In the wake of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, Matthew Lee looks at ten filmmakers who went from Indie Darling to Big Budget Blunder…
Josh Trank’s debut, Chronicle, was a surprise hit of 2012. The film fused the found-footage genre with superhero tropes to create a coming-of-age story that was both fresh and exciting. Trank’s ability to transcend these tired trends and motifs made him an ideal candidate to finally do justice to the Fantastic Four franchise, one that had an unreleased early 90s film, and two poor mid-00s flicks. However, with production problems between Trank and cast members, and no advanced press screening, many pundits were concerned this would be a mess.
The results are in, and it is not only a poor film, but has been described as the worst reviewed Marvel film to-date. That’s not good. Trank responded openly via tweet to this, noting how Fox had – ah, you’ve been online and already know this.
While some have expressed concern that Trank’s filmmaking career may be over, I’m here to highlight that other indie/small budgeted filmmakers have gone from indie darling to big budget blunder. And all have walked away unscathed.
10 – Neill Blomkamp
District 9 deals with themes regarding South Africa’s apartheid past, its racial tensions, and the military’s private enterprise. This film tackles such weighty subject matters by focusing its narrative trajectory on bureaucrat Wikus, who slowly terraforms from human to alien, or ‘Prawn’ as the film colloquially dubs them as. This ensures the viewer isn’t weighed under such commentary, as the themes as a narrative framing for our protagonist. It’s a shame his follow-up Elysium went in the opposite direction.
Elysium is a futuristic dystopian film that deals with social inequality, class, overpopulation, and privatised health care. Unlike Neill Blomkamp’s prior film, the protagonist’s narrative trajectory acts as framing device for these issues, rather than a by-product within the film’s diegetic world. This becomes increasingly distracting when it tonally shifts from preachy rhetoric to a simplistic sci-fi action. The film was too afraid to allow such issues unfold naturally, and wanted to ensure all themes were seen and understood by everyone; I thought I wouldn’t say this, but District 9 now seems a little more nuanced. Blomkamp has since admitted he wasn’t fond of this film, and returned to make a smaller and less politically entrenched flick Chappie.
9 – Michel Gondry
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an existential, and a philosophically interesting, movie tackling the nature of love, dreams, and memory. The Science of Sleep is a quirky take on similar themes, with greater emphasis on lucid dreaming, and one’s issues in differentiating between this and reality. And Be Kind Rewind is a pre-hipster love letter to retro VHS tapes, indie filmmaking influences, and the necessity of independent stores. With such roots firmly on the fringe, and a wry look at the Hollywood fare, Gondry’s big-budget debut seemed unlikely to follow such style.
In 2011, as Marvel began their cinematic universe and domination over the Hollywood box office, Sony through Columbia released a superhero film of their own The Green Hornet. As Gondry had previously worked on some of the early drafts when it was first in development in ’97, this indie filmmaker looked set to direct his dream film. Alas, it was consequently an uneven mess, with bland comedic pieces, and an uncertainty whether to be po-faced or satirical of its campy 60s past. The Green Hornet proved to Gondry that he had matured in the 2000s from desires to direct a superhero film and advertising, and is better suited under the indie filmmaking title.
8 – Darren Aronofsky
Aronofsky films are packed with themes about obsession (Black Swan), addiction (Requiem for a Dream), loss (The Wrestler), and grief (The Fountain). The results vary from the slightly overrated The Wrestler to the criminally underrated The Fountain, but all, nonetheless, offer greater insights into the human condition through a visual style that varies from grand sci-fi-fantasy (The Fountain) to bleak psychological horror (Requiem for a Dream) through to quasi-direct cinema (The Wrestler).
With such a director at the helm, and the film’s Biblical origin, Noah should be of his ilk with grand themes and interesting visuals. Alas, what was consequently put on the screen was one grand idea of man’s selfishness in battle against his faith. Moreover, the angelic rock-monsters are visually of the same vein as Michael Bay’s Transformers series – bland, forgettable, and wholly unimaginative. The additional theme of man’s violent nature is, again, only sparsely done with interesting visuals. With only glimpses of creativity, this big-budget dull fare stands sorely against the more intimate and creative work of Aronosky’s cannon. One hopes he returns to smaller budgeted pieces where his interesting visuals flourish, and his themes are better foregrounded.
7 – Jose Padilha
This Brazilian filmmaker has an acute and sceptical eye on the nation’s police force, and their approach to tackling the high crime in the Rio de Janeiro slums. The Elite Squad films look at the BOPE (the Brazilian SWAT force) with unscrupulous eyes as they engage in bribery, the corrupt politics within the force, and the draconian approaches to fighting crime. Bus 174 is a documentary about a hostage situation on a Rio bus that was broadcast live on the news and looks at the sociocultural affects that had lead a man to commit such acts. So when Hollywood wanted to make a sci-fi satire about the bureaucratic police procedure, the dehumanisation of the working force, with a humanoid/robotic cop as the film’s centre piece, Jose Padilha looks to be a likely candidate. It’s a shame that RoboCop had already been done 27 years prior with great efficiency.
This hollow remake essentially revamps social commentary to fit with the modern globalised world; the original tackled inner-city crime, whereas the remake places the middle-east as its hotspot, and acknowledges the usage of drones in modern war. As one would see from the trailer, its focus is less on grand symbolism that made the ’87 film so iconic, and opts for a much more human approach to the RoboCop character. Furthermore, as everything is toned down for the 12A/PG-13 demographic, much of the mature political themes are consequently lessened and is astoundingly uneven. In short, needless remake was needless, and the best anyone has said of it, ‘It was not as bad as it could’ve been.’ That’s not a sign of a good movie. That’s simply a bullet dodged.
6 – Marc Forster
Monster’s Ball is an emotionally complex film about love, anger, and grief surrounding two people, Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, dealing with their personal losses. Finding Neverland is a sweet semi-autobiography about writer J.M. Barrie’s (Johnny Depp) inspiration for Peter Pan, with focus on the importance of innocence in an increasingly cynical world. Stranger than Fiction is an entertaining magic realist film that propelled Will Ferrell into the dramatic category. The Kite Runner is a heart-warming tale of life-long friendship against a harsh political backdrop. With such a filmmaking style that is entrenched in dramatic and simplistically executed narration, what happened in Quantum of Solace?
Casino Royale managed to humanise one of cinema’s great icons James Bond, and Skyfall would later expand the mythos of both he and MI6 to further expand its espionage roots. It’s a shame the middle film Quantum of Solace stands poorly in contrast to these two as a Bourne-style Bond flick with none of the humanity the predecessor had, nor any expanse on the mythos the latter would do. The film is astonishingly average, with a convoluted plot that is neither interesting nor memorable, and a headache inducing opening car chase scene that forewarns spectators what is to come. Unlike many others on this list, Forster had plenty of creative input in developing the look, style, and narrative of the film. It would appear Forster took less inspiration from Casino Royale – the only reason he agreed to direct the film – and more from Bourne.