It’s easy to understand the Hollywood logic behind developing sequels: If it does well, keep it going — and going, and going, with spin-offs flying in every direction long after the concept has been spread thin. But some projects are so antithetical to this approach that the very idea of the franchise approach registers as a vulgarity. So it goes with the ongoing attempts to turn Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers” into something more than a single movie.
Three years ago, it was reported that MUSE Prods., the company run by Chris and Roberta Hanley, was shopping around a followup to the 2012 project without the involvement of Korine or anyone else associated with the original. That included “Spring Breakers” star James Franco, who said in a statement that “I want everyone to know that whoever is involved in the sequel is jumping onboard a poison ship.”
While sales company Wild Bunch attempted to set up the project at the Cannes Film Festival that year, even attaching director Jonas Akerlund and Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”) to write the screenplay, the pushback seemed to work: Reports of a “Spring Breakers” sequel evaporated faster than the memories of a boozy night on the beach.
Now, Chris Hanley is at it again, this time teaming with “Spring Breakers” executive producer Fernando Sulichin, with reports circulating of plans to launch “Spring Breakers” as a “scripted microseries” based on the original concept for developing new digital platform Blackpills.
So what is Blackpills? The French mobile-streaming platform that quietly launched last fall with the satirical series “You’ve Been Trumped,” but remains a puzzling new entity in the digital landscape that has yet to unveil many of the alleged series it teased on social media in recent weeks — including Sundance short film “Pineapple” and another short produced by Luc Besson.
Representatives from the company declined to comment at this time, saying that the series was still in production and casting mode. For now, the venture remains dubious at best; backed by billionaire tech mogul Xavier Niel, who founded the mobile services company Iliad, it reeks of opportunism by people eager to exploit the entertainment world who have little interest in quality product.
In many ways, this news is a troubling form of deja vu — further evidence of scheming producers eager to profit off a successful property and confident they have the rights to profit off it without the creator’s consent.
The Hanleys, who were also responsible for the poorly-received “American Psycho” sequel in 2000 after producing the original, have made a habit out of exploiting original ideas after they take off. They also have a tendency not to work with filmmakers more than once: From Harron to Vincent Gallo with “Buffalo ’66” to Sofia Coppola with “The Virgin Suicides,” no major filmmaker has entered the Hanleys’ orbit and shown any signs of wanting to stay there.
But the “Spring Breakers” project is an especially egregious example, one that defies logic even if you only care about the bottom line.
Needless to say, the “Spring Breakers” team has been curiously silent on this news and unavailable to comment on recent reports. Their feelings aside, however, this latest attempt to exploit their achievement is a bad idea any way you cut it — sleazy, of course, but also a terrible business idea and even worse creative concept. Anyone associated with a potential “Spring Breakers” spin-off should take into account a few reasons why it’s worth backing off.
It’s not the hottest property for a franchise. “Spring Breakers” was a surprise hit for Korine, grossing more on its opening weekend than any of his previous movies — but Korine’s previous movies never made a ton of money, anyway. The director of eccentric character studies like “Gummo” and “Trash Humpers” has always worked on the margins of American cinema, and “Spring Breakers” was another provocative tone poem from a director whose work has always defied formulaic expectations.
All told, “Spring Breakers” grossed more than $31 million worldwide (not counting its sizable performance on home entertainment platforms) — over six times its $5 million production budget — which is impressive, but only in the context of the movie itself: an expressionistic collage of colorful mayhem about hedonistic college kids who rob a bank to fund their spring break trip to Florida, where they wind up in the employ of a cartoonishly self-involved gangster named Alien (Franco).
That’s about all the traditional plot it offers up. Laced with DayGlo imagery, ironic Britney Spears covers and introspective voiceovers about the joys of a never-ending party life, “Spring Breakers” baffled younger viewers who were hoping to see a more accessible narrative starring their favorite young pop star, Selena Gomez, and got away with smuggling a kind of experimental cinema to some unexpected audiences. But even though the movie found greater traction in popular culture than anyone could have imagined, it never reached the mainstream heights of the Disneyfied world it tore apart. It’s hard to imagine a cheaper, serialized version of “Spring Breakers,” with unknown talent to boot, giving anyone a reason to tune in at all.
The story’s strengths were specific to the creative forces behind it. “Spring Breakers” may have been a surprise to some viewers, but not those already familiar with Korine’s work. Kicking his career off with the screenplay for “Kids,” Korine first made his mark exploring the grittier side of youth culture from the inside out, and “Spring Breakers” brought that thematic focus full circle. Franco, meanwhile, was at the peak of his performance art prolificacies when he tackled the role of Alien, a grinning monstrosity with golden grills and vulgar pronouncements that was the perfect vehicle for the self-reflexivity underlining his career at the moment, a brilliantly vulgar riff on exhibitionism driving modern criminality. Without Korine and Franco, “Spring Breakers” is simply not “Spring Breakers.” Which brings us to the next point…
“Spring Breakers” has a very clear ending. This movie is an experience tied less to plot than feeling, but it still brings the arc to a clean finish. If you’ve never seen it, beware of spoilers ahead. During the final act of “Spring Breakers,” Alien is killed in a shootout with his longtime foe — while two of his young trouble-seeking female proteges speed off as they embrace the newfound spirit of lawlessness that Alien has gifted them. Alien is the essence of “Spring Breakers,” an illustration of how lawlessness can provide a form of catharsis from society’s usual restrictions. His death provides a clean ending for Korine’s statement on the blend of danger and excitement that defines his characters’ life. How could a new series somehow continue in the wake of such a tidy conclusion? It’s unlikely that the two surviving Spring Breakers, played by Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens, would be willing to return for another chapter. The characters in “Spring Breakers,” archetypes of an impulse to escape the restrictions of a conservative society, are its lifeblood. In addition to that…
So was the atmosphere. “Spring Breakers” pulsates with an audiovisual poetry all to its own. And while it originated in Korine’s head, it owes much to many of his collaborators. The layered soundtrack by Skrillex and Cliff Martinez at once generates a sense of trouble and the giddy excitement of newfound freedoms. Benoit Debie’s cinematography is laced with a stunning range of colors to evoke the rush of escapism and subterranean dangers as the movie oscillates from one to the other. It would be impossible to replicate any of these textures for the reductive format of a mobile series. You’d be better off streaming “Spring Breakers” on your phone.
The movie was a subversive masterstroke. A cheap series would be the antithesis of that. Everything about “Spring Breakers” is a form of deconstruction. The slo-mo opening shot of hard-partying on the beach doesn’t celebrate or endorse the scene so much as it redefines it as a kind of primal, animalistic ritual. Franco’s memorable “Look at my shit!” monologue is hilariously campy while also brilliantly lampooning the materialism of the gangster lifestyle. The group’s rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” is the essence of the movie’s cartoonish soul. Any attempt to copy that would become the very thing it so eloquently deconstructs — a vapid spectacle of party life. You can find plenty of real-life examples of that on YouTube.
The movie has fans. They are dedicated, loud, virulent — and likely to speak out against the series at every available opportunity. There is a young generation of moviegoers for whom “Spring Breakers” was a formative experience just a few years ago, one of their first encounters with an experimental narrative. Others see it as a wild party movie. Selena Gomez fans don’t all get the appeal but they stand behind their queen. Franco’s supporters know how he feels about all this, and Korine’s own fan base goes back to the early nineties. All told, none of these people want to see a corruption of this artistic achievement in such knowingly crass fashion. That’s hardly an asset for the Blackpills project, especially as one of the supposedly marquee items for a company in the process of trying to establish itself. It’s hard to imagine anyone at the company really seeing the potential here — unless, like Alien, Blackpills is just looking to stir things up to assert its dominance.
But we all know how it turned out for him.