5 Reasons Great Directors Eventually Make a Bad Movie
Quentin Tarantino recently stated that he would like to retire after his 10th film because he's afraid that he'll get old and, to put it bluntly, start to suck. Though in all likelihood he'll probably continue making movies by breaking into Harvey Keitel's bathroom and shouting "Action!" into his asshole. Some directors become revolutionary forces in cinema only to end their careers as pitiful imitations of the artists they once were. Or they create Manos: The Hands of Fate and just ride that horse off the cliff from the very beginning.
But that brings up an interesting question for those of us who aren't nipples-deep in the industry: Why do formerly great directors decline into Santa Buddies (which is Hollywood jargon for "shit" that I just invented)? The answers are probably a lot more simple than we think.
They Lose Interest
Recently, I rewatched a bunch of John Carpenter films because I have to do it every decade in order to rejuvenate my centuries-old flesh, and I am convinced that he is the greatest fantasy filmmaker who has ever lived. They Live is a hilarious, piercing criticism of the Reagan years. Assault on Precinct 13 is proof of Intelligent Design. Halloween is the structural blueprint for any horror film made after Halloween. Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China are the two coolest ideas to be formed by a human brain and are the words that Kurt Russell whispers in your ear as his hand moves up your thigh. And The Thing is an orgasm in movie form. It's the greatest achievement in history, and I'm willing to make that claim until Eva Green shows up at my apartment to record a commentary of Deadwood with me.
But, as it's been frequently documented, Carpenter hasn't had the easiest time bringing his projects to fruition, whether it be due to budgetary differences or creative ones. It's relatively easy to convince people to get behind a film about people doing ninja stuff (as in Big Trouble in Little China). If your script includes copious punching, kicking, and flipping, movie executives view it almost as a peace treaty because their job is now 99 percent finished. But when the other parts of the film deal with a John Wayne parody who isn't really good at anything except throwing a knife back into someone's head, you encounter a few obstacles. These obstacles are mainly people saying, "I don't know if people are going to get this. Why is the main character so dumb? He should be smart, like the guys in Top Gun. People LOVED Top Gun. You should make Top Gun."
But ... but ... the knife thing. Did you not see the knife thing?
Since Carpenter involved himself so heavily in the creation of his films, often serving as director, screenwriter, editor, and composer, it was only a matter of time before he burnt out like a lit fart from Larry the Cable Guy's rectum-shaped joke bin. If you need a less disturbing visual representation of this moment, imagine a clock with both hands steadily ticking toward the words "FUCK IT."
That's why, in films like Village of the Damned, Ghosts of Mars, and The Ward, Carpenter appears to be running on auto-pilot. In particular, The Ward, which was hyped as Carpenter's big return to the genre that made him famous, is, with the exception of a few sequences, lazily formed and insubstantial. Carpenter has said multiple times that he'd much rather be playing video games and watching basketball than making movies that he isn't extremely interested in, and I support this. After what he's given us, he deserves to be giggling through the Tiny Tina missions of Borderlands 2.
They Attempt Awful Passion Projects
Passion projects are always a gamble, because your intentions might not align very well with what an audience is willing to accept. For instance, I've pitched "10 Nude Photos That Daniel Dockery Doesn't Want You to See! (Tee Hee)" here every week for the past year, and I'm just now starting to figure out why Cracked has sent me a cease and desist letter at the exact same frequency.
It makes it easier if you're someone like Steven Spielberg, who can say, "Yeah, I'll make this dinosaur blockbuster and its sequel about adding more dinosaurs, but what I'd REALLY like to do is an Oscar-worthy movie about the Holocaust that lacks vapid self-indulgence." It's because of this kind of success that, if he woke up today and announced, "I want to make a documentary about people who kick dead rats down the sidewalk because I'm REALLY interested in the culture of that," 2016 would see the release of Floprat Gigglestorm.
"I shall name you 'Ammunition.'"
Jay-Z and Kanye West's song "That's My Bitch" is actually a subtle metaphor for Francis Ford Coppola's relationship to the 1970s. In the space of four films (the first two Godfather films, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now), Coppola cemented his legacy. All four films were critically lauded and very successful, with the exception of The Conversation, which still had a box-office gross that tripled its original budget. If the worst failure that you make within the span of 10 years is only about 300 percent successful, your biggest problem is deciding which manservant carries the short sword and which carries the trident when you pit them against each other in gladiatorial combat for your own amusement. Therefore, it's only ironically appropriate that Coppola's next film was a musical entitled One From the Heart. He couldn't have set himself up for defeat harder if he'd made a silent film entitled The Thing That Francis Ford Coppola Has Been Dreaming of Since His Grandmother Told Him the Plot With Her Dying Breath.
One From the Heart had a total gross of $636,796, with a budget of $26 million. I tried to figure out how to calculate that, exactly, but after I pressed the equals key, "Sell the house" is all that showed up on the screen. It caused Coppola to go bankrupt and, with the exception of films like The Godfather: Part III, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Bram Stoker's Dracula, most of his filmography hasn't done much to rectify that. It certainly didn't help that most of these movies have limited audience appeal. Surprisingly enough, the human population wasn't scrambling over itself to see Rumble Fish, a black-and-white, film-noir-esque movie with Mickey "Whether I'll Be Good in This Is Entirely Up to Chance" Rourke as the lead.
Above: Rourke enjoying a smoke and a dog he found between scenes.
The past few years haven't been kind to Coppola, either, since he began his commitment to producing his own films, as Tetro and Twixt both under-performed, and even the best reviews of them amount to "Uh, maybe?" I hope you're happy, fate-controlling deity that Coppola pissed off after the production of Apocalypse Now. You've made your fucking point already.
They Become an Inescapable Brand
Very rarely are someone's past efforts negated by more recent efforts in a way that Tim Burton's have been. Similar to M. Night Shyamalan, Burton has had the back half of his career eliminated in the public eye by the overwhelming feeling of, "Ooooh, Tim Burton! How artistic! I wonder how many Hot Topic hoodies he can get out of this one! Will Johnny Depp be playing someone wacky or someone SUPER wacky? Only Burton's poor sense of pacing and timing will tell!" The man who made things like Beetlejuice, Batman, and Ed Wood is forgotten in favor of the laughable goth guy who made a version of Alice in Wonderland that was so stale you'd swear he did it out of pure spite.
Directors usually don't declare, "I'd like to make one type of movie until I'm dead." But the problem with success is that, if you have any identifiable motifs in your work, like Burton's penchant for houses that bend and characters that are both emotional and have Burton's haircut, the higher-ups who control the distribution of cash are going to exploit you for it, because that's what the audiences seem to like. And in the current Hollywood situation, where movies are made for either low budgets or budgets that are on par with the national debt, directors like Burton are crammed into spaces where they don't necessarily fit, because those are the only opportunities offered to them. That, or the ideas that the director does get approved are the ones that are the most homogenized.
No, seriously. It's pretty bad. I can't stress that enough.
On paper, and boiled down to his most vague elements, yes, Burton is the right guy for every colorful, jumbled adaptation to get slapped with a PG-13 rating. Right now, a studio head is wondering how great it would be if Tim "Kooky" Burton farted his way through the production of 2017's ALF. But just because a fan casting of a Burton-helmed EarthBound includes comments like "And Freddie Highmore as Ness? So much win!" doesn't necessarily mean that it needs to happen, or that it will be any good if the supposed "dream pairing" of artist and material actually occurs.
As a boy, Burton didn't wish to one day deliver a soulless Lewis Carroll adaptation to a world of people who would hate him for it. Nor did he decide at 18 to eventually finish a Planet of the Apes that will be best remembered as the one you didn't watch from your $9.99 Planet of the Apes DVD three-pack. Instead, he's limply arm wrestling with Ridley Scott for the title of "Reputation Most Destroyed by Consistent Studio Interference in Mega Projects" Champion. Burton's going to need a few more Big Eyes if he wants to wash the taste of Dark Shadows out of the public's mouth.
Enjoy your nightmares tonight.
They Become Out of Touch
When it comes to commentaries on trends, filmmakers are forced to step up their creative games and deliver something more than "Hey, what's the deal with silly memes?" if they want to stay relevant. That's because every joke that you can think of has already been put through the Internet ringer and shared about a million times. For a perfect example of this, go to YouTube and search for "Tinder Timber parody." It's a tidal wave of the same stupid idea, each done with none of the necessary self-awareness that would let a person understand that they picked the lamest, easiest route possible for that sweet YouTube ad money. It's a bunch of people who have decided that "edgier Weird Al" is what they want their career to be, and I don't think even Weird Al could have expected how much of a bother it would become.
To date, Wes Craven has been the primary creative force behind three different major horror franchises -- the most recent being the Scream series, which is based around the question "Aren't all of these horror tropes and sequels crazy?" You can't really call them satire, as they feature Jamie Kennedy explicitly explaining what the tropes are at every corner, but they were the first mainstream films to explore that since Marty McFly was eaten by Jaws 19.
In the future, all graphics are made by Sega CD.
Craven made many better movies, like The Serpent and the Rainbow and the underrated New Nightmare, but the Scream series is important because if they were released today, they'd have all the pertinence of my grandfather sitting me down to describe the usefulness of a properly placed emoji. And that's exactly the amount of pertinence Scream 4 had when it came out in 2011. If you're writing the title based on the spelling on the posters, it's "SCRE4M" (pronounced "scree-four-em," nerds).
People should've seen it coming after Craven's 2010 effort My Soul to Take, which is a film that makes you wonder if Craven was ever high school-aged himself, or if he just burst from the womb dressed like one of his Hills Have Eyes characters, complaining about his mortgage. The concept of natural, teenager dialogue seems entirely foreign to Craven in My Soul to Take, and it's only aggravated by the film's complete lack of tension. I can deal with awful teenagers doing the things that awful teenagers don't, but the rest of the film has to be pretty strong for me to decide that I really want to spend the very limited time I have on Earth with it.
Scream 4 has many of the same problems as My Soul to Take, but it is also a movie for which success totally hinged on being timely and clever. Thanks to the Internet and the constant acknowledgment that too many sequels and remakes are being made by the entirety of pop culture, Scream 4 came off like an episode of The Big Bang Theory that just happens to include some murderin'.
Imagine any episode where the jokes are written by polling a group of 15-year-olds about their opinions on Star Wars and molding them to one day appear on a T-shirt. Bazinga, Luke Skywalker! Yoda has a weird voice! Comics are for nerdatrons! Scream 4 takes this kind of mindless spouting of cliches and movie titles and attempts to pass them off as an effort that wasn't seven years too late.
Original, my joke is. Off, you can fuck, yes?
They Strive to Re-Create Past Success
The Farrelly brothers are masters of the subgenre of comedy that I like to refer to as "Is He Gonna Poo? Oh, He Pooed! He Did the Poo!" with Dumb and Dumber being the best example of it. A decent number of its most famous gags are based on the suspense built around whether or not a character is going to continue peeing, or drink said pee, or continue pooping, or eat the burger with the spit in it. The most memorable jokes in There's Something About Mary are centered around cum-in-the-hair and testicular laceration. And Me, Myself & Irene is Jim Carrey's Breast Feeding & Lawn Shitting Greatest Hits Collection. Writing that last sentence gave me the same feeling as telling one of my friend's wives about all the crazy, stupid stuff he did in college. It was hilarious back in the day, but damn, man. Why? And, more importantly, WHY?
Dumb and Dumber To isn't the worst thing that's ever happened, even when looking into the Farrelly's own catalog, which includes a remake of The Heartbreak Kid, a movie that I took a date to in 2007. If I had to review that movie, I would use the thing that my date told me in the middle of the film, which was, and I quote, "UGGHHHH, be over." But even at its best, Dumb and Dumber To is like any Eminem album recorded after 2002, or any Steven Seagal film made after Seagal worked himself into an egg shape. It's got a weird energy to it, but its best days are behind it. The Farrelly brothers haven't been able to adapt their comedic sensibilities to the period after 2001, and it keeps them stalled out in perpetual "Is He Gonna Poo?" territory.
To explain Dumb and Dumber To at its worst, let me present to you an extended, movie-related metaphor. At the end of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, in which three pets travel hundreds of miles to find their family, imagine if, while the young boy was hugging the old golden retriever, the dog slowly began to crumble before his eyes. The golden retriever could still seemingly bark like it used to, but the skin was unraveling and the bones were shattering. Everything the dog was doing were tricks that the boy had watched it perform triumphantly before, but as it did those same tricks over and over again, it decayed until the boy was left with nothing but horror. That's what watching Dumb and Dumber To is like in its darkest moments: a giant homecoming that bleeds and deteriorates until you become sick of it. It's a nostalgia cash-grab meant to hide the fact that the joke was already legally dead by the credits of the first movie.
And The Heartbreak Kid remake is still worse.
Secretly tell Daniel about how much you also like Tim Burton on his very public Twitter.
For more from Daniel, check out 5 Movie Series That Started Terrible and Ended Up Awesome and 6 Unshakable Beliefs You Develop Growing Up a Redneck.
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