I watched a lot of movies over the holidays. I’m a movie fan. At one time, I’d watch almost anything, just to try and learn something about telling a story visually. I’d even watch a bad movie, just to see how truly bad it could get. (For the record, the worst movie I ever voluntarily sat through on my own dime was Gas, a little comedy opus on the gas crisis of the 70’s. I don’t think Donald Sutherland put THAT one on his resume.)
But, I digress. As I’ve studied editing, lighting, directing, screenwriting, scoring and so forth, I’ve been struck by how some movies can go so very wrong. I’m also struck by the fact that good directors are allowed to bend the rules of storytelling, because of studio indulgence – and how bad directors keep getting hired to helm movies they have no business directing.
Need proof? I offer as Exhibit A, one Joel Schumacher. Joel has brought us such immortal films such as 1981’s The Incredible Shrinking Woman, Dying Young (1991), Batman Forever (1995), and the unforgivable Batman and Robin (1997), a film so bad, it almost killed a franchise. A quick perusal of IMBd shows that he has no fewer than THREE films in various states of pre-production. Now I realize it takes more than a bad director to make a bad film, but if you look at his credits, it’s easy to see the common thread (him!) among films that are just plain bad.
Not enough? Okay, let’s talk about Ang Lee. From the movies I’ve seen that he’s directed, he started off as a talented guy. Seemed like a disciplined director. Then came Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon. Now, I’ve been told by many friends that Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon was a great film. I disagree. At least I would, had I been able to keep my eyes open. After three attempted viewings, I finally gave up. Great wire work doth not a great film make. So it’s a big hit (sort of). What do the studios do? Throw money at him, and let him make a confused piece of crap that was Hulk. I Tivo’d it and watched it the other night. Aside from the cheezy special effects (Where’s Lou Ferrigno when you need him?) and the pathological need to violate basic things like the Law of Gravity and other dearly-held principles of physics, the plot kept me going “huh?!” through much of the movie. I’m tellin’ you – the plot to Phantasm made more sense. At least IT had expository dialog that made a valiant attempt to tie the goofy loose threads together. (Somebody tell me what in HELL Nick Nolte was doing in the movie, and what was the motivation of his character?!) Now Mr. Lee gives us Brokeback Mountain – the touching story of two gay caballeros who want nothing but to be left to screw up two families lives while they indulge in their own gay sexcapades.
Don’t get me wrong. If somebody wants to make a film about gay cowboys, go for it. Just don’t employ the fellow-traveler MSM to sing it’s praises, then sit around wondering why nobody in the “red” states wants to see it. It seems the formula is to take one good director, reward him with a huge budget and creative control that negates any oversight by the studio, watch him produce a bad film, then let him spend big bucks on a picture that won’t make money.
Nee more proof? How about Peter Jackson? I haven’t yet seen King Kong, but all indications are that it bears the mark of a director with nobody willing to tell him “no.” I loved TLOTR franchise. He did a masterful job, turning the books that could have been each a miniseries unto itself into three movies that worked without feeling like a Cliff Notes summary. Then he was allowed to take an under two-hour classic and turn it into a three-hour film that can’t help but be somewhat self-indulgent.
Look. I’m a creative guy. I love to push the envelope and try new ideas, even at the expense of the schedule. However, I’m also very appreciative of the people in my life – both professional and personal – that have the guts to look me in the eye and say “get OVER yourself already and ship the bloody thing!” It’s like this. Creativity is great. But sometimes you have to balance that with other concerns – like money, time, and the demands of your audience.
In the old days, you’d see a director be forced to hand over the right of the final edit to the studios. This wasn’t always a good thing (see: Welles, Orson), but it did keep the “artistic temperament” of the artistes to a bearable level. Then came the DVDs with their “director’s cut” (now, simply a way for the studios to make even more money on releasing each title more than once). How will they do a “director’s cut” of King Kong? We’re watching the flippin’ director’s cut of Kong at the box office!
Maybe I’ll wait to see it until the second DVD comes out. If it’s true that within every fat movie, a thin movie is waiting to come out, perhaps the studio will release a “producer’s cut” that trims the wretched excess down to a stunningly good, two-hour movie.