Monday, June 1, 2015

A House Built on Sand or Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

I recently read a Variety article the Geek Twins linked to that was about the failure of Tomorrowland and how it shows people don't really want originality.  A lot of people have blamed the movie's marketing that never really defined the plot.  I don't think that would have helped, as I think the whole concept was flawed from the beginning.  The movie was based on a 50s theme park ride and was harkening back to all that old sci-fi stuff.  They can bill it as a family movie, but what kid is really going to have an interest in nostalgic sci-fi?  Almost none.  It's a concept that appealed to aging Baby Boomers, created by an aging Baby Boomer, and starring an aging Baby Boomer, so who do you think went and saw it?  Yeah, exactly.  The problem wasn't originality or marketing; the problem was a flawed concept.

Of course as I mentioned in my Movies 5/22/15 article, Disney had the same problem a couple of years ago with John Carter.  It was another nostalgic sci-fi movie that no matter how they marketed it or no matter how on-budget the director was, the concept was not going to appeal to mass audiences because it was based on books kids today have probably never heard of, let alone read.  Like Tomorrowland it was the kind of niche concept that appeals to a Baby Boomer's nostalgia but hardly anyone else.  And maybe that's why Disney keeps greenlighting these things.

About a month or so ago I watched the crummy 2014 Godzilla movie on HBO and then thought since I was watching bad Godzilla movies (at least to me) I might as well watch the even crummier 1998 version.

I hadn't seen it since I watched it in the theater back in 1998 and it wasn't any better.  The thing is, it's the kind of story that was doomed before even the first second of film was shot.  The problem was instead of a monster movie Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin decided to make Jurassic Park in New York.  So instead of being a fire-breathing monster, Godzilla is a mere giant mutated lizard.  Instead of fighting Mothra or Rodan or Mechagodzilla, he just runs around New York while army bozos indiscriminately fire into buildings.  And then was the worst part, the idea of Godzilla laying eggs and hatching mini-Godzillas who chase humans around in what is very reminiscent of the raptors in Jurassic Park.

So thanks to all those bad decisions, the movie was destined to fail because let's face it when people go to see Godzilla they want to see a monster movie not a dinosaur running amok.  Plus that same year there was also The Lost World which was pretty much doing the same thing.  But what can you expect from guys whose idea of wit was to have a fat old guy named Mayor Ebert with a tall, bald assistant named Gene?

Another example that came to mind was when I was also watching HBO and rewatched Catwoman.  What struck me is that the writers must never have read a Catwoman comic or seen the various Batman TV shows.  They seemed to be under the impression that Catwoman is literally a woman with cat-like powers, much like Spider-Man is a man with spider powers.  Between that and never seeming able to decide if she's supposed to be a good guy or bad guy (or bad guy who turns good like in The Dark Knight Rises) it was again doomed.

Speaking of superheroes, remember Superman Returns?  I liked it for the most part but many people didn't and it eventually led to the reboot.  Which is what they should have done in the first place.  Instead they went with the "soft reboot" that tried to incorporate stuff from the late 70s movies; movies that were made over 25 years earlier!  The problem then is most of the people you're trying to sell it to (ie, young people) weren't even born when those movies were out and as Nigel Mitchell posted about recently it can be hard to get your kids to like the old movies you do.  Is it any wonder then the movie didn't really connect with the audience?  As Man of Steel showed, the full reboot would have worked a lot better.

Halloween 3 is another perfect example of a terrible decision dooming the project.  The first two entries were of course about super-serial killer Michael Myers terrorizing Jamie Lee Curtis.  But for the third movie they decided to instead make a movie about an evil corporation that makes killer Halloween masks.  The only appearance of Michael Myers was on a TV screen showing the original Halloween.  Beyond just the silliness of the plot, when people thought Halloween they thought Jamie Lee Curtis battling Michael Myers, not Tom Atkins battling evil corporations.  You put the franchise name on it and then make a completely different movie and it's not a recipe for anything good to happen.

Recently I rewatched the awful "Masters of the Universe" movie from 1987 starring Dolph Lundgren as He-Man and Frank Langella as Skeletor--not his finest hour to be sure.  The Masters of the Universe toys (and TV cartoon) were about musclebound warrior He-Man whose secret identity was wimpy Prince Adam in the kingdom of Eternia.  It was all swords, sandals, and magic stuff.  But for this movie, someone (moron film execs probably) said, Hey, let's turn this into Star Wars!  Because that made a bunch of money.  So what if the property has absolutely nothing to do with Star Wars, give them ray guns and spaceships!  And then send them to present day Earth because that worked for Star Trek IV.  It really, really, really did not work.  I mean plus Dolph Lundgren sucks and Skeletor's face was obviously a rubber mask.

While I'm talking about bad action figure movies, that GI JOE one from 2009 was another offender.  Since Transformers had been a hit, why not have GI JOE guys run around in robot suits!  And let's make the Baroness a good guy!  And show Destro and Cobra Commander's faces!  Then the second movie decided, Let's kill off everyone from the first movie!  And let's have Zartan be a ninja who killed Snake Eyes's master!  WTF?!

And remember that crappy Inspector Gadget movie from like 1999?  Where they tried to do a kid-friendly version of Robocop?  Oh and let's show Dr. Claw's face despite that in the cartoon you only ever saw his one arm.

Speaking of Robocop, sometimes it's not even so much a story decision that can screw a project over.  The Robocop reboot was doomed when they decided to go for a PG-13 rating instead of an R rating, which meant it could never match the carnage and gore of the original.  Not that there weren't plenty of bad story decisions either, but that simple idea to water it down for the lower rating made sure it could never be as satisfying.

Then there was the 2003 "Hulk" movie that was doomed when they hired Ang Lee, whose biggest credit to that point was "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."  Lee made a number of terrible decisions, except hiring Jennifer Connelly, like Sam Adams that's always a good decision.  So yeah you hire the wrong director and you are fucked before you can even get a shot.

Does this happen in books?  Absolutely!

I recently read this H.E.R.O. Omnibus that was just really hard to get through.  The author decided to use multiple first-person and third-person points of view.  Every chapter would start "[Someone's] Viewpoint."  I just couldn't understand the point of doing it that way.  If you want multiple viewpoints, why not just use the third-person?  It would have been a lot less clumsy.  Also the author was really lazy putting it together.  He didn't even bother to delete all the promo stuff between books.  It's like he just pasted 3 Word files together, saved it, and posted it.  You could take at least five minutes to delete the junk between the books so it's not repeated.

A couple of years ago I got the chance to buy the Darkman paperbacks that were released about 1994 from a used bookstore.  Reading those it was clear that the hired gun who wrote them had no idea what was going on.  It's hard to tell if he even watched the original movie or if he just maybe read an outline of it.  In the third book he had our masked avenger wearing the face of his mortal enemy Robert G Durant just to take a little stroll around the neighborhood.  And I thought WTF?  This is the guy who ruined his life; he's not going to dress up like him just to go out and get some milk from the store.  That's insane!

So yeah it happens in books where you decide to tell the story the wrong way or you hire the wrong guy to write your books.  And once you've locked in those decisions, you've pretty much screwed the pooch on the whole project.

Of course the problem is the people in charge of these projects can rarely see these problems until after they've already bombed--if then.  Still, when you make a misstep out of the gate, it's really hard to win the race.


  1. Except for every failure that seems easy to interpret, there's a success that's completely inexplicable. So it's not always as easy to understand what happened as it seems. Failures become analyzed as failures, and success is said to have many fathers, except by the people who consciously rebel against popular things. If I say the multiple ways the Avengers films fail, will you say I'm absolutely right, or will you simply say, that's a DC guy shitting on Marvel product because he likes DC and hates Marvel, or something like that? And obviously, the Avengers movies have been hugely successful. I'd much more appreciate society if it were able to take a more nuanced view of...anything. Because we tend to be polarizing about...everything. We either think something is brilliant, or that it's terrible. The only middle ground is mediocre, the kind of success that just kind of piddles along. And the truth is, a lot more stuff piddles along, and there's probably less outright crap than people tend to identify, and even a lot more genuinely good stuff than people tend to acknowledge. People have different tastes. And it's not always a matter of age demographics. I appreciate that we've been able to analyze things that way. But in the end, age demographics mean nothing at all except in the most immediate sense. Popular things attract the broadest audience, which means they penetrate deepest at the younger end of the scale, creating the things people are nostalgic about later in life, when they're less willing to humor new things. The thing failures most fail at is being seen as a viable spectacle. Because the most popular things are viable spectacles, where such distinctions as quality matter not at all. Tomorrowland failed because it failed to distinguish what its spectacle ultimately was, not because of "borrowed ideas" or "baby boomer concepts." But the fact that it was marketed as a George Clooney movie more than whoever the teenage lead was, that was another considerable mistake. Means nothing against George Clooney. But he's not the lead. He's just the guy they got to try and make it viable. He didn't make Gravity a viable spectacle. That was the spectacle itself, and his female lead, some chick named Sandra Bullock. Anyway...

  2. It's weird that Star Wars and Star Trek can keep churning out stuff that makes a ton of money when other things that build on 30 year properties fail. Maybe it has to do with geek culture. If there's a culture built around something, then it has an audience that is constantly renewing itself. I thought Tomorrowland was a ripoff of another Disney plot: Escape to Witch Mountain.

  3. I think original movies can be successful if they're good. Of course, It's easier for them to give us more of the same. A sequel to a hot selling movie is a guaranteed payday for them. People these days want realistic, gritty, and maybe even dark type movies. The various puppet like aliens instantly made John Carter cheesy. Personally I thought it was an okay movie, but not great enough to watch twice.

    As for Godzilla, I have zero interest in that.

  4. A good analysis Pat and it's interesting to see people using different movies as examples of original filmmaking. Most of the time it's about being a good movie more than being original. Plenty of original films are terrible and plenty of sequels are good.



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