Can The Indie Kids Save The Tired Hollywood Blockbuster?

Josh Whedon, Sam Mendes and Kenneth Branagh have been given the chance to put a fresh spin on the blockbuster and it's worked. But the industry needs to mine the indie world further to give Hollywood a much needed kick in the arse...
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Josh Whedon, Sam Mendes and Kenneth Branagh have been given the chance to put a fresh spin on the blockbuster and it's worked. But the industry needs to mine the indie world further to give Hollywood a much needed kick in the arse...

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Do you ever get the feeling that maybe Hollywood has stagnated in recent years? Aside from the odd gem – The Dark Knight, The Avengers, the Bourne series, Inception – recent tent-pole action movies have been massively underwhelming. Endless comic book movies – remember The Green Lantern? Me neither – and sequels, franchise upon franchise, risk draining the enthusiasm of cinemagoers. If your choice is between getting ripped off to watch yet another Spiderman reboot, or sit at home watching Die Hard on Netflix for the millionth time, what are you going to do? It's cheaper, more comfortable and less hassle to just stream movies, or watch DVDs, at home. So why bother?

Spectacle isn't enough. Blowing shit up on a huge screen for two hours becomes incredibly boring after the twentieth CGI explosion. There's only so much debris you can propel at the screen before viewers just switch off. Even The Dark Knight Rises, a film I enjoyed immensely, was guilty of that. It has a numbing effect, especially when it's all clearly done in post production and the actors are leaping away from nothing at all. And if the story isn't up to scratch, if the script is poor or full of holes, then dazzling effects won't make up for it (see Prometheus).

Blowing shit up on a huge screen for two hours becomes incredibly boring after the twentieth CGI explosion

What Hollywood needs, then, is new ideas. Fresh blood. New writers and directors to add some substance and imagination to the mix. What the films mentioned at the top have in common is they were all made by directors not normally known for big, blockbusting movies. Christopher Nolan, director of the Batman trilogy and Inception, started out with the bare-bones thriller Following, then made Memento, another low-budget effort, before someone noticed he had the skills to helm a bigger movie. Someone gave him money, and look what he did. Similarly, Paul Greengrass was a documentary and TV filmmaker before some clever producer figured out he could translate those techniques to an action movie. That action movie was The Bourne Supremacy, a taut and beautifully choreographed movie that clearly takes huge influence from Greengrass’s documentary past.

The director of the first Bourne movie, Doug Liman, is a more standard Hollywood director, following up The Bourne Identity with Mr. And Mrs. Smith and Jumper. He's currently working on Jumper 2, if that's any indication of the level Hollywood has plunged to in an effort to make money. Who even saw Jumper 1? What was it about? It made over $220 million at the box office, so someone must have seen it, thus giving studio execs permission to make a second one, but for the life of me I have no recollection of ever seeing it reviewed or advertised.

My idea, crazy as it might sound, is to give a big expensive summer blockbuster to a promising indie filmmaker, or an imaginative foreign director, and see what he can do

My idea, crazy as it might sound, is to give a big expensive summer blockbuster to a promising indie filmmaker, or an imaginative foreign director, and see what he can do. Take Nicholas Winding Refn, director of Drive and Bronson. He clearly has the skills and the vision to pull off a blockbuster. Why not give him a franchise to play with? Well, actually, according to IMDb, they already have. He's attached as the director of the remake of Logan's Run. Okay it's a remake, and they've apparently dropped the maximum age people can live to from 30 to 21, but I can safely say that it will be better than if someone like Tony Scott had signed on. At least it'll have some energy and wit. But Refn isn't quite left field enough. I want the Green Lantern sequel – and there will inevitably be one, as the original made $222 million worldwide – to be given to Harmony Korine. He's definitely not a box office draw – he's made films about a colony of celebrity impersonators on an island in Scotland, and Trash Humpers, a movie shot on VHS about trash-humping retirees – but who cares? The film's going to make money anyway. People will go see it based solely on the fact that it’s a comic book movie. Don't you want to see what would happen if a person as crazy as Harmony Korine was given hundreds of millions of dollars and told to make a movie about a man with super powers? It would be insane and frightening, but it would also be thrilling, and at the very least it would be different.

Thankfully this is happening already, albeit in slightly less risky form, with the release of Skyfall, the latest Bond movie, directed by Sam Mendes. Now, American Beauty, Mendes’ most famous film, isn't exactly a thriller, and he is known for his slow, meditative, bleakly funny dramas (Jarhead, an action movie with no action springs to mind). So why give the reigns of a multi-million pound action colossus like Skyfall to the man behind Revolutionary Road? It must be because he can offer something a mercenary filmmaker like Rob Cohen, director of such hits as xXx and Stealth, can't.

But the point is, a little bit of risk, a bit of belief and a bit of creative freedom, and Hollywood could actually become worth paying attention to again

A visionary director, backed by a world-class screenwriter (Cormac McCarthy’s gone into film, can’t more fiction writers follow him?) and funded by a big studio to do whatever they wanted would give the world an utterly unique, and probably quite bizarre, movie. Imagine David Lynch or Kelly Reichardt with $100 million and a franchise behind them – the possibilities are endless. Yes it might tank, but any movie can fail, no matter how safe the choices. At least with an alternative-type director, it’ll be an interesting watch.

Look what Kenneth Branagh did with Thor. A middle-of-the-road superhero, definitely a level below Superman et al, gets taken on by a Shakespearean actor/director not much known for his action movies, with a studio paying the tab, and the result is one of the best comic book movies yet made. Joss Whedon, a man more known for his television writing than anything, managed something similar with The Avengers. Some imagination and the trust of the higher-ups is all it would take for some weird and wonderful films to start appearing. This is of course assuming that someone like Gaspar Noé or Werner Herzog would want a superhero franchise or the next Transformers movie or whatever. But the point is, a little bit of risk, a bit of belief and a bit of creative freedom, and Hollywood could actually become worth paying attention to again. The multiplex might be a place worth visiting again. It probably wouldn’t work, but why not try? What’s the worst that could happen?

Like that? How about some other great Film articles...

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