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PostPosted: Sun Nov 23, 2014 2:16 am 
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I opened up Rotten Tomatoes this morning, and noticed again in the ‘Coming Soon’ and ‘Top Box Office’ a number of films scoring below 40%, 30% or 20% on the tomato-meter. A couple of weeks ago I watched Disney’s John Carter when it was on TV. Recently I re-watched The Phantom Menace to see if it was as bad as I remember (it was). Then there’s Batman and Robin and Catwoman.

Obviously taste can be subjective, and plenty of movies of questionable artistic value have made back their budget at the box office. But I can’t help but wondering – how can a film with a budget in the hundreds of millions, a collaborative effort between experienced film producers who are in the business of turning entertainment in revenue, a director, actors (often critically-acclaimed ones) and (usually) several screenwriters selected over thousands of hopefuls produce a flop? I’m not talking about the projects of lone eccentrics like The Room, nor B-Movies made on scratch budgets which get along by hiring photogenic non-actors at twenty dollars an hour to scream as they get chainsawed up. I’m talking about large-budget films by respectable studios with an interest in preserving their reputation and ongoing solvency.

For example, I’m always a believer that a film will stand or fall on its script, yet plenty of big-budget films contain truly bad writing. Surely if you have a hundred million dollars to spend you can sink a few ten thousands into getting some good writers on board for a few weeks – there are plenty of people who can write. Is bad writing just not considered a problem? Or is good writing just not worth fighting for, even when you have examples like Pulp Fiction which zings along on the strength of its screenplay? And if you are risk-averse (and I understand that studio executives need to be so) there are a lot of moderately well-selling novels out there that could be adapted into serviceable films. I am still holding out for an adaptation of either Garth Nix’s Sabriel or Wil McCarthy’s The Collapsium, for example, two of my personal favourite modern works of fantasy and science fiction respectively. Or the Cold Minds Trilogy, for that matter.

John Carter nearly sank Disney. A series of poor box-office performers, most notably the very expensive The Golden Compass, did sink New Line Cinema. Batman and Robin stopped the very-lucrative Batman franchise dead in its tracks. Cutthroat Island drove MGM up against the wall and sent Carolco into receivership. Last year’s 47 Ronin left Universal with a loss. Other large Corporations don’t seem to make these sorts of poor decisions as often. I doubt that Exxon Mobil would spend a hundred million drilling on the blind off-chance of hitting oil, or that WalMart would open a mega-store in a town without the guarantee of a customer base.

So how does it happen in this industry? Obviously companies make mistakes, but they don’t seem to make mistakes worth tens of millions with the regularity that the film studios do.


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 23, 2014 3:26 am 
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Simple, IMO. In art, collaborative efforts often produce ugly results! The old sayings "too many cooks in the kitchen" and "a camel is a horse made in committee" come to mind. It's far easier for a big budget movie to become a camel, than a horse. When a horse emerges from such a complex and messy process, with so many people with competing visions, it's almost a miracle. It takes a competent director to lead the film towards coherence. And though I'm not a big fan of PJ's style, I think he manages the collaborative process rather well, and ends up with a generally coherent product.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 2:57 am 
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If the director is not also the main screenwriter, the script tends to be at the mercy of the producers and hired-gun script docs who know the formulae like the backs of their collective, withered hands.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 3:03 am 
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Had he been able to predict the future, Dante would surely have placed "script doctors" in one of the inner circles of hell.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 6:30 am 
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I think in part it's the "90% of everything is crap" law.

For the record, I saw John Carter on a flight and thought it was quite acceptable as an in-flight movie except that I found the male lead to be utterly unattractive, so what's the point. I liked Golden Compass quite a bit. IIRC, it ran into antagonism from some Christian group who did not like the message of the books.

That said, I am hopeful, with Marvel pushing the popular entertainment envelope with offerings that fun, original (for a given value of), and not stupid. Also I applaud their choice of male leads. I think they finally figured out who watches action movies and why. ;)

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 6:35 am 
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axordil wrote:
If the director is not also the main screenwriter, the script tends to be at the mercy of the producers and hired-gun script docs who know the formulae like the backs of their collective, withered hands.


The thing is, if they followed the formulae they should at least be producing serviceable even if unremarkable films. P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie followed a formula for decades with great success. Hundreds of perfectly good films from 1940s film noir to Avatar have been formulaic. The films I am thinking of often end up going on some sort of bizarre diversion or just running flat from start to finish.


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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 10:34 am 
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Count me in as one who enjoyed John Carter. Good hokum fun. Popcorn flick, but perfectly serviceable.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 2:18 pm 
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Out of curiosity, to compare reactions, how much of a fan of Burrough's Barsoom series are you? I read A Princess of Mars before I read anything by Tolkien, and while I can't say that it is as dear to me now, it is very much part of my DNA. So I can't claim to be able to be objective on the film, but I thought it was not only one of the worst adaptations I have ever seen, but also one of the worst films period.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 2:44 pm 
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not something I would recommend
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This is also why "bad" films get made - it's hard to agree on what makes a film bad!

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 3:23 pm 
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Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
Out of curiosity, to compare reactions, how much of a fan of Burrough's Barsoom series are you?


I read it just before watching the movie and thought pretty much the same thing. Hokum fun, which is what the movie gave me.

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 3:24 pm 
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John Carter wasn't awful, but its marketing was...another discussion.

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The thing is, if they followed the formulae they should at least be producing serviceable even if unremarkable films. P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie followed a formula for decades with great success. Hundreds of perfectly good films from 1940s film noir to Avatar have been formulaic. The films I am thinking of often end up going on some sort of bizarre diversion or just running flat from start to finish.


If one sets out to make something formulaic, one can do exactly as you describe: make a serviceable movie. I think the real disasters arise when when a non-formulaic screenplay gets shoe-horned into a category to make it more "bankable" without consideration of what makes it interesting in the first place. That tends to happen when the director doesn't have a strong vision for the end product--not so much a problem if the director is the screenwriter--or if the director doesn't have the clout to pull it off.

You see this happen in more successful movies too: as the budget and thus the financial risk grows, the chances of studio suits poking their noses into the creative process increases. Look at PJ's Middle-Earth Hexology, which is constantly steering between the Scylla of PJ's tendency to excess and the Charybdis of the studios' desire to package the stories as something easy to market to non-fans (thus the whole "end of the world of men" BS from TTT).

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 24, 2014 3:40 pm 
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Alatar wrote:
Voronwë the Faithful wrote:
Out of curiosity, to compare reactions, how much of a fan of Burrough's Barsoom series are you?


I read it just before watching the movie and thought pretty much the same thing. Hokum fun, which is what the movie gave me.


That makes sense. I wouldn't be surprised if my reaction would have been more similar to yours under those circumstances, rather than having it be something that I read as a young child that was an important part of my young years.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 2:56 am 
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I am with Al - I've read the first maybe half-dozen books in the series, until I got tired of ERB using an attempted rape as a plot device every ten pages, and I mostly enjoyed them, but I am not attached to them, I do not desire to see them done RIGHT, according to my ideas of right.

I do know what you mean, V, I feel that way about the Three Musketeers and the first sequel (don't care for The Vicomte of Bragelonne that much). I was in love with that story, went into fencing because of it, and I hated the 90s American movie. I didn't even bother with the latest one with Luke Evans, and could not get past the first episode of the BBC series, because I hate that they always make a swashbuckler out of it and miss everything I love about the book. There was, incidentally, a Soviet adaptation in the 70s that would have been perfect if only someone had chased the sound guy away from what was obviously his first synthesizer. :swordfight:

On the other hand, there was a French movie that was an absolute farce, in which the lackeys did all the work and the highlight of the fight scene was dropping crayfish down the mooks' trousers. I loved that one, because it wasn't pretending to be that story, it was slapstick. Which is what I mean when I say that I wish PJ just made a light epic fun fantasy movie and not even tried for Serious Themes.


Ahem. I am actually here because "Christian Bale will portray Moses..."

"Christian Bale will portray Moses..."

I. Can't. Even. :pancake:

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 3:14 am 
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not something I would recommend
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Well, what did you expect them to do considering Charlton Heston is no longer with us??

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 3:50 am 
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CGI?

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 4:20 am 
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Oded Fehr, but then I want Fehr in everything.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 4:50 am 
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I would have liked to see Alexander Siddig or Ghassan Massoud in the Moses role. Sorry, Frelga. But I think Fehr is a vastly overrated actor among the unusually small "go-to" pool of Middle Eastern or North African actors for big films... He strikes me as a very "B" actor, ala Brendan Fraser. But perhaps I haven't seen him in enough films to judge (The Mummy comes to mind...).


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 5:55 am 
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You just aren't equipped to appreciate him, PtB.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 6:30 am 
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IAWP, but I have no objection to Siddig, I liked him a lot in DS9. I don't think I saw Massoud in anything, but he looks fine.

But Christian Bale? :nono:

P.S.: I KNEW Ben Kingsley would be in it. Hollywood's chief "not white guy who doesn't look too non-white". I do quite like Mr. Kingsley as an actor, but they cast him for entirely the wrong reason.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 2:50 pm 
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Massoud played Saladin in "Kingfom of Heaven." He's far too old to play Moses before the exodus, but he's such a great actor that I wouldn't care.

Christian Bale is indeed an odd choice, though he's at least a great actor. I never thought a Brit could make me completely believe that he was from the Boston, Massachusetts area (where I grew up), and that's exactly what he did. Twice!

So I imagine he might be able to convince us that he's a Semite raised in Egypt!


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