Sunday, June 19, 2011

Incoherence in the movie industry

Something happened this weekend that caused me to reflect on the state of the U.S. movie industry, and that something was the release of "Green Lantern". No one movie better exemplifies the state of corporate moviemaking in the U.S., which can best be explained by the following analogy: What would happen if a bunch of drunks stumbled on a satchel full of money and decided to make a movie?

Movie executives readily affirm their desire to minimize risk by making movies based on "pre-sold" properties--that means books, comic books, television shows, cartoons, other movies and anything else that consumers recognize instantly. (I'm amazed that we haven't already seen "McDonalds, The Movie.") So, this summer, we got "Thor", "X-Men: First Class", "Kung Fu Panda 2", "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides", "Fast Five", "Judy Moody and the NOT Watchable Movie" (not the real title, but accurate), and, of course, "Green Lantern." We're waiting for "Cars 2", a second version of perhaps the worst movie that Pixar ever made, and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon", where Michael Bay blows up Chicago without getting rid of a single corrupt political official.

Some pre-sold movies turn out very well; I don't think that Christopher Nolan can make a bad movie, the original "Iron Man" was brilliant, and the first two X-Men movies were fun, but not one of the series movies that have been released so far this summer, with the possible exception of "Fast Five", is as good as the best movie in its series.

"Green Lantern" is reported to have cost Warner Bros. $150 million to produce. For $150 million, you would have thought that studio executives would have read the script. Martin Campbell, who directed "Casino Royale", directed "Green Lantern" with the alacrity of a blind man driving an Indy Car. For that matter, Kenneth Branagh, who directed some of the best versions of Shakespeare's plays ever put on film, directed "Thor", another pre-sold superhero movie that wasn't worth the price of admission. This conclusively demonstrates that the "auteur theory", which states that the director, not the writer, is the "author" of the movie, has been replaced by the "hooker theory", which states that directors will knowingly film any complete piece of crap if they're paid enough.

What the U.S. movie industry has done is not minimize risk by fixating on pre-sold properties--it's attempted to absolve itself of any responsibility for making good movies. You can make excellent movies from pre-sold properties, as Brian Singer, Gore Verbinski, Jon Favreau, Christopher Nolan, and even Martin Campbell (with James Bond) demonstrate. You can also make really lousy movies. If you're paying $150 million, it doesn't cost any more to make it good. J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" proves that you can make a good movie for much less than $150 million that's still loaded with special effects and suspense.

My philosophy is that any movie from a U.S. studio other than Pixar has to be regarded as crap unless proven otherwise.
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