Register Saturday | September 21 | 2019

The Versus Variations

If Only Hollywood's Franchise Feuds Had a Little Imagination

You’ll forgive me if I haven’t yet made it to Alien vs. Predator, in which famous movie monsters from the depths of space go about gutting each other, with a few humans getting in the way. For that matter, I still haven’t gotten around to watching Freddy vs. Jason, in which famous movie psychos from the depths of the collective unconscious go about gutting each other, with a few humans getting in the way. Nor has my pathetic pop-culture nostalgia prompted me to investigate the animated movie that briefly united the Flintstones and the Jetsons, in which, so far as I know, there was no gutting—although maybe there should have been.

I do, however, have a faint memory of Godzilla taking on King Kong, and I have read that the silver screen has hosted bouts between Frankenstein’s monster and both Dracula and the Wolf Man—all of which suggests that the brilliant idea to break into the movie-franchise crossover market is not a new one, nor is it really a brilliant one.

Not that that should deter entertainment executives from dredging a little deeper. All told, movies have had a good first century. Now, thanks to advances in computer technology and recessions in imagination, even long-retired stories can be resumed and long-dead characters exhumed and, for variety’s sake, thrown together. I think there finally might be some real possibilities. In fact, I have a few suggestions.

So far, the pattern seems to imply that the more demonstrably villainous the protagonists in these matchups, and the less human, the better their prospects for raking in box office bucks, at least on opening weekend. The Internet is so abuzz with chatter about a contest between Chucky, the killer doll from Child’s Play, and Leprechaun, the killer leprechaun from Leprechaun, that I’m not sure whether the movie is really being made or not. Surely, before long, it will.

In the meantime, though, I think the machines should get in on the action. How about HAL vs. Joshua, in which the mannerly yet sociopathic computers from 2001: A Space Odyssey and WarGames, running amok on contradictory instructions from their human masters, let some poor chess sportsmanship escalate into thermonuclear cataclysm? With tempers lost, Luddite fears validated and humanity obliterated, the two machines go diode to diode for the title of last gadget standing—until, that is, the sequels, in which those sinister systems from the Terminator and Matrix movies get uploaded into the fray.

If you prefer to start moving beyond science fiction circles, or at least halfway beyond, one good way to go might be Borg vs. Borg. “All I ask of life is to be left alone,” said Professor Isak Borg early in Ingmar Bergman’s classic Wild Strawberries. I wonder: Is old Isak so insulated by pastoral memories, so stuck inside his own thick head, that Star Trek’s mighty, menacing Borg collective would be unable to assimilate him? Or is resistance truly futile? Really, where but European art house cinema can we turn for answers to such questions?
If this strikes you as a little precious, you can opt instead for something a bit more grounded. Me, I would go for Braddock vs. Bickle, in which the Graduate and the Taxi Driver square off to determine which breed of method-acting anti-hero is the more thoroughly modern. This dust-up is certain to contain both wryly comic heartbreak and seething violence, so rarely together on screen, not to mention great potential for portently absurdist dialogue that the best playwrights would envy:

“Are you talkin’ to me?”

“You’re trying to seduce me.”

“Are you talkin’ to me?”

Along similar lines, I also propose Kane vs. Kurtz. You remember the big men from, respectively, Citizen Kane and Apocalypse Now: portly egomaniacs—a media tycoon and a military loon—who might have been great men had they not been consumed by the indulgences of their eras. I imagine beautifully photographed battles between great, self-created cults of personality and lengthy volleys of rapturously brooding monologues.

Lest you perceive a gender bias here, I might, for starters, ask whether you suppose the sizzling Southwestern outlaws Thelma and Louise could manage to outfox the wily Minnesotan Marge Gunderson, Fargo’s ear-flapped and unflappable law-woman. If, for some reason, it had to come down to that.

You’re getting the idea, right? Look how far we’ve already come from the usual monster mash, and all it took was a little imagination. What I’m really suggesting, aside from a proprietary claim should any of the above-mentioned projects make it into development, is that we all put our minds to reanimating the franchise-flop sub-genre before it really flops for good. Maybe I’ve been afraid to see Alien vs. Predator because I suspect its tag line is also a concise prognosis for the entire phenomenon: Whoever wins, we lose. Must it always be so?