Finally, a bit of good news for those in favor of arming Eddie Murphy and unleashing him on unaware California residents. Jerry Bruckheimer, the megaproducer behind the Pirates of the Caribbean films and so many Michael Bay productions, has decided upon his new post-Disney partner, and it is Paramount Pictures. Many giganto-huge blockbusters will surely stem from this new partnership, but the first are to be Top Gun 2 and a Beverly Hills Cop reboot. Both have been talked about for years, but now 26 years later we’re finally on track to see an aged Tom Cruise ejecting himself from a series of aircraft ‐ and yes, according to Deadline, both Cruise and Murphy are set to return to these new installments.
It’s the same old story. Movie was popular several decades ago. Now it’s being redone. But the difference here is Bruckheimer, who was a producer and major creative force on both the original Top Gun and the first two Beverly Hills Cop installments. Will it change things now that he is rebooting his own babies and not, say, radio show characters from almost a century ago? (The $190m hole The Lone Ranger left in Disney’s pocket is considered one of the major reasons Bruckheimer was given the boot.) His affection could make a difference. The man may want to ensure that his earliest hits are given the care and respect they deserve, but Bruckheimer is also a very different producer than he was then. The Bruckheimer of today, who traffics almost exclusively in films that outperform the GDP of a small country (and no, that’s not a joke, as the second Pirates movie made more in 2006 than all of Liberia), might not have what it takes to redo his more down-to-earth blockbusters of the 1980s.
Now, it must be said that Bruckheimer, as a producer (and not a director) is obviously not the singular creative force behind any film on his resume. But labeling something “a Jerry Bruckheimer film” still means something. In the ’80s, it meant you were looking at a blockbuster that was either vaguely erotic (American Gigolo, Flashdance, Cat People) or action-packed (Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun). Then, in the ’90s it meant the biggest, loudest explosions money could buy. It was mid-decade that Bruckheimer first discovered a music video director named Michael Bay and opened up a Pandora’s Box that can never be closed. Starting with Bay’s Bad Boys debut and continuing through the next ten years, the two forged a steady partnership in all things explodable. And in the last decade, the name Jerry Bruckheimer has come to mean something else: catastrophically huge blockbusters, all of them sequels and/or adaptations.
Bruckheimer is hardly coy about this change. He admitted this year to The Huffington Post’s Mike Ryan, “as you get older and you experience more things ‐ and things around you change, society changes, the world changes ‐ you change with it.” To The Guardian he later added, “It’s all about making money. If you have a title that has real value because it made a lot of money. They’ll wanna make another one. It’s pre-sold. They don’t have to advertise it so much. The advertising budget is a lot less.” At least he’s honest with himself. Hollywood may have become a far more fickle, money driven beast in the last few decades than it ever was before, but Bruckheimer’s making the change right alongside it.
Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun aren’t nearly as massive as the stuff Bruckheimer’s been putting out lately. Top Gun, at least, still has dogfights and slow motion and all that. But just try comparing this:
And yes, I know, Tony Scott and Bay are two distinctly different animals (although it’s worth checking out Matt Singer’s essay, “Top Gun and the Bruckheimer Hero,” which argues that Bruckheimer exerts far more creative control than your average producer). But these two clips provide a nice visual argument for the difference between the Bruckheimer of this year and yesteryear. Both clips have planes making things go boom, but in Top Gun the bulk of the footage is close-ups of our pilots as they do the boom-making. The emphasis there is on character, the interactions between those characters, and the risk that one of those men whose faces we’re so close to might get shot down. In Pearl Harbor, the emphasis is all on the boom. Characters are just there to transport us from visual effect to visual effect, creating something far more extensive (seriously, the last thirty seconds of that clip are one prolonged explosion) but far less personable.
1980s Bruckheimer was a producer who would actually scale down a picture if it was getting too huge. It’s exactly what happened with Beverly Hills Cop. The movie was slated to star Sylvester Stallone, who quickly set about making things exponentially bigger, until the climax featured his character “in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra-slimy bad guy.” Bruckheimer and Don Simpson (his partner until the latter’s death in 1996) got rid of Stallone posthaste and eventually found themselves an Eddie Murphy for the role. And if Paramount wanted a sequel Bruckheimer didn’t feel comfortable with? Too bad. The producer told The Guardian that the lack of Top Gun sequels wasn’t “because the studio didn’t want to [make them],” but because he “just never could crack the story.”
There is, at least, one glimmer of hope for Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun’s future. Judging from an interview with The Wrap, Bruckheimer’s recent string of all-ages megahits may have been Disney’s influence more than his own. Says the man himself, “I will have the freedom and opportunity to make various kinds of pictures, which I didn’t have at Disney … I make movies I want to see, and I don’t just want to see the PG movies. I want to see hard PG-13 and R movies.”
Perhaps along with a little more ratings diversity, we’ll also see a few Bruckheimer productions that are more stripped-down. With luck, two of those will end up being Top Gun 2 and Beverly Hills Cop: The Rebootening, sparing us from what otherwise seems more likely, that both films will be just as gigantic as the rest of Bruckheimer’s recent filmography. Beverly Hills Cop isn’t a property that can be sold to all audiences. It’s foul-mouthed and violent and acerbic, something that may not rake in Liberia-sized profits but doesn’t necessarily need to. Top Gun, on the other hand, has the high-octane dogfights that transfer better to a modern Bruckheimer picture. But even then it’s still far more interested in people than Pearl Harbor and Pirates of the Caribbean are. We wouldn’t mourn for Goose if he’d died in some Michael Bay-sized CGI set piece, and we won’t mourn for Maverick if he suffers the same fate in a giant-size Top Gun 2. There’s a reason these films are fondly remembered while something like National Treasure isn’t.
Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that the 1980s Bruckheimer still lurks somewhere within the Bruckheimer of today.