostbusters blow-up suggests an experiment. Instead of gambling on one huge film, why not offer two somewhat smaller takes on the same theme simultaneously?

If there’s a debate over the sex or race of James Bond, make the film twice, exploring each side of the central question, almost like Peter Howitt’s Sliding Doors or the Marisa Silver-/Ken Kwapis-directed He Said, She Said, but on a much grander scale. Identify the two main competing points of view toward your picture, then shoot and edit it once for each side. Put the films in theaters (or on devices) simultaneously. Turn negative fan energy into a positive, as rival audience segments slug it out, each getting behind one version or the other. A single, clever marketing campaign should cover the bases. Some viewers might watch one film twice, to boost their movie. Others might buy tickets to both, to see what the other side is thinking. Either way, if costs are contained, you win.

Clearly, this wouldn’t work for every film. In fact, it probably wouldn’t work for many. But once, or twice, or three times a year, parallel runs of alternate takes—films that honestly tell a single story from rival points of view (we’re not talking about edits to please censors or the airlines)—might become an event.

Who knows? They might even point toward The Future of Cinema.

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