Like No Business I Know (2.0)

Like No Business I Know

January 1996 -- Despite being mere months after the release of his infamous flop, Waterworld, things were actually looking good for Kevin Costner, as he was the top choice for the lead in two tempting that would be shooting around the same time: one, a post-apocalyptic movie that very much appealed to his artistic sensibilities, an adaptation of David Brin's The Postman; the other was what looked to be a promising popcorn flick with the President of the United States as an action hero. And now he had to choose one. Thinking it over, Kevin couldn't help but remember how often he'd hear or read the same passive aggressive advice -- “You might want to steer clear of science fiction for awhile”. When he swallowed his pride, he thought perhaps it's not so difficult a decision after all...


Later that year -- “Since you were in the area”. This was the strangest part of the invitation to the Kubrick Estate, since it was in England and Harrison Ford was to be shooting in Ireland around this time, for Pakula's film (what was to be his last), The Devil's Own. But Harrison decided you didn't need too much of an excuse to visit one of the most praised directors in movie history, so he made the time. As it so happens, his Ireland travels were less important to his invitation, than the fact that he happened to have no scheduled shoots once that summer ended. After the fateful meeting, Harrison felt the need to talk to...


Later -- George Lucas hung up the phone -- while he was happy enough to catch up with Harrison Ford, but he still found it funny that after all these years, Ford would want to tell him about a career opportunity of his. The conversation made two things plain: (1) to Harrison, that George really didn't have anything to offer in terms of advice for working with Pakula or Kubrick; and (2) to Lucas, that perhaps he should think about whose advice he would trust and respect in sharing his recently completed first draft of the First Film. And one name came fairly quick to mind here: Lawrence Kasdan...


July 1996 -- Edward Norton's year just kept getting better; months earlier had seen his cinematic premiere with his supporting role in Primal Fear, and still to come was his major role in The People vs Larry Flynt, as Flynt's attorney; now it was officially announced that he would be starring alongside none other than Al Pacino in an adpatation of The Devil's Advocate. (True, he had to take a less than ideal salary, but how does an up and coming actor pass up the chance to work with Al Pacino?) Keanu Reeves, meanwhile, was doing less well it seems he had also had his agent lobby for the role, but thus dejected, was now moving on to star in upcoming Speed sequel...


Late 1996 -- What got James Cameron thinking was reading the George Lucas quote -- where George told the reporter how he was “learning now, only now after so much work, how much more there is to do”. As he reflected about his own ongoing project, Titanic, James realized that unless he found a way to begin editing the footage by February, there was no way he was going to meet the July deadline. He continued to think, how a project that began as risky as his falling behind schedule and over budget would put his reputation at risk (absent a ridiculous level of, frankly, unlikely box office success), and decided he would have to treat the challenge seriously... [1]

Night of March 8, 1997 -- Christopher Wallace had decided to leave the after party early; he had come to Los Angeles to participate in the Soul Train Music Awards and deliver an award to Toni Braxton. The boos he got on stage were part of a wider sense that he was less than welcome in the city, and frankly it sounded like Vibe and Quest didn't want him to show up anyway. The one upside to this is that the traffic back to the hotel wasn't too bad, at least by LA standards. Biggie was thinking how the East Coast had better parties anyway, when a Chevy Impala pulled up next to the SUV and started firing... Biggie woke up the next morning at Cedar-Sianai Medical Center, after having multiple bullets removed from his body.


Summer of 1997​

Two major blockbusters dueled this summer for top grossing film of the year: Men in Black, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones; and Titanic, directed by James Cameron, starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. While there were similarities in the stakes of each -- Smith and DiCaprio both had only recently started to establish themselves as potential leading men -- Titanic simply had more to lose, particular for its director. Years before, when he wrote a scriptment for a Titanic film, Cameron met with 20th Century Fox executives including Peter Chernin, pitching it as "Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic". According to Cameron, "They were like, 'Oooooohkaaaaaay – a three-hour romantic epic? Sure, that's just what we want. Is there a little bit of Terminator in that? Any Harrier jets, shoot-outs, or car chases?' I said, 'No, no, no. It's not like that."" So from the beginning, the studio was dubious about the film's commercial prospects -- it was only in the hopes for a long term relationship with Cameron that they gave him a greenlight at all -- and as the July release date approached, articles popped up in industry magazines all over looking to dampen box office expectations.


And then, something funny happened: The film became the highest grossing film of the year. With over $300 million domestic (and then going on to make as much overseas), James Cameron's “expensive chick flick”, as insiders were calling it, seemed to confirm what Hollywood had been forgetting: that women go to the movies too, and there was real market potential in putting real resources (artistic and capital) to make films that appealed to them. It's hard to know how this unexpected success story influenced the runner up of the year, Men in Black; it certainly did well enough at $250 million domestic, but there's only so much a film can do when it was supposed to dominate the summer, and ends up coming in second. While Sonnenfeld would never again be such a box office success as a director again, Will Smith was only starting to rise -- and get interesting.

But just as Will Smith's film career was starting to rise, his rap career was starting to peter out; yes, the musical tie in for Men in Black got some decent airtime, but it was clearly at odds with the hip hop sound of the time. Hip hop sales in the summer of 1997 were by and large dominated by singles from the Notorious BIG's new album Life After Death, and the spring had been led by Biggie protoge Puff Daddy's “Can't Nobody Hold Me Down”. [2]

This year, in American Cinema:


*Keanu Reeve's career comeback struggles, as the year begins with the release of a film where he managed to pick up a minor role, an adaptation of Dean Koontz Phantoms [3]
*Al Pacino is nominated for Best Supporting Actor, for his role in Donnie Brasco; Tony Gilroy and Jonathan Lemkin are nominated for their Adaptation of The Devil's Advocate [4]
*Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio both continue their respective careers by taking a supporting role in groundbreaking films about WWII, Sgt Edward Welsh in Thin Red Line [5] and Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan, respectively
*Rounders is released, starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, John Tuturro, and Sean Penn [6]
*Edward Norton's reputation continues to rise with the release of American History X; meanwhile, he works on shoots that will continue this trajectory.
*As John Madden's new film, Shakespeare in Love, is garnering critical acclaim, Miramax announces that he is signed on to direct their adapatation of Lord of the Rings; it was said New Zealand director Peter Jackson had left the project due to creative conflicts with the company [7]
*The Postman, stuck in development hell after Costner turned down the project two years earlier, finally gets off on its feet...

OOC: Yeah, I know I've got another TL going, but this previous project has been cropping in my mind recently, and I wanted to do a minor reboot, hopefully get a little further this time.

Let's see how this goes.

[1] As with last time, we start in 1996, and see the butterfly effect in full force: Kevin Costner passes on Postman to do Air Force One; this opens the room in Harrison Ford's shooting schedule to make him a candidate for another film, giving him an opportunity to do Eyes Wide Shut; this opportunity leads to a phone call, which ends up getting George Lucas thinking about Episode I of Star Wars; and some of Lucas' thinking leaks to the press, to get James Cameron thinking about Titanic -- and before you know it, one actor's decision has rippled to change the fate of at least five films, with many more ripples to come. Keanu Reeves gets passed up for Devil's Advocate and Biggie Small's surviving are more like secondary PoDs, though they will have butterflies of their own. For the next couple of years, the number of affected films are going to be a manageable list -- but then the changes start to compound in 1999...
[2] Notice the Puff Daddy song that isn't mentioned ;0
[3] Giving Ben Affleck one less 1998 project
[4] Greg Kinnear and Hossein Amini are not nominated this year, TTL; as to why Pacino got nominated for Brasco, my thinking is that Pacino's now got a better reputation overall this year (due to Devil's Advocate now being good), and “Ruggiero” is still the better performance/character
[5] And now Sean Penn has to find something else for this year, as the next bullet shows
[6] Affleck and Penn replacing Norton and Malcovich respectively
[7] In TTL, Jackson does not succeed in getting New Line Cinema to buy the rights to the books
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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace​
George Lucas began writing the new Star Wars trilogy on November 1, 1994. The screenplay for Star Wars was adapted from Lucas' 15-page outline that was written in 1976. The early outline was originally designed to help Lucas track the character backstories and what events had taken place before the original trilogy. At first Anakin's age was twelve, but Lucas reduced it to nine because he felt the lower age fit better the plot point of Anakin being affected by his mother being separated from him. While the film's working title was The Beginning, Lucas later revealed the true title to be The Phantom Menace; a reference to Palpatine hiding his true identity as an evil Sith Lord behind the facade of a well-intentioned public servant. Shortly after finishing a rough first draft in 1996, Lucas reconnected with former collaborator Lawrence Kasdan, and had him read his work thus far; it is still not known for sure whether Kasdan's input at this point could be characterized as co-writer (as some rumors had it), script doctor (as Kasdan put it), or “just a friend taking a look at [his fellow's] work... offering some suggestions” (to quote Lucas). By most accounts, at least some of the more naturalistic dialogue was simply written by Kasdan -- for example, the answer Kenobi gives Anakin outside the Jedi Council Chambers, when asked why he wanted to help him become a Jedi; “My master often says to me, 'Anakin, in so many ways you're like an excited boy, you're still looking for adventure.' I fear he's right. I know that you will achieve great things Anakin. So I guess you could say you... are my adventure. That's why I'm helping you.” Whatever the writitng process, the script was mostly ready by the time filming began on June 26, 1997...


In the text crawl we learn that the Trade Federation has blockaded Naboo, accusing the planet's leadership of aiding and abetting piracy and smuggling within Federation controlled territory. We learn that two Jedi have been secretly sent by Chancellor Valorum to negotiate a settlement between the two parties.

After text rolls, camera pans down to the blockade of Naboo, as a small ship approaches, carrying two Jedi ambassadors, Obi-wan and Qui-gon, (played by Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson respectively) requesting permission to board. While the wait for said go ahead, Obi-wan confides in Qui-gon that he thought being a Jedi would be more exciting, only to have his master remind him of how bad things used to be, like during the Sith Wars. Meanwhile, aboard the Trade Federation ship, Nute Gunray (voiced by Silas Carson) speaks to Sidius via hologram, who instructs him to fire upon the Jedi ship. A brief exchange of fire proceeds, and the Jedi ship crashes down into the forrests of Naboo (but not far from the city of Theen). When Gunray cannot confirm the Jedi are dead, Sidius orders him to “begin the invasion”.

Jar Jar Binks (Lewis MacLeod) is introduced as something of a blaster-pistol wielding violent malcontent; when he is rescued by Obi-wan, he explains that he must now accompany Kenobi wherever he goes until he has a chance to save his life, and repay his debt. To this end, he tells the Jedi of a secret passage into Theen -- but one that can only be accessed inside the Gungan city Otoh. It is there that the Jedi find that Jar Jar had been exiled for some sinister crime.

Padme (Natalie Portman) is introduced sternly telling a nervous girl, dressed as “Queen Amidala” (Keira Knightly) to “not let fear overtake you”, just before the TF droid army breaks into the throne room to take them hostage. We cut back to the Trade Federation ship from the beginning. In a brief scene, we see Gunray speaking with a hologram of Sidious, informing him that the invasion is going as planned. Gunray claims that "the Pirate Queen" has been captured. Sidious announces that "my apprentice will deal with her personally." This is followed by the first appearance, via hologram, of Darth Maul (Ray Park) in the film; we have he is seen standing beside Sidious, maintaining a menacing pose. Cut to the Jedi and Jar Jar coming out through a secret entrence right into the palace, where they quickly make their way to the throne room; Jar Jar blasts away the droid guards, and leads the Jedi into the throne room. As they make their way to the escape ship -- meeting up the Royal Naboo Security Forces, headed by Panaka (Hugh Quarshie), along the way -- we learn the “queen” seems to look to her “handmaiden” (Padme), for advice, and of the racism held toward Gungans (especially by Padme).

As the hijacked Federation ship makes its escape through space, it is pursued by Droid Fighter Ships, led by Darth Maul's special fighter; during the fight scenes, Maul manages to hit the ship with a tracking device (his taunts, meanwhile offer a glimpse at his cocky, sadistic personality). In the immediate aftermath of the escape sequence, following the battle that occurs more or less as per the movie we have, Panaka -- who assumes command, after the “queen” -- alerts the Jedi to the injuries that ship has sustained, and claims that the ship cannot make it to Coruscant. The ship will have to land on a nearby planet.

To make matters worse, after landing on Tatooine, the Jedi quickly find the tracking device on the ship, Panaka and the Jedi agree that at most, they have a few days to repair the ship before they are found, and that so long as they remain in the Galactic hinterland, the Federation can kill them with near impunity. Padme “convinces” the “queen” that Qui-gon, as the more experienced Jedi, should be the one to stay behind and guard her, while she should accompany Obi-wan (and Jar Jar and R2) into the city. Meanwhile, the occupation of Naboo is shown as brutal for Naboo and Gungan alike, with Sidius pushing Gunray to crush all opposition.

On Tatooine, while this party is still out, Qui-gon tries to talk Panaka out of sending a distress signal -- arguing that a distress signal would only aid the Federation's attempt to locate them, that a distress signal would mean that the Federation would be able to find them all the quicker, preventing them from being able to repair the ship, and that the signal would take away what little time they have on Tatooine. When he is overruled by the “queen”, who claims "the Republic will come to save us before we are found", Qui-gon reveals his suspicion that the Republic itself is behind the attack on Naboo.

In Mos Eisley, the search party meet a slave child named Anakin Skywalker (Devin Michaels), a gifted pilot and engineer, who brings them to his house to take refuge from an incoming sandstorm; it is here they meet Anakin's mother, Shimi (Pernilla August), and adopted brother, Owen (Paul Iacono). Obi-wan senses a strong presence of the Force within the boy, and feels there is much potential in him. Meanwhile, Padme shows romantic interest in Obi-wan (making him uncomfortable), and has romantic foreshadowing with Anakin watching the sunset. Throughout the scenes that take place on Tatooine, the film intermittently cuts back to the Federation ships that are trying to find them.

Because of Anakin's extreme force sensitivity, Kenobi wants to free Anakin from slavery and guide him to become a Jedi. When Anakin tells him about his pod-racing experience, he says that if he had won, his master, Watto (voiced by Andy Secombe), could have afforded a whole new store. We also learn that the ship that has been hijacked is worth twice the entry fee. Thus, if Anakin wins, his master's loss is more than made up for by the winnings, if he loses, he makes a profit off of the ship he gains. Either way, Anakin's master wins. [The podrace itself, aside from being introduced by Jabba in Huttese, is otherwise pretty much the same as OTL.] After an emotional good-bye to his family -- his mother telling him to not be afraid, his brother angrily lashing out for leaving them -- Anakin leaves with Obi-wan and company.

As Obi-wan and crew approach the ship, they are set upon by Darth Maul who is joined by a few droids, who are quickly dealt with in the course of the fight by the Jedi. Obi-wan holds Maul off while the rest escape to the ship, where Anakin and R2 frantically fix it. Meanwhile, Obi-wan is losing, and is about to be killed when Qui-gon leaps through the air and into the fray. What commences is an epic lightsaber battle, involving taunts by Maul, and “vibrating invisibility”, ending with each Jedi getting picked up by the (fixed) ship and flying off.

It is on Corsucant, greeted by Palpatine, Senator for Naboo (Ian McDiarmid) that Padme finally reveals her identity -- that she is, in fact, the queen, and the one in her garb was her handmaiden and body double, Sabe. She makes a frustated plea to the Galactic Senate, but finds unexpected procedural roadblocks; storming off, she states that the Trade Federation must have a very power friend, as “they were well prepared for our arrival”. During an exchange between Padme and Jar Jar on the orgins of the tensions between their peoples, Palpatine approaches, saying that he has a plan; cut to the Senate chambers, where Padme introduces a motion of no confidence against Chancellor Valorum.

Intercut with this, the Jedi Council meets; it is composed of three members, who Obi-wan points out to Anakin: “That is Yoda, the Jedi who first trained me when I was a Paduan, before I was apprenticed. And that is Ki-Adi Mundi; when my master was apprenticed, he had the distinction of serving under him. The third is Mace Windu...” (Frank Oz's voice, Christopher Lee, and Samuel L Jackson). When the issue of Naboo is brought up, Ki-Adi speaks out forcefully in favor of neutrality in the Naboo crisis by referencing his experiences at the Battle of Galidraan; he is overruled, and Qui-gon is ordered, along with Obi-wan, to aid the Queen in any way he can to re-establish her rule. When hearing Obi-wan asks that Anakin be trained as a Jedi, Yoda expresses concern (his dialogue on fear from OTL's version is here); Ki-Adi asks them to step outside, then ask Qui-gon what he thinks. Jinn is more ambivalent, declaring that while the boy is potentially dangerous, "a teacher who believed in him completely, and was unafraid -- such a master could help make Anakin a truly great Jedi"; when he is asked "Is there anyone who could so teach him?", the scene cuts to just outside the chambers, where Obi-wan tells Anakin why he's helping. Senator Palpatine slips into the conversation, making small talk with Obi-wan, asking if he still pines for adventure after today's events.

The queen finds nothing improved for her cause, but when she moves that they retake their home planet with their own forces, everyone -- Palpatine, Qui-gon, Panaka -- try to dissuade her. She is adamant; when Qui-gon points out that the Naboo are untrained, poorly equipped, and unprepared to fight the droid army. Amidala agrees that her people are not warriors, but that they "must fight if they are to survive. There is no other alternative.” Obi-wan says he has a plan for getting past the blockade, which involves Anakin piloting the ship's return -- and when Ani gets ready to go to lightspeed, Obi-wan instructs him to come out in the atmosphere of Naboo, on the other side of the blockade. Before any of the other shocked crew members can stop him, Anakin does so. The party find they must go to the Gungas for help -- and it is in the Gunga city that Padme's prostation before Boss Nass, combined with a special appeal by Jar Jar (in Gungese), secures the alliance.

Because Theed is now protected by a force field projected by a TF starship above, the plan is for the Gungan-Naboo combined army to fight its way toward the city, while a special team of pilots (accompanied by R2, the Jedi, and, after a special plea, Anakin) sneak their way into the city through the secret tunnel, where the pilots steal some fighter planes, and blow up said station. The plan proceeds until the pilot force enters a plane hanger -- only to be confronted by Darth Maul and some droids. The droids are taken out and the Jedi hold off Maul while the pilots steal the planes, and Anakin (deliberately) sneaks off in one as well, assisted by R2D2. As the lightsaber battle is waged across the city and the army approches the force field, Anakin and the pilots fight their way into the space ship, where Ani deals the fatal blow. With shield fallen, the army breaks through the remaining droid resistance and enters the city, joined by a Naboo uprising. It is a contingent lead by none other the Padme herself that confronts a droid regiments outside the palace, just as the Jedi duel makes it way toward them -- and thus Obi-wan is nearby when Padme is injured and gets distracted, allowing Darth Maul to deal a fatal blow to his master. While Kenobi is able to slice Maul up, some droids manage to intervene and rescue his mangled body. The battle ends when Padme's forces enter the Viceroy's stronghold and get him to call off the troops.

In a later negotiation, Gunray tries to threaten the Queen with a future invasion, saying “reinforcements are on their way”; it is then revealed, via hologram, that Chancellor Palpatine had privateered an armada, which is now holding these TF ships at bay. Meanwhile, two ships meet in space; Sidius enters a room with Maul on an operating table; he explains that failing to kill Obi-wan would be all for the better, since, being now filled with a desire for vengeance, he would seek to kill him and fall to the dark side. "I have felt something inside of him... a great power, a power than can be brought over to the dark side..." Maul is not happy about this. At Qui-gon's funeral, Ki-Adi, seeing his favorite apprentice killed for he regards as a foolhardy decision by the Order, throws down his lightsaber and renounces his title as Jedi. Yoda and Windu tell Obi-wan that Mace will train Anakin, if he takes him up as his apprentice; Obi-wan accepts.

The film ends with the celebration of the Naboo and Gungans, and Palpatine looking on, smiling...


When talking about how the first Star Wars film in over 15 years was received, the easiest thing to start with is at the Box Office: bringing in $65 million opening weekend, with over half a billion dollars in the US and Canada (with the highest number of tickets sold since ET), and even more abroad, (all this not even counting future theatrical re-releases), Phantom Menace became, dollar for dollar, the highest grossing movie in film history. Before long, the line was on the lips of industry insiders everywhere: “Star Wars is the greatest movie success since... Star Wars.” The next easiest thing to notice is that a majority of critics liked the film, mainly as a fun popcorn flick -- “about three in four” liking it being one common estimate, years later confirmed by That said there were a vocal minority of critics who panned the film's “vapid message”, and just about everyone found fault with the overall acting quality of the film (though the child actors, Michaels and Portman, got their share of high marks). The most contested part of the reception, interestingly enough, came from the Star Wars enthusiasts themselves, as the fandom split into two camps, the nostalgists who thought the film (and the prequels to come) were a “betrayal” of the fans of the old series; and the new fans, those who (in essence) agreed with Lucas in saying that the new films added to the joy of experiencing the series as a whole. But this cultural conflict was only just getting started, and would come into focus more as the prequel trilogy grew. The direction this trilogy would take would be influenced by the first film's “script doctor”, Lawrence Kasdan; Lucas had found him so helpful in “holding together” the first movie, he asked him to help co-write the sequel, Attack of the Clones, offering the director's chair as a bonus. Complicating this shift even further is the fact that by the time this next film would come out, the world would change dramatically...


The Matrix​
Will Smith was one of the first choices for playing the lead, and was announced for the role in 1997 (rumor was, it had to do with the hype around Men in Black -- Smith's people were so nervous about an inevitable box office letdown, they decided to get a 1999 blockbuster signed up sooner rather than later). Russell Crowe had been reluctant to come on as Morpheus, but studio haggling on the pay managed to lure him on. The Wachowski Brothers, brought in (then) unknown actress Carrie-Anne Moss, to play Trinity; Hugo Weaving, to play Agent Smith (after Jean Reno turned down the role); and Joe Pantoliano, who they had worked with on Bound.


Will had a sizeable impact on the final version of the script” Andy Wachowski later recalled. “Most of these changes came about because there was a lot of pressure to infuse Neo with the popular 'Fresh Prince' Personality, but we didn't want to see the whole thing devolve into a light hearted action-comedy -- we had real ideas we were trying to work with. Where we ended up, and this actually works on its own weird level, was to have John Anderson start off as someone people didn't associate as much with Smith at the time, a regular Joe used to getting tossed around by the system; later, as he 'unplugs' and learns the truth, he gains confidence, becomes his 'true self', who, surprise surprise, happens to be the kind of cocky hero the studios were pushing for. This had certain effects down the line of production, like Yuen [Woo-ping] building the choreography around Smith's smack-talk, or the Hugo [Weaving] trying to find a performance that had chemisty with Will's take on the character. He even brazenly pushed for script changes on occasion -- like the whole ethical question raised during the red dress scene. We didn't have that initially, and it certainly raised some issues down the line, like how wrote and shot the final act -- now we had to make clear that, at this point, all he cared about was loyalty to Morpheus. It was a bit of a tonal shift from what we had in mind, but we found a way to make it work with all the splendid action and visuals we had been itching to do, so I'd say it still worked out okay. Audiences liked it, from what I hear.


Once again, the simplest way to gauge audience reactions would be to look at the box office -- with over a quarter of a billion dollars from the (initial) domestic release alone, and over $600 million in by the time global numbers came in, once again it was being said that a Will Smith movie, once again, was the second highest grossing film of the year. The film had its share of criticism, but for every critic baffled by “the odd sight of the Fresh Prince in an ultraviolent teliing of Plato's Cave”, there were at least two praising “the sheer depth of philosphic science fiction, illustrated with brillant visual effects” and the “beautiful mess of character performacnes”. It was the sort of response that could not help but affect the careers of many involved...


Eyes Wide Shut​
When Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut, was released months after his death in 1999, many of its cast hadn't been seen on screen since 1997 (in the case of Ford, it was another “last film”, that one by director Alan Pakula). If there was a critical consensus for the film, is that it was a clear “art picture” as opposed to a popcorn filck -- harsher critcs complaining of a “slow pace”, while most appreciated the “dream-like state” the piece captured. That's not to say the film was a box office failure -- from making $30 million opening weekend ($10 million more than expected by the studios), over $80 million total domestic, and over $200 million globally, there were plenty of people willing to see the master's last work.

Much of that enthusiasm could be attributed to the lead actors playing the Hartfords -- audiences for the film were, in large measure, of an age where they remembered Ford fondly from growing up, as Han Solo or Indiana Jones, and of Robin Wright as Princess Buttercup. The overall taboo impression the film's release managed was further enhanced by another cast member, Woody Allen (brought in to replace Harvey Keitel as Victor Ziegler), who had married by stepdaughter Soon-Yi, around the time of filming.


The film received several Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director (Kubrick won the later). Harrison Ford, for his part, won an Academy Award the year after for the role of Robert Wakefield in Traffic, while Woody Allen would receive a nomination for Director on Sweet and Lowdown (starring Johnny Depp). Ford's would do one more “art” film, Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, before returning to one of his iconic roles in 2004, with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Many prominent film professionals and critics (Scorsese, Ebert) would continue to regard Eyes Wide Shut as one of the great films of the 90's, and among the best final works of any cinematic master.


Tom Cruise: 1999​
The year 1999 would be an important one in Tom's career. In the previous, 1998, he had two major roles -- Mission Impossible II (directed by Oliver Stone) which did as expected in the box office (good) and among critics (lukewarm); and a supporting part in Thin Red Line, (directed by Terrance Malick). Unsurprisingly, it was the later than wet his appetite, and in the final holiday season of the millenium, he appeared in his most celebrated and controversial role yet: Patrick Bateman, in American Psycho (directed by David Cronenberg).


The film's domestic box office was respectable (about $40 million), and it's reception among critics were generally positive -- Ebert captured a general consensus, “Nobody knows how to make you feel uncomfortable like Cronenberg, and here that skill is put to good use as we get close to Bateman.” Tom Cruise also got plenty of praise, particular for his “dead look behind the eyes”. Not that there weren't detractors, as many found Cronenberg's adaptation "more esoteric than dark" -- one scene getting mention here being where Cruise has an awkward elevator conversation with Robert Downey Jr, playing himself (based, in turn, upon a scene from the book where Bateman has such an encounter with... Tom Cruise).

It was also that year that Frank Miller would show studio executives a screenplay -- at first glance, it seemed simple, a mostly straightforward adaptation of his comic Batman: Year One. (It was so direct an adpatation, in fact, that word spread that the first draft's real author was an amateur ghostwriter Miller had paid off.) But it generated enough excitement that Oliver Stone came on to direct, and some rewrites later (mostly just throwing Deadshot into the mix, and making Falcone's rise to boss a part of the story) they were ready to look for a lead. It was then that a star Stone was familiar with started to get attention for a particularly harrowing performance.


The Simsons: Final Years​

Up until the production of season ten in 1998, these six main voice actors of The Simpsons -- Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer -- were paid $30,000 per episode. In 1998, a salary dispute between them and the Fox Broadcasting Company arose, with the actors threatening to strike. Fox indicated they were willing to go as far as preparing for casting of new voices, but when Matt Groening raised objections, saying he'd “rather see the show go off the air than see such talent treated this way”, an agreement was soon made and their salaries were raised to $125,000 per episode for the whole of Season 10 and at least one extra season, with the choice of either three seasons on top of that or a golden parachute of $4.5 million per castmember. When, the next year, Fox executives indicated they were going to take the later option, the show creators decided to brace themselves for a finale, getting 13 final episodes (which would constitute Season 12).


In 2000, “The Simpsons Christmas Finale” became one of the fourth highest rated episode in US television history (with The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson' at a fairly close fifth). The plot these millions of watchers were treated to primarily took place in the future (the second Simpsons episode to do so after “Lisa's Wedding”), where Bart and Lisa, now parents, bring their children home to Springfield for Christmas. The Simpsons' legacy was gigantic -- an institution of the 90's, arguably mores than Seinfeld, if for no other reason than bringing animation back to primetime. As for the voice cast, they're part in this historic show would launch them to varying degrees of success in the years to come.


Some other films of 1999
The Postman
*directed by Danny Boyle
*starring Kiefer Sutherland
*This post-apocalyptic film that did a respectible $100 million at the global box office (just twice the production budget), this was Boyle's introduction to Hollywood and among Sutherland's first major lead roles.

Fight Club
*directed by Peter Jackson
*starring Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio
*The director initially said no to this adaptation in 1996, preferring to stick to horror; but when he broke off of Lord of the Rings due to creative differences with Miramax in 1998, he found himself aching for a project. The film received mixed reviews, though Jackson's “psychological craftsmanship” got high marks.

The Insider
*starring Val Kilmer and Al Pacino
*Pacino would be nominated for this performance.

Sleepy Hollow
*starring Brad Pitt and Winona Ryder
*Not much changed from OTL (Burton still directs), but it does give the director a longer break from collaborating with Depp.

Any Given Sunday
*directed by and starring Clint Eastwood
*Praised by critics, this “handsome sports drama” was the second film to get Eastwood nominated for an Academy Award.

The Talented Mr. Ripley
*starring Edward Norton
*Following up his critical success in The Devil's Advocate and American History X, Norton again won accolades. Jude Law also received praise, in “knowing exactly how to play against Norton's intensity”, but it was Norton's performance that the Academy would notice for this film.

*Edward Norton (as Frank T.J. Mackey)
*As OTL otherwise.
Shyamalan, and the Horror Genre​
The late nineties and early aughts were a transition period for much of American cinema, including the horror. The obvious place to start would be the Scream Trilogy, when the first of its installments became the highest grossing (non-procedural) horror film since The Excorcist...

In 1999, two more horror films broke the $100 million domestic mark -- Jan DeBont's remake of The Haunting, and M Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. [1] The former was largely a criticial failure while the latter was a critical hit that was in much larger measure helped set the tone for the genre in years to come [2], despite their being far closer in terms of box office success. [3] Together, they showed that not only slashers, but ghost stories as well, could make bank; both brought their characters to a (more or less) happy Hollywood ending; and, in particular, The Sixth Sense showed that there was no contradiction between “ghost story” and “effective story”.


Shyamalan followed up his historic ghost film in 2000 with genre reinvention, Unbreakable. Along with X-Men, released the same year (and Blade notwithstanding), it is thought to be responsible for renewed interest in the superhero on the big screen. Roger Ebert offered this analysis: “Russell Crowe's Wolverine [4] and Bruce Willis' David Dunn go through very different challenges, portrayed in what are really two different genres. While X-Men delved into the identity issues of people with supernatural abilities and questions of how such outcasts react as a community, in the context of an action film, the hero of Shyamalan's work is a man going through such a struggle largely alone, relying only on his son and an unstable mentor figure for emotional support, all done with little “action” to speak of.

His summary of the plot: “Unbreakable is about a Philadelphia Security Guard, David Dunn, who slowly comes to realize that he is a superhero. After awakenig as the sole survivor of a train crash, without a scratch on him, he is contacted by Ellijah Price -- a man with brittle bone disease, who seems to have much insight into Dunn's abilities, claiming that he is the living incarnation of a comic book superhero. Egged on by Price and his son, Dunn explores his past, finds he has never had a sickday, except for once as a child when he almost drowned. It is only halfway through the film that David finally tests his powers, and stops a homeinvader partway through killing a family. It's a terrifying, gruesome experience though, and he still has difficulty embracing his role, and it gets no easier when he discovers that Mr Price is, in fact, the terrorist 'Mr Glass', who has been causing disasters, trying to find a man like him. The climax comes when Price threatens one final major attack, in a bid to get David to use his powers to stop him and embrace his destiny.

Meanwhile, the next big change to come to the horror movie came in 2002, when May [5] emerged as a surprise and received generally positive reviews, with many critics praising Bettis' performance, and some praising Lucky McKee's direction. The movie effectively launched McKee's career and raised Bettis's profile. The plot description on the DVD reads: “The lonely and awkward May (Angela Bettis) tries to connect with other people, looking for a friend. For a while, she seems to find one in handyman Adam (Jeremy Sisto). Adam, however, is eventually put off by May's strangeness, and the relationship seems to fall apart. Distraught, May decides to make her own friend. Stealing body parts from the hospital where she works, May assembles them into a friend she names Amy. Later, to May's amazement, Amy (Doug Jones) comes to life. For a while, May couldn't be happier, but Amy soon becomes increasingly more violent. Soon, Adam comes back to apologize to May, leaving May to decide between her old friend (who abandoned her before) and her dangerous new one.” Within months of its big office success, sequel was green-lit by Lionsgate (though the orginal's director declined to join), and studios began to look for "the next Lucky McKee".

All these aesthetic changes, though, happened against a world backdrop, that altered not only how audiences approached horror films, but popular cinema as a whole...


Hip Hop in 1998 and 1999​

In the world of hip hop, things went on in 1998 more or less as things had during the 90's. Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz would have a runaway single hit, “Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)”, which would dominate the rap charts for ten straight weeks during the spring [6]; alas, despite this big break they didn't manage the follow up well enough and entered the halls of the One Hit Wonders. Busta Rhymes second album was doing very well; “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” had won best rap solo performance at the 40th Grammy Awards (though many said that Biggie Smalls deserved the award for “Hyptmotize”), while “Turn it Up/Fire it Up” was led the early summer rap sales, and “Gimme Some More” would lead said charts for several more weeks on top of that. Proteges of the Notorious BIG also continued to do well -- Puff Daddy got a few hits that reached number one during the summer [7], while albums by Mase and Jay Z sold well.

In 1999, arguably the biggest event in hip hop was Biggie Smalls' next project, simply known as The Black Album. Largely credited with starting the “mixtape revolution”, where established hip hop artists would release albums on the streets with little or no promotion, Black was also unique in how each song was made with a different producer. From the influential to the odd, Will Smith's tie in rap song for The Matrix was certainly different from Will Smith's previous work, and from the common image of hip hop generally; "not a lot of rappers delve into epistemology" was about the only reaction critics could agree on... Other major break out stars of 1999 included Eminem and Charli Baltimore....



George Clooney and Early Millenial Politics​
While on the face of it, George Clooney's decision seems to have been made in a spur of the moment, in a larger sense, it was years in the making; arguably, the roots of it go back to the panning and bombing of the infamous Batman and Robin...

In early 1999, George was happy to be done with shooting Three Kings in Arizona -- for years afterword, accounts came of time after time when Clooney seemed to be the only thing standing between the “insane rage” of the director, David O Russell, and various crew members and fellow cast members. “Sometimes, it was all I could do not to punch him in the face” Clooney would later recall. [7] It was getting to be a tough time in the actor's career, as he went from getting panned in Batman and Robin, to going largely unnoticed in Out of Sight, and now coming out of one of the most unpleasant filming experiences of his career.

Though Clooney said he was ready to find the next project, he took his time in settling on a major starring role. Though he did show interest in starring in the Coen Brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou, but by the time he read the script, he was competing with names like Tom Hanks for the role. [8] He found a finally found what he thought to be the perfect fit in Wolfgang Peterson's The Perfect Storm; however, this filming experience took its toll, as Clooney suffered injury and illness filming at sea. [9] When it came out, the film was certainly a financial and critical success, at $150 million domestic, but George was still disappointed by the lack of recognition (aside from technical Academy nominations) he thought his experience would help to earn. [10]


Meanwhile Clooney, along with the rest of the country, followed the Presidential Election -- while The Perfect Storm's nationwide theatrical run began to wind down, George W Bush and Al Gore were choosing their running mates (John Danforth and John Kerry, respectively). [11] While he did offer his support to the Gore campaign, there's little evidence that his support was that unusual for a Hollywood liberal, or the election itself was some kind of turning point in the actor's career, despite some biographies implying otherwise; he certainly didn't appear to take Gore's loss on election night any worse than most Democrats. [12] Clooney In all likelihood, his greater attention in the later part of 2000 was probably directed at securing his next roles.

That said, the roles he did secure for 2001 weren't enough to give him the A-List status his agent had been working for -- though his lead performance was liked enough, Bret Ratner's remake of Ocean's Eleven turned off critics in exchange for modest box office success, [13] his small role in Spy Kids, while technically raising his box office statistics, did little for Clooney's image, and even then, his supporting role in James Cameron's Spiderman made up for that. [14]

Still, all this should not be overstated -- even if Clooney considered the years long aftermath of Batman and Robin something of a disappointment, he was still a major Hollywood star, and by most accounts was still enjoying his profession immensely. But that's when things really changed... [15]

And so it was 2002 that turned out to be the turning point -- first, obviously, there was the election of Richard Riordan as California's Governor. [16] Many would argue, given the narrowness of the victory, the ongoing California Electricity Crisis, and Richard's connections to Enron, that the recall was destined from the start. Nonetheless, it wasn't until late July 2003 that the signatures were in, and the date set for October 7.


Meanwhile, 2002 was not so hot for Clooney's career -- for the first time since Batman and Robin, the actor himself was getting panned for his romantic comedy debut in About a Boy, his directoral debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind got limited distribution, and his larger role in Spy Kids 2, of all things, seemed to be the highlight of the year. [17] His final attempts at a comeback -- the romantic comedy Down with Love and the action sequal Once Upon a Time in Mexico -- were turning into disappointments.

This is the all imporant context for understanding that fateful Jay Leno interview in August of 2003, as George Clooney was promoting what would be his final film. As he himself later recalled: “The recall happens and people are asking me, ‘What are you going to do?’ I thought about it but decided I wasn’t going to do it. I told everyone I wasn’t running. I wasn’t running. I just thought [en route to the Tonight Show], This will freak everyone out. It’ll be so funny. I’ll announce that I am running. I told Leno I was running. And two months later I was governor. What the fuck is that? All these people are asking me, ‘What’s your plan? Who’s on your staff?’ I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a staff. I wasn’t running until I went on Jay Leno.” [18]


OOC: Well then...

[1] You'll notice a film that wasn't mentioned: The Blair Witch Project. Butterflies mean that this micro-budget work wasn't picked up by Artisan. This arguably has more impact on the genre than anything mentioned here.
[2] No idea as yet what an attempted Sixth Sense knockoff would look like, but TTL their going to have an impact on the genre
[3] Yes, despite its greater impact, The Sixth Sense isn't as much of a box office sensation TTL, though it does more than respectably at over $200 million domestic (sixth highest that year), and over $450 million globally (compared to nearly $300 million and over $670 million OTL).
[4] ;)
[5] This OTL; I have to give Time Slip full credit for this part of the post, and for generally inspiring me as to the subject of the update
[6] Will Smith's “Gettin' Jiggy with It” isn't the runaway success TTL as it was OTL
[7] In OTL, he did punch him. My assumption for this post is that this both reigned in the director, and gave Colooney a momentary outlet; and that if he hadn't, Russell would have been even more unbearable, and the Clooney would have been more stressed reigning himself in.
[8] OTL, he said “yes” to the role without even reading the script; TTL, his more taxing experience on Three Kings gives him just enough hesitation to get the Coens star shopping.
[9] I know that Peterson did film at sea OTL, so there would be opportunity for this kind of incidents.
[10] These lack of awards as OTL.
[11] And now the butterflies begin to affect national politics -- with the big hits of 1999 changed, we've also changed the debate around “decadent Hollywood”, and so have altered Lieberman's appeal, while also making Bush more comfortable picking a pro-choice running mate.
[12] Yes, that's “on Election Night” -- Bush (actually) wins the 2000 election by larger margins than OTL, meaning no recount fiasco. (Also, as a bonus, no Russert popularizing the phrase “red states and blue states”.)
[13] Brett Ratner was initially going to direct, before he had to abandon the project for Rush Hour 2, which gets delayed TTL. His idea was to have the film set “in the crapier Las Vegas”. Ratner: “My version was going to be much different. My version was going to be the scumbag version. It was going to be Nic Cage, Charlie Sheen, Chris Penn, Sean Penn. All the fucking – Christian Slater. All the guys who really smoke cigarettes.” Needless to say, I don't think this version would have been the box office sensation OTL's version was.
[14] Yes, James Cameron sticks around and does Spider Man TTL, and it is released 2001. I think I'll just leave it at that for now, to pick it up in another update.
[15] I'm cutting myself off there, and picking up this TTL article later -- again, that's for another update.
[16] OTL, Davis came at him so hard in the primaries he didn't even get the nomination; here, he wins them, and then the general by a razor thin margin.
[17] Clooney was offered About a Boy OTL, but turned it down; also OTL, he wasn't in the SK sequel.
[18] Quoted from OTL Schwartzaneggar, word for word. Basically, this whole post was written backwards to get to this point.
If I remember correctly, Keanu Reeves accepted a pay cut so that the studio could afford Pacino, if Norton is cast instead Pacino may not be available for the role. If given the choice between Norton in the Reeves role with someone filling in for Pacino or the Devil's advocate that was made I'd prefer he movie that was made.

"Ready to Die" was Christopher Wallace's debut album, the 1997 album was entitled "Life After Death"

Speaking of which, with a January 1996 divergence I wouldn't be surprised if Tupac Shakur also survives-even if the Las Vegas shooting isn't avoided entirely, random chance could lead to Shakur sustaining less devastating injuries. From there a lot would depend on how Shakur's appeal worked out and if it didn't when he would be sent back to serve the rest of his sentence.

1997 is easier for Wallace and Bad Boy Records without the specter of Death Row Records and Tupac Shakur, But it's easy enough to imagine a scenario in which all of that drama ends with Shakur and Knight in prison rather than anyone dying.

I like your version of Episode I-it does fix the problems associated with that film. In terms of the prequels, the real challenge will be in the sequel. I'll be interested to see what that looks like and if any alternate casting decisions are made.

It'd be sad to see the Simpsons end. I maintain that when the show inevitably ends it will still be a sad moment. Like Seinfeld it will remain in syndication for a long time afterwards,

Does Futurama still happen? If so how is it treated differently by Fox here?

Keeping Cameron involved in the Spider-Man project is difficult because it implies that he obtains the rights, but Cameron's involvement with the project began in the early 1990's, so he'd have to maintain interest past the ownership fight and past Titanic.

If Cameron does stay on the project, and if you could arrange a scenario where the rights all line up you could end up with an earlier Marvel Cinematic Universe consisting of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises. I know that sounds like a weird idea-but Cameron's outline for his Spider-Man project contained a lot of references to mutants. If Cameron maintains the "public hates Spider-Man" plot element Raimi dropped-it'd be easy enough to mix those two Superhero worlds together. Just a thought.
Happy to see this back.

One way I could see a more successful remake of The Haunting influencing things is that there might be more remakes of films from that era of the horror genre, at least in the short term. In OTL, there were also remakes of Psycho, House on Haunted Hill, and 13 Ghosts in addition to The Haunting in the late 90s-early 2000s. A situation where one (The Haunting) becomes a blockbuster might lead to more of them being green-lit in the early to mid 2000s.
Hip hop sales in the summer of 1997 were by and large dominated by singles from the Notorious BIG's new album Ready to Die, and the spring had been led by Biggie protoge Puff Daddy's “Can't Nobody Hold Me Down”. [2]

I'm sure you meant to write down Life After Death as opposed to Ready to Die here.
If I remember correctly, Keanu Reeves accepted a pay cut so that the studio could afford Pacino, if Norton is cast instead Pacino may not be available for the role. If given the choice between Norton in the Reeves role with someone filling in for Pacino or the Devil's advocate that was made I'd prefer he movie that was made.

"Ready to Die" was Christopher Wallace's debut album, the 1997 album was entitled "Life After Death"

Changes made; much thanks.

Does Futurama still happen? If so how is it treated differently by Fox here?

Wait and see ;)

Keeping Cameron involved in the Spider-Man project is difficult because it implies that he obtains the rights, but Cameron's involvement with the project began in the early 1990's, so he'd have to maintain interest past the ownership fight and past Titanic.

If Cameron does stay on the project, and if you could arrange a scenario where the rights all line up you could end up with an earlier Marvel Cinematic Universe consisting of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises. I know that sounds like a weird idea-but Cameron's outline for his Spider-Man project contained a lot of references to mutants. If Cameron maintains the "public hates Spider-Man" plot element Raimi dropped-it'd be easy enough to mix those two Superhero worlds together. Just a thought.

Will bear in mind.

One way I could see a more successful remake of The Haunting influencing things is that there might be more remakes of films from that era of the horror genre, at least in the short term. In OTL, there were also remakes of Psycho, House on Haunted Hill, and 13 Ghosts in addition to The Haunting in the late 90s-early 2000s. A situation where one (The Haunting) becomes a blockbuster might lead to more of them being green-lit in the early to mid 2000s.

I wasn't planning this. I should note that The Haunting doesn't actually do better than OTL (except perhaps comparatively, with no Blair Witch).
I wasn't planning this. I should note that The Haunting doesn't actually do better than OTL (except perhaps comparatively, with no Blair Witch).
Yeah, $100 million domestic probably isn't all that much better than what it did in OTL (around $91 million) in the grand scheme of things, but it's not like horror films break $100 million all the time, so it wouldn't shock me if at least a few producers/studio execs figure there might be a bit more money to be made off of remakes of 50s and 60s era horror films even if most are setting out to imitate Shyamalan.
Guys I need help with something -- remember when Peter Jackson got kicked from Lord of the Rings by Miramax, and how they're going to work with a screenplay written by John Madden? Well considering the Academy hadn't fallen all over Shakespeare in Love at the time of the PoD, they're likely going to look for a different director, only as of now I have no idea who they'd go with. Any suggestions?
Maybe they would go with a director they had a recent success with? By 1998 their highest grossing movies would be Anthony Minghella's The English Patient, Gus van Sant's Good Will Hunting, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, and Alex Proyas' The Crow. I have no idea if any of them would have been interested, but they could be among the people that Miramax approaches for the job.
2001 Films

In some ways, 2001 simply continued trends of 2000; for example the superhero resurgence begun in 2000, with X-Men and Unbreakable continued with Batman: Year One and Spiderman. One of the highest grossing films of the year, unsurprisingly, at $180 million domestic, Year One was directed by Oliver Stone and starred Tom Cruise as Bruce Wayne/Batman. A largely successful reboot of the Batman franchise, production started when Frank Miller turned in a straightforward adaptation of his graphic novel of the same name in early 1999; studio execs used it as a rough draft for the project, handing it off to Oliver Stone to direct and make it more "marketable"; however, aside from the addition of Deadshot, hired by the mob kill the new vigilante, and making Falcone's rise to boss a part of the story, the changes were small, many scenes remaining word for word the same (including some of the more infamous ones, such as Bruce flashing Barbara Gordon). Other cast memebers included Sam Jackson (as Jim Gordon), Angelina Jolie (as Selina Kyle/Catwoman), Joe Pantoliano (as Carmine Falcone), Anthony Hopkins (as Alfred), Kurt Russell (as Deadshot), and William Dafoe (as Harvey Dent).

Spiderman was less successful, both at the box office and with critics. The story of its production has since entered film studio and comic book lore, but the main element that got picked up after the film's lukewarm reception was that Columbia had agreed to hire James Cameron to direct and develop his “scriptment” as a way of covering their legal bases in acquiring the filming rights. The fact that the climactic fight scene took place at the Twin Towers also didn't help...


Another disappointment of 2001 was The Lord of the Rings, directed by Anthony Minghella based on the adapted screenplay by John Madden. Though some performances (like Christopher Lee's Gandalf) got high marks from critics, by and large the film was a disaster both critically and at the box office... What made the bomb even more humiliating was that another fantasy film, Harry Potter, would go on to become the highest grossing film of the year...

Aside from superheros and fantasy, history would also serve as the basis for some the year's big films; WWII would see a couple of major Hollywood films this year Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor, despite being largely a critical failure was still a massive commerical success, while The Captain and the Shark, a film about the USS Indianapolis directed by Barry Levinson, fared respectably both at the box office and among critics. (Incidentally, the overall positive reception of WWII in 2001 arguably played a role in the Coen Brothers in their immense difficulties in adapting To the White Sea.) There were also biopics receiving high praise, like The Aviator (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Michael Mann) and Ali (starring Will Smith and directed by Barry Sonnefeld).



There are a number of “what if”s that have been raised about the events that transpired on September 11, 2001 -- for example, what if Secretary Cheney had been in the part of the Pentagon which was hit? What if the passengers aboard United 93 hadn't managed to take control of the plane, get in contact with air traffic control, and land (relatively) safely? What if some of the more famous victims of the attacks, like David Angell or Seth MacFarlane, had missed their flight? And of course, this is not even mentioning, what if the attacks had been prevented?



Harry Potter Film Franchise​

Production of the First Film
To this day, it seems incredible how much of her way JK Rowling got in the adaptation of her work; for example, her choice to direct Sorcerer's Stone, Terry Gilliam, had developed a reputation for being unreliable at the box office, but Rowling's insistence and the studio's confidence in the franchise brought him on... Years later, it was revealed the author also played a role in securing Ian McKellen as Professor Dumbledore, by revealing in a private conversation that the character was gay. (Tim Roth, who gladly came on as Severus Snape at the start, was supposedly jealous upon learning this.)

One of ways Gilliam impacted the franchise as a whole can be found at the beginning of the first film it begins with Vernon Durnsley the day he found the infant Harry at his doorstep, and the strange events of the wizarding world seen through his muggle eyes. Gilliam had also filmed a scene with Dumbledore, McConagall, and Hagrid leaving the child, but cut it due to time; at Rowling's insistene, this footage was used to begin the next installment. From then on, each new film in the series began with a cold open scene without its protagonist -- Sirius Black escaping Azkaban; the death of Frank Bryce; Fudge's scene with the muggle Prime Minister; Snape making the unbreakable oath; and Voldemort's Death Eater meeting.


List of Films
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, directed by Terry Gilliam
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, directed by M Night Shyamalan
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuaron
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, directed by Kenneth Branagh
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, directed by Mira Nair
  • Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows, directed by Guillermo del Toro


Space Opera after Phanton Menace​

In the aftermath of the historic box office success that was Star Wars Episode I, it should probably come as no surprise that the Space Opera genre fared rather well, though at first it was mostly on the small screen. On the big screen for example, Titan AE did a respectable $100 million, likely in no small part thanks to Phantom Menace wetting audiences' appetite; however, this mostly just covered the costs of production, practically guranteeing that it would be Don Bluth's penultimate film. (His next animated feature, a 2003 feature adaptation of his game Dragon's Lair, would end up being his final project, at least to date.)

Most of the impact would be felt in television, at least initially; of course, space opera series that were already underway, like Stargate SG1, Futurama, and Farscape, could only benefit from this... Futurama would last six seasons (1999-2004)... The decision to make the sixth season last initially faced resistance from the network executives, but Groening and Cohen decided they wanted the series to end on a high note, similar to Seinfeld; the last episode, “Fry and Leela's Wedding”, while it didn't achieve ratings as high as The Simpsons, still ranked among the most watched series finales of all time. Farscape would also last six seasons, (1999-2005), though not by the showrunners intent; lingering plots like the ongoing Peacekeeper-Scarran War, the imminent threat to Earth, and the wormhole doomsday machine wouldn't be resolved until the (fan demanded) 2007 theatrical film.


Firefly, despite a somewhat rocky start, would last three seasons (2002-05), and all but the most diehard fans or critics of the show would agree that it was about the right length. “We had spent several episodes of Season 2 answering questions from Season 1 [the origin of the Reavers, identity of the blue gloved men, etc], and were still afraid of running out of good ideas” Joss Whedon said. “So we decided to throw everything we had at Season 3, and give the show the best send off it could ask for.” That said, the Serenity-verse (as fans refer to canon of Firefly) has done well in years since, with Firefly comics and spin-off stories still finding an audience.

This success did not apply to all space opera series; for example, Star Trek: Enterprise, which sought to act as a sort of prequel to the Trek universe, found itself cancelled after just one season...

The fact that the big space opera hits were coming to their end around the same time, in 2004 and 2005, was not lost on pundits, with many saying that it signified the end of the genre. (The causes of this alleged “death” varied from television profatibility to Bush's re-election.) However, these obituaries turned out to be premature. For example, British audiences saw the return of Red Dwarf in 2004, with six episodes eagerly greeted by fans; reaction was positive enough that the show returned for a tenth “season” in 2006. Even better, the series previous seasons started getting airtime on PBS starting in 2005, growing the American fanbase furhter still ... And of course, there was also Battlestar Galactica...
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By the way guys, I'm going to need help before I can do my next update -- one of the subjects I'd want to cover is pop music, and I'm kind of out of ideas in that department. (So far, all I've got is Biggie Smalls releasing as 2002 album titled Resurrection or Back from the Dead or something along those lines.) Just to be clear -- right now I'm only looking for music suggestions, as I've still got film ideas for the next update.

Well, no Family Guy and its spinoffs, and that's all good...:D

Family Guy still has its initial three season run, which still becomes a cult hit.
With Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings flopping within a two year period, I can see the studios being reluctant to make Tolkien inspired fantasy films for a while. I could even see Warner Bros. getting a bit nervous about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (as silly as that would seem in retrospect) due to these recent fantasy failures.

With Titan A.E. recouping its budget here, Fox Animation Studios may not be shut down, so Fox might have both Fox Animation Studios and Blue Sky Studios at this point in the timeline.

I don't think I'd be much help in terms of music, unfortunately.
With Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings flopping within a two year period, I can see the studios being reluctant to make Tolkien inspired fantasy films for a while. I could even see Warner Bros. getting a bit nervous about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (as silly as that would seem in retrospect) due to these recent fantasy failures.

Well as noted, the first Harry Potter has already been made by the time Lord bombed, and it went on to be the massive year end hit it was OTL, so no worries there. But yeah, High Fantasy as a whole is kind of screwed for the time being.
Yeah, Harry Potter would have been already finished by the time Lord of the Rings bombs, but I could still see the studio execs at Warner Bros. working themselves up into thinking their movie might bomb as well due to it also being a fantasy movie.
By the way guys, I'm going to need help before I can do my next update -- one of the subjects I'd want to cover is pop music, and I'm kind of out of ideas in that department. (So far, all I've got is Biggie Smalls releasing as 2002 album titled Resurrection or Back from the Dead or something along those lines.) Just to be clear -- right now I'm only looking for music suggestions, as I've still got film ideas for the next update.

Family Guy still has its initial three season run, which still becomes a cult hit.

Have Katey Hudson's Christian stuff be more successful? Keep her from going into Pop.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack on the Republic​
If Lawrence Kasdan's role in Episode I is a matter of speculation, his role in Episode II was more straightforward -- he was credited with George Lucas as a co-writer of the script, and hired as director, though Lucas, as with his previous films, would keep tight control over the production and form of the film, even going so far as to kick his director out of the editing room during post-production. (It's said their relationship soured for a time after this.) Still, if Kasdan couldn't be credited with the “vision” of the film, he could claim accolayds for getting acting performances widely regarded as being superiror to what Lucas had managed in the first installment; in particular, Michael Pitt's performance as Anakin Skywalker was praised (the “Oedipal” nature of his mental breakdown and attraction to Padme after his mother's death is supposedly something that made Lucas uncomfortable when looking at the footage during editing, though he it was his idea from the beginning).

This story is, in many ways, more coherent than the first film, for the most part focusing on how Obi-One Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Anakin Skywalker (Michael Pitt) deal with losses resulting from the violence of a now cyborg Darth Maul (Ray Park), with Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) mentoring Obi-One in letting go of his hate while Anakin starts to fall to the dark side after the murder of his mother. Against this simple A-plot, though, was a backstory often derided as being overly complicated.

The movie opens with the republic in chaos, as Darth Maul has been leading the Trade Federation's droid army on a campaign of destruction across the galaxy. His latest plot is to send his pupil to assassinate Queen Amidala at a gala ball on Corsucant. This gala ball scene is notable for a number of reasons -- it introduces Anakin as an adult, who we learn has feelings for Amidala (Natalie Portman), who in turn is still trying to seduce Obi-wan Kenobi; it includes a deal of exposition dialogue, giving the audience backstory into the twin threats faced by Darth Maul's attacks and Ki Adi-Mundi raising a “mysterious army” to meet the threat, challenging the Republic; it introduces C-3P0 (voiced Anthony Daniels), as Amidala's servant, to R2-D2; and it includes the Modal Nodes (better known as the Cantina Band from Episode IV) as part of a swing band in the background. The following action scenes begins with an explosion (killing Amidala's body double, Padme), and a chase across the city ending in Anakin killing the would-be assassin... [skipping] [1]

On Kamino, Obi-wan meets with Duke Carlissian (Billy Dee Williams), who (he eventually learns) has been building a clone army in service to Ki Adi-Mundi...

On Tatooine, Anakin learns that Darth Maul had indeed passed through; that he purchased his mother from Watta (who was desperate due to gambling debts to Jabba) and had killed her. Anakin kills Watto, and starts to break down, as Ben (now free) shelters him and the Queen. It is these scenes, where Anakin catatonically clings to Amidala as a surrogate mother figure, that she starts to soften to his advances. Meanwhile, Ben tries to convince Anakin to stay on Tattoine, telling him he can do more good on the planet than serving with the Jedi in the rest of the galaxy...

The climactic fight scene comes to an end, with Obi-wan one lightsaber stroke away from killing the one who killed his master; looking down on Maul, he feels “no hate. Only pity.” Yoda's mentorship has been a success. But Anakin will not allow it; he screams, raises his remaining arm, and clenches his fist, as the Sith Apprentice gasps for air. Before Obi-wan realizes what has happened, it is too late; Darth Maul is dead...

Darth Sidious reveals his identity to Adi-Mundi; he explains his own plans, to transform the Republic into a Galactic Empire so that never again will the Jedi be relied upon to keep the peace. While Ki praises these ambitions, he asks “Do you really expect me to kneel before a Sith lord?” Palpatine himself kneels, and responds “I would never ask such a thing of you... my master.” Adi-Mundi smiles...

Making over $750 million worldwide, Attack on the Republic would become the second highest grossing film of 2002, after Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Despite massive success at the box office, the film could not but help find controversy, coming as it did the summer after 9/11; indeed, the comparrisons between the recklessly destructive Dath Maul and Osama bin Laden were likely inevitable, and it should probably come as little surprise that this talk fed speculation that Lucas was less than supportive of the War on Terror or even a “secret truther”... This installment would also be the main inspiration for perhaps the most influential Star Wars parody of all time, the special themed episodes of The Seth Green Show [2] (where, incidentally, Aziz Ansari got his "medium break" as the voice of Darth Maul).


Men in Black II and III​
While Will Smith and Linda Fiorentino returning for the sequels came to nobody's surprise, the studio still hoped to keep a lid on the return of Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K to serve as a fitting twist ending for the second installment... More risky was the decision to film both sequels at once, and release the films within months of each other; as it turns out, this would tie the franchise's hands in ways which would make studio execs incredibly nervous.

It could be argued that the sequels had been backed into a corner by their first film -- after all, how do you raise the stakes from “Earth is always in some existential peril or another, no big deal”? Really, the only path open is to make the conflict about exposing the MIB, thus (from the agency's perspective) “threatening any hope of homo sapien peace of mind”. It was just bad luck this film found itself slated for release the summer after 9/11, when the moviegoing public wasn't necessarily in their most philosophical of moods. This would account for why a couple of sequels that were overall disappointments at the box office would go on to become massive cult hits later on, or why involved stars like Will Smith were able to recover their “goodwill” so easily in later years.


Batman: The Dark Knight​
While the screenplay for the Year One sequel was also based in large measure on Frank Miller's work, the graphic novelist himself had far less input into the sequel than he had in the first film. While most of the cast, including Tom Cruise, would return for the sequel, Oliver Stone did not, who left the franchise due to issues of creative control, and finding himself replaced by Robert Rodirguez. The story would borrow elements from The Dark Knight Returns, though obviously it was not a straight adaptation (“Batman retires at the end, not the beginning” was a common comparrison); for example, the midpoint with Two Face (played by William Dafoe) holding the city hostage with a bomb, or the climax fight with the Joker (Edward Norton) in the tunnel of love were more or less taken straight from the graphic novel.

Released the film in the summer of 2004, Batman: The Dark Knight found itself in the center of a storm of political controversy... A lesser controversy involved seeing the film passed over for the prestigous Academy Award nominations, leading to talk that superhero films deserved more respect as a genre (though this talk shouldn't be overstated; Best Picture, after all, went to Michael Mann's Gates of Fire, [3] which had been a big box office success in its own right). Though a third installment proper was never made, most agree that Batman vs Superman, which also borrows from Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, effectively functions as the third part in the trilogy.


OOC: So yeah, I'm now running out of ideas for this TL. Anyone who wants to keep this going, feel free to offer suggestions! For this update, just a few notes:
[1] I'm not going to do a whole summary for this installment, just some highlights and a general sense of the story.
[2] Remember Family Guy is still a cult hit, and he was still in the Austin Powers movies among other projects, so I expect he's still going to get a show somewhere; TTL, it's still an animated sketch show along the lines of Robot Chicken
[3] This was a film about the Battle of Thermopylae, to star Bruce Willis, that Michael Mann was looking to make in the mid-2000's OTL, but it was not to be; instead we got 300, which does not exist TTL.
Yeah, Harry Potter would have been already finished by the time Lord of the Rings bombs, but I could still see the studio execs at Warner Bros. working themselves up into thinking their movie might bomb as well due to it also being a fantasy movie.

So long as they don't sabotage the film, I can see that... Actually, it will make for a fascinating backstory, generally tying into "Hollywood doesn't know anything" talk that'll be prevalent for the early part of 2002.

Have Katey Hudson's Christian stuff be more successful? Keep her from going into Pop.

Well she bombed pretty bad OTL, so I don't know how plausible this is... Then again, it might be possible for one of her songs off her first album to be a minor hit (maybe in the months of radio confusion after 9/11), making her into a one hit wonder. Thoughts?
I'm happy these prequels actually seem to be making good use of Christopher Lee.

I'm guessing most of Will Smith's time in the early 2000s of TTL would be taken up by filming sequels Men in Black and The Matrix. Between those movies and Ali, there may not be time for him to do much else.
So long as they don't sabotage the film, I can see that... Actually, it will make for a fascinating backstory, generally tying into "Hollywood doesn't know anything" talk that'll be prevalent for the early part of 2002.
It would probably not go as far as them actively sabotaging their own film, but their line of reasoning could be along the lines of:

1) An adaption of one of the most popular fantasy role playing games bombed at the box office.
2) An adaption of one of the most popular fantasy book series bombed at the box office.
3) There must not be a big enough audience for fantasy movies due to these bombs.
4) We spent spent over $100 million on a fantasy film directed by Terry Gilliam.
5) We may have made a horrible, horrible mistake.

Of course, they'll completely forget about this once the opening weekend box office numbers are reported.