Monday, June 13, 2016

$$$$ Decides Who's the Boss

Last month I re-watched Chappie on Showtime, which was Neil Blomkamp's third major film.  The movie co-stars Sigourney Weaver who was in the original Alien movies.  The irony there is Blomkamp has been lobbying to make a sequel to those movies, going so far as to post storyboard images on Twitter or Instagram or whatever.  But in one of those weird cases of Hollywood logic, after the success of Ridley Scott's The Martian, Fox gave him money to make three crummy sequels to Prometheus, which no one except maybe Michael Offutt is looking forward to.  Having watched Blomkamp's work, I think he'd actually make a better movie in the Alien universe than Ridley Scott.

The reasoning for me is pretty simple:  Blomkamp is a fan while Ridley Scott, who directed the first movie as well as Prometheus, is not.  What Scott was trying to do in Prometheus is like George Lucas with the Star Wars prequels.  He's trying to take his sci-fi masterpiece and add all sorts of philosophical weight and significance to it to create a legacy for himself.  Which no one except Ridley Scott (and maybe Michael Offutt) gives a shit about because to everyone outside of Ridley Scott Alien was just a fucking slasher movie in space, like Halloween or Friday the 13th only with a killer alien that has acid blood and that creepy second mouth instead of wearing a mask.  Trying to tie the monster to the creation of humanity was just an exercise in futility because, again, Alien was a slasher film, not 2001:  A Space Odyssey.

James Cameron got that when he did Aliens, the sequel to Alien.  He just took the concept of the first movie and expanded it so there were a lot more aliens and a lot more shit getting blown up.  Which is why that movie was awesome and why the follow-up Alien 3 (directed by a then largely unknown David Fincher) sucked ass, because after a whole herd of aliens you go back to just one, violating the rule of sequels that you have to get bigger with the action, not smaller.  Then after Joss Whedon's too-little-too-late Alien Resurrection (which maybe you could consider a prototype for Firefly) you go back to Prometheus with no fucking alien monsters at all, just weird worms and face-hugger-type dealies.

Anyway, what was working for Cameron back in 85/86 is that he was still a relatively young filmmaker.  He had the big success of The Terminator, but he wasn't firmly established yet.  And also from The Terminator and all his work with special effects before that, he knew how to blow shit up.  So he was the right guy at the right time because he was still hungry and not so pretentious to make a movie for himself instead of for fans.  Which incidentally is why the Avatar sequels will suck ass.  First the original movie wasn't great except for effects and second, at this stage in career Cameron will be like Ridley Scott and George Lucas, looking to create some grand "legacy" instead of just blowing shit up, which is all most people going to see big-budget sci-fi movies really want.

That's why if I were Fox, I'd write Blomkamp a check to make his Alien sequel and tell Ridley Scott to go steal another studio's money for his pretentious bullshit.  Blomkamp is a fan of the original movies, he's not that established outside his native South Africa so he has the hunger to make a movie that will sell tickets, and from watching his previous movies he knows how to blow shit up.  With Ridley Scott you're just throwing a billion or so down the shitter for more pseudo-Kubrick garbage.

If you want confirmation of my logic, just look at Star Wars.  When Disney took over and hired JJ Abrams, they went back to the drawing board to make the movie fans wanted, not George Lucas.  Look, you can say Star Wars is Lucas's baby and he can do what he wants, but really he can't when he's taking hundreds of millions of dollars from other people.  If he had self-financed the prequels then he could do whatever the fuck he wants, but taking someone else's money to throw away on your "legacy" vanity project is an abuse of trust.  The same holds true for Scott, Cameron, and everyone else:  if you're taking someone else's money, you got to deliver a movie that's aimed at more people than just you.

That's a situation that's a lot more prevalent in film than books, because books don't cost nearly so much to produce.  And also like Stephen King, JK Rowling, and others (including me) have done, you can use a pseudonym when you want to do a side project that isn't necessarily in the wheelhouse of your fans.  (Though when that side project isn't selling, then you let your real name slip a la JK Rowling and her "thrillers.")  But still, when you're an author taking money from a real publisher then you owe it to them to deliver books people actually want to read.  When you're like me, you can do whatever the fuck you want, because no one is paying me an advance for my books.

I know, I know, creative freedom and all that jazz.  That stuff is great, but they tell every aspiring author you have to think of your audience.  Somehow people who reach a certain level of success think they can forget that.  If you're writing a book or putting out a music album you can probably get away with that, but not with a blockbuster movie costing hundreds of millions of dollars.  There's just too much dough at stake and too much visibility to let creative freedom interfere with delivering a product people actually want.

3 comments:

  1. Writing what the readers want should be emphasized more than anything. Especially by critique groups who tend to pick at anything BUT that.

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  2. I'm not sure what this post is about. Are you saying that there isn't room for Blokamp and Scott to both make movies in the Alien universe? Or are you saying that Ridley Scott should be banned from making movies in the Alien universe in favor of the other guy? I think there's room for both, especially given that there's been lots of terrible Alien movies. You don't have to watch any Alien movies, you know? This almost sounds like the same argument a person makes in opposing a remake. For example, lots of people are pissed off they remade Ghostbusters. I try to remind those people that the original movie has not been destroyed. You can watch that all you want and stay loyal to that movie and ignore the new one. Nothing has been changed.

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    Replies
    1. I don't think they are making both and they're betting on the wrong horse. Is that simple enough?

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