Anghus Houvouras on whether studios should leave troubled productions alone…
There’s a terrible line uttered by Rose Tico in the terrible movie that was Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A goofy, cringe-inducing piece of writing that should make everyone shudder. In that awful final act where she stops Finn from sacrificing himself to save his friends in the resistance by ramming her ship into them and almost killing them both. Then, with the emotional range of a bag of half-eaten potato salad she says:
“This is how we win. Not by destroying what we hate, but saving what we love.”
Allow me a moment to suppress the vomit currently pushing up into my mouth.
Solo has opened this weekend to mediocre financials. The film is set to take in around $100 million in the United States over the four day Holiday weekend. There are lots of websites asking how this Star Wars story could be underperforming. This seems funny to me since it’s these same sites that have been running negative stories for the last 18 months about on-set conflicts, acting coaches being brought in to help the lead actors, a directorial ejection near the end of filming and Ron Howard being brought in to try to right the starship. I wonder if that had any impact on people’s excitement for the movie?
But I’m not going to bore you by playing armchair industry analyst and giving you a bunch of reasons people don’t seem to care all that much about Solo: A Star Wars Story. I’ll save that for another column. What I do want to talk about is the second major studio blockbuster to undergo major reshoots at the last-minute only to be met with utter audience ambivalence.
Last year’s Justice League was the first. A movie that was ripped from the clutches of Zack Snyder and handed over to Joss Whedon who turned it from something obtuse and iconic into something embarrassing and kind of terrible. Warner Bros. spend nearly $150 million trying to make Justice League more four-quadrant friendly. After changing story elements, color grading and the overall tone of the movie, the film ended up making even less that the much maligned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (another film damaged by chronic tinkering). In the end, Warner Bros. ended up flushing money down the toilet by trying to save the film. Justice League would have probably made the same if they had done nothing at all.
Solo feels like a similar situation. While it’s impossible to say where the box office total will end up, I’m betting the movie would have had made about the same had they just let Lord and Miller finish what they started. By trying to save the movie and all the bad press associated with a chronically troubled production, the film ended up being a casualty of perception.
So the question I ask is this:
Should studios stop trying to interfere with blockbusters once they’re pretty much completed?
The films that sprang to mind as I considered this hypothetical was The Matrix sequels. These are films generally considered to be massive disappointments. The Matrix was a game-changing movie. The anticipation for the sequels was only rivaled by the Star Wars prequels which were halfway through disappointing audiences. Both sequels were shot back-to-back. Reloaded came out and made a nice chunk of change, but the expectations didn’t match up with the anticipation. By the time Revolutions came out a few months later, the film ended up making significantly less than Reloaded and ended the franchise in a state of utter ambivalence.
What if Warner Bros. had decided after Reloaded to go in and re-shoot significant portions of Revolutions costing upwards of $100 million? Would it have changed anything? Or would audiences have felt slightly better about the lackluster threequel and sold around the same number of tickets?
Justice League felt like an anomaly at the time. But Solo seems to be providing proof that tinkering doesn’t change a film’s creative course one the production has set sail. Justice League showed us that changing the tone didn’t help people’s perception of the project. Solo would seem to indicate something similar. I realize the hubris of Hollywood and the executives who believe they can solve any problem with a big enough check, but conventional wisdom seems to be proving that the only thing you lose by changing pilots when they’re staring at the runway is money.
Much like the idiotic Rose Tico, sometimes slamming into a pilot moments before they complete their mission only leads to damage and disappointment.