This week production began on the long-gestating Deadwood film. It will act as a continuation of the highly acclaimed yet short-lived, three season-long, western drama starring Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker and more, which never received the ending it deserved due to cancellation. The film was greenlit some time ago, and twelve years on it remains to be seen whether it has the ability to reach a big enough audience to shepherd the next step forward in the Hollywood method of recycling successful properties. However, Deadwood’s production commencement isn’t the biggest news when it comes to television shows making the leap into feature-length extravaganzas.
Over the course of twenty-four hours, two major AMC series have hit the headlines. First off, The Walking Dead reached its heavily promoted farewell to Rick Grimes, after it was revealed earlier in the year that the ninth season would be the last for star Andrew Lincoln. Fans have been both anticipating and dreading the coming loss of the zombie drama’s leading man, and yet the show has earned some good will among viewers and critics alike with its proficient handling of Rick’s exit and the subsequent reveal that Lincoln would lead three feature films set in the Walking Dead universe to be aired on AMC.
No news has been offered on when the films will reach the small screen, though given Lincoln’s personal reasons for leaving the series there’s a good chance it will be some time before Rick Grimes returns in any capacity. His departure from the parent show itself though offers a chance, after two or three consistently panned seasons, to reset and refresh the show with an eye to an invigorated future. The decision to first promote so heavily the end of Rick’s story and then announce a trilogy of films as part of a larger expansion could easily, however, be interpreted as an executive choice rather than a creative one.
The series, as a whole, has lacked in creativity despite continually inviting solid performances and unique direction into its sandpit. Its parts have often been delivered with artistic endeavour, but taken as a whole the show has gradually felt as though story choices are made to maximize financial payoff. A cynic might see the films as a desperate attempt to keep the show relevant as it ages increasingly quickly, but they could also turn out to be the most inspired and fruitful decisions to come out of AMC’s doors in years.
Chief content officer and former showrunner Scott Gimple delved further into the expansion plans for The Walking Dead, which despite being the lesser in quality of AMC’s “big three” (along with Breaking Bad and Mad Men) has remained one of the biggest shows on television in terms of ratings even with regularly decreasing numbers. “We are telling Rick’s story in another medium, and it’s going to be these AMC Studios original films… that’s what’s been happening in the industry. We’ve seen Netflix make these, basically, studio films for people to watch in their homes, and we’re going to be doing the same sort of thing here,” said Gimple.
“Right now, we’re working on three [films] but there’s flexibility in that… Over the next several years, we’re going to be doing specials, new series are quite a possibility, high-quality digital content and then some content that defies description at the moment.” Some of this could in hindsight, eventually, read as hyperbole, but there’s a clear and concentrated attempt to blow The Walking Dead property into something bigger than anything else on television. It seems the opposite attempt is being made to a recent trend in which classic films are being adapted for television, in what may well be television’s next major growth spurt as a medium.
Reports have also flooded in that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan is working on a two-hour feature film follow-up to his groundbreaking series for Sony TV, although no indication has been made as to whether it’s being made with a theatrical or televised release in mind. Further, there’s no news on whether this will act as a prequel akin to the currently still-airing Better Call Saul, itself a show worthy of its predecessor, or a sequel of some sort. The only thing that’s clear is that it will take place in the same universe occupied by Saul Goodman and Walter White, with Gilligan on as executive producer, writer, and potentially director. Production is expected to begin this month in New Mexico, and the film reportedly follows the escape of a kidnapped man and his quest for freedom.
It’s early days as we look at three hugely popular properties making the plunge into feature-length continuations, and each of them are at significantly different stages with what are likely to be different goals in mind. The Deadwood film follows Entourage from a few years back, another HBO series which itself received a theatrical film some time after the show had ended. That film was a flop, and instantly forgettable, hopefully not setting a precedent for what’s to come.
All three of these (although maybe less so Deadwood) feel like executive decisions, but if it means we get further stories set in worlds we’re invested in, at a standard that justifies their existence, then those beloved series’ will only benefit from them. Too often we find that the jump between mediums can be too exhaustive a process for beloved games, comics, shows, and films, so it’s likely that some or all of these projects will be met with lowered expectations. In the case of The Walking Dead though, the skepticism to come will hopefully be combated with some quality results.