In the wake of The Mummy’s recent reception including a soft domestic opening and abysmal movie reviews word came out of star Tom Cruise’s influence over the production. While director Alex Kurtzman is no stranger to blockbuster filmmaking (He’s been part of enormous franchises including: Transformers, Star Trek, and The Amazing Spider-Man) it has always been in either a screenwriter or producer capacity. So why is it that Universal Pictures entrusted him with 125 million dollar budget and having directed only a single film prior? (That film: People Like Us. A 16 million dollar drama that failed to recoup it’s budget in the theatrical run. Quite a giant leap.) The more I started thinking about this question the more I realized this isn’t something new. A recent trend has been to find a director coming off a hot debut and give them the helm of a franchise. Examples include: Marc Webb – (500) Days of Summer/The Amazing Spider-Man, Josh Trank – Chronicle/Fant4stic, Colin Trevorrow – Safety Not Guaranteed/Jurassic World, Gareth Edwards – Monsters/Godzilla. In this article I wanted to look at not only the motivation for this but also the repercussions and what could be done to avoid more so so big budget features.
Let’s start with the initial question I posed in the title. Why would “The Big Six” want to put the fate of a franchise in the hands of people who made a films on a fraction of a scale as these? My biggest assumption is with a lot of veteran directors stagnating they want fresh blood. There is hope that if you shake things up there will be new and impressive results. Edwards gave us an engaging and humanizing look at giant creatures attacking civilization with Monsters and it cost a lean $500,000. It makes sense after the outcome of the 1998 Godzilla that finding a director who has talent and a reverence for the genre is a must. Why trust a person who sees directing as a job instead of finding someone who treats it like art?
The dark side to this is what is more than likely going to happen in this scenario. Studios for the most part don’t trust someone/something new. Just take a look at the list of sequels, remakes, adaptations, and reboots that have happened and are in the pipeline. They’re in the business of making money and that means making films that are palpable for the widest audience possible. Even if the director comes in with a unique vision that will impress and astound odds are the studio only want more of the same. When Marc Webb was announced as director for The Amazing Spider-Man I had cautious optimism. Next came news that they were going to give moviegoers “The Untold Story”. A statement that even graced the film’s teaser poster. In the end, the film was just another Spider-Man story that lacked the zaniness of Sam Raimi’s style. Even worse is either losing trust in the director during or hiring someone knowing they can be micro-managed. Josh Trank infamously tweeted how a year prior to Fant4stic’s release he had a film that would’ve received great reviews instead of the critically panned clunker released. This came on a swirl of rumors that over a 3rd of the film had been re-shot and Trank was exhibiting ‘erratic behavior’ during production. Was the film a disaster or did 20th Century Fox get cold feet with Trank’s vision and wanted something more vanilla? It’s probably going to be a few more years before the dust finally settles and we’ll get the truth.
Now we come to another major question: How did we get to this point? I think there are three major factors that have contributed to this uptick. Firstly, the turnaround time from writing a script to theatrical release has shrunk dramatically. No longer are films given a gestation period that will allow for kinks to be ironed out. Seeing studios set a release date for a film before they have a final script is becoming an extremely common occurrence. Seasoned directors are less willing to risk their credibility for a half-baked film than someone looking to climb the ladder.
Secondly, the disappearance of mid budget films. It use to be that directors were groomed into blockbusters. The movies they made beforehand had incremental increases in their budgets. This meant directors got to learn how to control larger production aspects gradually rather than overnight. Could Sam Raimi have made Spider-Man after The Evil Dead? Possibly, but it more than likely wouldn’t have turned out as good as it did. Unfortunately this is a problem that studios created for themselves. Mid budget films disappeared because making a profit on them isn’t easy. Studios now make $150 million films which are guaranteed hits or they’ll buy up a bunch of independent films for a few million dollars and earn profit this way.
Finally, studios don’t tend to care if a film is good so long as it makes money. We have seen numerous summer films make a ton of money whether or not they’re actually good. While initial reactions to Jurassic World were more on the positive side the hype has since died down and people are a little more critical. I myself really enjoyed the film when I first saw in theatres in spite of some issues, but after re-watching it at home I found it didn’t pack the same wow factor. All Universal had to do to make Jurassic World successful was sell a slick nostalgia trip filled with dinosaurs. Whether or not you like the film you have to admit Universal sold their film well and made 1.6 billion dollars in the process. Odds are they could’ve put almost any other person in the director’s chair and gotten a similar result.
These are my thoughts, but as usual what are yours? Do you think independent film directors are a positive influence on mainstream Hollywood? Would you be interested in seeing more films made on budgets of 30-75 million dollars? Do you not care who’s directing so long as the film entertains? Let me know.
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