14 May 2018 | ivko
mirror, mirror on the wall...
If you live long enough you'll notice something funny about the way movies are made in Hollywood. Every once in a while, particularly during summer months when studios are rolling out their blockbuster hopefuls, you'll see a couple of movies released that seem to be mirror images of one-another. Not exactly the same, but similar enough that it seems like they must have some common ancestor.
The reason why this happens is pretty straight forward and has to do with the unusual way the movie industry works. Often, the scripts for movies aren't developed in-house by the studios, but rather purchased from freelance writers who come up with an idea and then "pitch" it to multiple studios looking for a buyer.
The process works for both the writers and the studios. There is a catch, however, which is that the person pitching relies upon a studio honoring an informal agreement not to use an idea without compensating the creator. The problem is that less scrupulous studio executives will have no problem passing on an idea and then blatantly copying it for their own movie. And even though everyone involved knows what's happening, it's pretty rare for anyone to actually sue over it, so it tends to keep happening.
A famous example of this (famous in the relative sense) happened with the movies 'Deep Impact' and 'Armageddon'. The original author who pitched 'Deep Impact' watched a studio exec take copious notes during the pitch, pass on it, and then rush to create a script and get his ripped off version made in time to compete with 'Deep Impact', which was purchased by another studio.
This usually happens when someone creates a script that captures the zeitgeist; that taps into an idea that just clicks with what people are talking and thinking about and it becomes the "must have" idea of the year.
Unless you're an industry insider, it can be difficult to know which movie was the original concept and which was the ripoff, but generally the original idea will be more polished and well thought out. 'Armageddon', for example, famously had such huge plot holes that the cast was complaining about them during filming.
'Olympus Has Fallen' (OHF) came out around the same time as 'White House Down' (WHD). Both movies feature an attack on the white house with an invading force, aided by a turncoat secret service agent, conquering the presidential security in an attempt to take him hostage. Both movies also have a protagonist who isn't secret service, but has some connection to the agency and ultimately proves that he deserves to be guarding the president. Both movies involve protecting a child caught in the crossfire. Both have failed attempts by special forces to re-take the building. Both involve explosions that destroy the building. Both movies involve forcing a change to foreign policy. And so on, you get the idea.
I don't know which was the original, but I have a guess. The movies were made during the presidency of Barack Obama. After he was elected, there was a lot of speculation about whether he would be the subject of an assassination attempt. To African Americans Obama represented an almost unbelievable event: one of their own elected to the most powerful office in the nation. And there was a great deal of angst about losing him violently, the way a number of prominent black leaders had been lost in the past. I think that was the kernel that sparked the original screenplay; this clash of the old power base and the new one in the symbolic seat of national power.
To my mind, WHD was the liberal take on the idea while OHF was the conservative counter. WHD featured a charismatic black president clearly modeled after Obama, right down to his attempts to quit smoking. The villains are white supremacist types backed by the old-guard military industrial complex who are fearful of the changes the president was making to foreign policy. And the protagonist is a millennial trying to prove he was worthy of the responsibility of protecting the president, perhaps an analogy for the young political activists that brought new methods of campaigning to Obama's election.
OHF, by contrast, features a white male president with villains who were almost exclusively Asian, and rather than representing the supporters of the status quo they are actively looking to tear down American force abroad, suggesting that the bad guys can't stand how effective the traditional American foreign policy is. In other words, the message is "we are winning and they are getting desperate". Even the protagonist is more representative of the target audience: a middle-aged man with a penchant for defiantly vowing to destroy the villains and defend our way of life.
Neither movie is particularly deep; it's mostly about the action sequences. In other words, these are popcorn movies. But I do think it's interesting how two such similar base ideas can manifest such different messages. While WHD is about the (then) rising tide of the progressive political movement and the supposed fear within groups that traditionally held power in the US, OHF is all about the traditional conservative message of Jingoism and the need to protect ourselves from the parts of the world that don't share our values.
Whatever the case may be, OHF was successful enough to green light a second film 'London Has Fallen', which is a continuation of the themes, only with (primarily) middle-eastern villains instead of Asian ones, and an upcoming 'Angel Has Fallen'. Personally, I thought OHF was decent but unspectacular. I enjoyed it enough when I saw it on HBO or Netflix or wherever, but I probably wouldn't pay to see it in the theater.