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Posts Tagged ‘Transformers’

In Part 1 of this series, I documented how the Star Wars franchise, which burst so spectacularly onto the scene in 1977, fizzled out by the end of 1986. Before the first movie had even celebrated its tenth birthday, George Lucas had stopped making not only new Star Wars films, but Star Wars comics, cartoons, TV movies, action figures, novels, video games—you name it:

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But of course the story didn’t end there. In May 1991, the franchise rumbled back to life, resuming all of those product lines, and eventually going on to release new Star Wars movies:

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What’s more, all of those products have continued in some form or another until today.

What explains that four-year-long gap, when Star Wars disappeared? And why did the franchise return, and why has it stuck around since then?

In order to answer those and other related questions, I wrote my most recent book, I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture, which I encourage you to buy and read! But if you want the short version of the story, then read on …

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Dear Cedric Phillips and GerryT,

Having listened with great interest to the “Change Worth Fighting For” episode of the Cedric Phillips Podcast, I felt compelled to reply. On that episode, you wondered why professional Magic players have seen their fortunes decline so precipitously over the past ten years, and what they can now do to improve their situation. I believe I can help explain this reversal of fortune, and offer some relevant advice. What follows is a little on the long side, and perhaps a little depressing, but I hope you will nonetheless find it edifying. If you like, it would be my pleasure to discuss these matters further.

About me, briefly: I’ve played Magic on and off since the release of Fallen Empires, and am a regular consumer of Magic content. Among other things, I’ve watched every Pro Tour since PT Los Angeles (October 2005); I’ve watched countless LSV draft videos and Twitch streams; I’ve listened to hundreds of episodes of Limited Resources, Mark Rosewater’s Drive to Work podcast, and various other Magic podcasts; and I’ve read just about every column that Mark Rosewater has ever written. At the same time, I’m also an English Ph.D. and author whose research interests include the economics of fantasy artworks—for instance, my most recent book, I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture, tells the story of how geek culture went from being an underground phenomenon to a mainstream demographic. Given that, I tend to view Magic from a financial perspective—by which I don’t mean living the dream of playing on the Pro Tour, or making a fortune by speculating on Magic cards, but rather trying to understand why Wizards of the Coast makes the economic decisions that it does.

I am hardly a Wizards insider. But I believe that my research into Magic’s financial history, coupled with my broader knowledge of fantasy franchises, enables me to understand why Wizards has chosen over the past decade to disinvest in its Pros, even if that decision appears baffling and counterintuitive to those players. For years now I’ve watched Pros complain about their situation, wondering why, if Magic is doing so great, then why are the Pros suffering? Shouldn’t their fortunes rise and fall with Wizards’? As you yourselves put it on your podcast, “the stars sell the cards,” by which logic if Wizards wants to succeed, then it needs to build stars. Just like how the NBA promotes LeBron James, and not simply “hoops,” Wizards should promote, say, Reid Duke, and not simply “Siege Rhino.” By that same logic, if Wizards doesn’t build stars, then it won’t sell cards, and everyone’s fortune will decline.

I sympathize with your argument. I love watching professional Magic, and once attended a Pro Tour as press just so I could blog about it. But at the same time, I think that your logic is mistaken, and I suspect that your arguments will fail to impress Wizards. Because while it appears to you that Wizards is behaving irrationally, or foolishly, the fact remains that the company long ago settled on a business plan that involves investing less in its Pro players, not more. This is because Wizards has already tried the strategy that you cite—promoting Magic by championing its Pros—only to find that it didn’t work out that all that well. Indeed, it proved nearly catastrophic. And because of that, as well as for other reasons, Wizards has spent the past ten years rebranding Magic as something other than a competitive tournament game.

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Over at PressPlay, I have a new post that surveys the history of the critical film term mise-en-scène, in order to argue past the tendency to oppose that concept with editing. I also push back against the current obsession with long takes, and analyze a clip from the very rapidly cut Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (still my favorite Hollywood film of the past five years). Also discussed: essays by David Bordwell and Brian Henderson. It’s a long post!

In response, Richard Brody kindly alerted me to this New Yorker article of his, which complicates the image of the 1950s Cahiers du Cinéma crowd as being entirely opposed to montage. Key paragraph:

[Henry K.] Miller rightly notes that André Bazin, the editor of Cahiers until his death, in 1958, made a name for himself as an opponent of the then-dominant trend in film theory—as an opponent of montage, of editing, as the essence of cinema. Miller goes on at length about a 1962 essay by Gérard Gozlan in Positif that challenges Bazin’s ideas, but Miller fails to note that the most important French refutations of Bazin came in the pages of Cahiers itself, beginning a decade earlier—from Jean-Luc Godard. […] Godard’s ideas both superseded and encompassed Bazin’s theories and paved the way for his own approach to filmmaking, in which tightly edited sequences and long takes, closeups and deep-focus shots coexist.

It’s well worth reading in its entirety.

Meanwhile, I hope to do more writing soon on short takes. I’ll of course be seeing the fourth Transformers film, and have wanted for some time now to do some analysis of the Bond film Quantum of Solace—in particular the pre-credits sequence, which might be the most rapidly cut sequence in modern Hollywood:

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