The Fat Lady Sings: this Completes the Trilogy, Not the Saga
90s Cinema started and ended with two notable bangs: bada bing bada boom! Crime stories, from the artsy noir knockoffs to the guttural gangster tragedies to the crime scene investigation clones and procedurals of the turn of the millennium, have captivated audiences and continue to break new ground in storytelling. After all, this is nothing new; Macbeth was the original Tony Montana.
1990 saw the reboot of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather through a shameless sequel. Not like sequels were something new; it’s just that the 90s elevated the serialization of storytelling to new heights. Audiences started to expect series of movies as a given, and we now take these long term investments for granted. Chronology was thrown out the window. A story could develop as a prequel, and by 1999 timelines shattered along with the big screen. Being John Malkovich, The Matrix, and Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace closed the decade with a demolition crew of deconstructive blockbusters.
1999 also ushered in the Sopranos, not available in theater box offices but instead through Home Box Office. Today, we talk about the death of cable television and cord-cutters. The seeds of this current media revolution were sown by HBO. They took what appeared to be a Godfather derivative and ran with it. The long-form series, the new mode of storytelling also know as the mega-movie, the one that allows for America’s now favorite pastime of binge-watching, improved the theater format of ephemeral diversion and merged it with the power of a great novel.
For far too long audiences have complained about how the book is better than the movie; so, movies became books, but not in the theaters. From New Jack City to L.A. Confidential, the gritty realism to the noir romantic; not to mention the prolific works of Tarantino and Scorsese; forget about Training Day and Street Kings; when it comes to the Crime genre, the Godfather remains at the top. The entire Godfather series clocks in at about 9 hours total. The Sopranos racked up at least 70 hours. Even if audiences see the Sopranos as potentially closer to television than cinema, due to an episodic formula, HBO’s other critically acclaimed crime series, The Wire, easily amassed a 60 hour viewing time. The Wire is arguably a byproduct of HBO’s success and the shift in audience consumption from the theater to the small screen. A 60 hour story compared to a 6 hour story, representing the first 2 installments of the Godfather series, which holds titles proclaiming its status as the boss of Motion Pictures, dominates the mind of a viewer; at some point audiences start to endure such a significant amount of time in a story that the characters become more than palpable.
One of the latest offerings of this new age of storytelling, the mega-movie (similar to the mega-novel), and a promising series to keep track of if not appreciate for its initial 2 seasons, is Netflix’s Narcos. In roughly 20 hours of viewing time audiences will see a modern Crime story, one that took place in the 90s, on par with classics like Scarface, bring to life a powerful contender for the crown of organized crime capers. Narcos manages to humanize Pablo Escobar almost more than audiences should allow, yet it is impressive as an Art to see a vehicle like the mega-movie bring such depth to biography even for the most notorious of figures.
If there is any projection as to the future path of cinema, we can disregard the extreme sensory depth perception of virtual reality and start to focus on extensive narratives, measured in part by viewing time and potentially further measured by endurance time. There is hope for the adaptation of the new millennia’s mega-novels. A streaming service of the future could produce a story worthy of binge watching for months, a story that could help audiences endure Infinite Jest or 1Q84, or better yet the ultimate Crime story: 2666.