Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #569: Has MGM Gone Beyond The Outer Limits

Welcome to the show folks...

The once mighty MGM, which used to brag that they had "more stars than the sky" is in a bit of a pickle. They can't get James Bond, their most vital franchise, off the ground, their production of
The Hobbit is lost somewhere in darkest Mordor. They're also billions in debt, Spyglass Entertainment wants to gut them into just another production company, and if they didn't have bad luck, they'd have no luck at all.

But they say that they're not totally out of the game.

MGM is reportedly hoping that an Outer Limits movie is their ticket back to the big time.

Okay, maybe not the big time, but at least solvency.

Let's look at the facts.

The Outer Limits, for those who don't know their history, was a TV series from the 1960s and a Canadian made cable TV revival in the 1990s. It was similar to The Twilight Zone, in that it was a science fiction anthology series that features new stories, some with twist endings, every week.

2. Doing an anthology movie, imitating
Twilight Zone The Movie, where a bunch of smaller stories are packed together is risky these days of razor thin margins and exploding costs. The chances of them pulling off such a portmanteau film as cheaply as TZTM are pretty damn slim.

3. They could just adapt a single past
Outer Limits episode into a feature film. The problem with that idea is that its two best known, and most feature film worthy stories, Soldier, and Demon With A Glass Hand, both written by SF legend Harlan Ellison, were already made into a feature film, called The Terminator.

4. MGM is even broker than me, and that's saying something. I'm at least out of debt. It's unlikely they could muster the funding for the sort of big budget mega-extravaganza they're probably expected to make.

So is this a bad idea?

I could be, but it also be turned into a good idea.

You see
Inception shows that there is a market for intelligent science fiction films that aren't part of a comic book or pre-existing franchise. There's a way MGM can use The Outer Limits, that they already own, but not as a remake, but as a brand.

MGM as a brand is good at selling old movies, but sadly most of their old flicks are now owned by Warner Bros., it's bad at selling something new, and worse at selling science fiction. Here's where The Outer Limits brand could be used.

So here's my advice:

Forget doing a movie, create an Outer Limits Presents imprint for intelligent, well written, modest budgeted, science fiction films that have enough novelty and adventure to sell well. It's vaguely familiar, dwelling the backs of the minds of folks who watched the reruns on cable TV, yet not weighed down by pre-existing characters and continuity. Marketing people like that. Plus it lets them put some distance between the films and the dead weight of the MGM name.

Now the tricky part is getting the money together for these films. Which is why I'm advising MGM aim low for these films budget-wise, but aim high in the quality of story and film craftsmanship. Look for filmmakers passionate about a particular novel or short story that they really want to adapt, and are willing to do it on a reasonable budget.

Then you might get somewhere without fumbling into the annoying, 'let's do a remake' trap.


  1. Done properly, that would work quite well.

    Focus on story first then, when you've got a story, do it as well as you can.

    Science fiction fans will forgive a lot if the story is good and the execution coherent.

    For an example of brand building you need look no farther than Pixar.

    Yeah, their movies cost a ton these days. That's the 3D animation business for you. But they have never sacraficed story to pay for 'teh bling'.

    With their reputation, rightfully earned, they could probably release a black and white cartoon with an animation style remenescent of Steamboat Willie and still make money.

    Get the story right, people will follow.

  2. jepressman@gmail.com4/8/10 5:12 pm

    The Outer Limits TV show from the early sixties and the Canadian series were well conceived and executed stories. The plots of many of those shows were thought provoking,sometimes unnerving,awe inspiring writing.However please bring it back as a TV show ,not a movie.Just one movie won't be enough,at least for me.Cerebral sci/fi on TV is in hibernation. Wake it up. A younger audience might be surprised to see that sci/fi doesn't have to be variations on Star Wars and video games.

  3. Why don't they make a movie out of the episode "Fun and Games"?
    Oh, wait.
    They already did.
    It's called "Predators".