Tom Jolliffe on the prospect of Uwe Boll returning to the director’s chair…
In modern cinema, at a time when mega budget studio films are absorbing most of the finance and the vast majority of cinema exhibition space, there has been a shift in the medium. Cinema started as a place of creative expression, where the director’s influence would supersede all. Codes and practices came in to stifle that creativity in Hollywood (with a desire for a formulaic approach), though a few rebellious auteurs like Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock challenged those restrictions to the very limits. In the best era of Hollywood cinema, directors like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola all had their own strong, distinctive style and made films almost entirely their way. So it comes to pass that now, in a world of cinematic universes, multiverse fascination and the chase for billion dollar box office, a director is a creative disagreement away from being canned (see Edgar Wright, Danny Boyle, Phil Lord and Chris Miller to name a few). Are the interchangeable studio films a somewhat production line, marketing focus group formulation of a ‘movie?’ Occasionally. Many of the Marvel films feel more a sum of parts than a ‘director’s vision’ with exceptions like Taika Waititi and the unmistakable Sam Raimi. Plenty of good directors over the years have been reigned in by studio politics in the pursuit of the dazzling dollars.
There’s a way to make a movie and do it entirely your own way. That is to shoot it for as little money as possible. In truth there’s an enormous wasteland where few films exist, and that’s the realm of budgets over $2-3 million dollars, and those under $150 million. More are being greenlit in that moderate to sizeable area with the rise in streaming (and reemergence of big scale indie) but it’s still rare to see films come in at $20-40 million. You go low or mega it seems. Still, in the early part of the century a German director stormed his way toward the applecart and tipped it over. He blew raspberries in the face of convention. He approached cinema as if he was from that micro budget world of guerrilla film-making, looking to get his vision out come hell or high water. There was a difference though… he was putting studio level budgets to his own independent films, casting big name talent and delivering, for better or worse (critics certainly feel the latter), an auteur’s vision.
Uwe Boll’s cinematic legacy of films like House of the Dead, Bloodrayne (plus sequels), Dungeon Siege (plus sequels), Alone in the Dark, Postal and Far Cry attracted widespread vitriol from critics, derision from mainstream audience goers, and occasionally ironic praise from lovers of so bad it’s good cinema. If Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon and Dead or Alive suggested video game adaptations were a hiding to nothing, Boll pushed the idea even further that it was an impossibility not to make a bad video game based film. Despite everything though, for the most part, Boll stood by his visions staunchly. He also made them his way. Much has been made of Boll’s ability to use every trick in the book to raise budgets (particularly tax incentives). He’s not reinventing the wheel, but the independently financed films and the amounts he was able to raise were hugely impressive, with In The Name of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale costing a sizeable amount at $60 million and boasting a cast that includes Ray Liotta, Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds (Burt Fucking Reynolds!), Leelee Sobieski (around the height of her fame) and Matthew Lillard (who dials it up to about 13).
The constant barrage of critical scorn didn’t go unnoticed by the occasionally reactionary Boll, who infamously invited critics to fight him in the boxing ring. Some did and Boll stood by his conviction (and trounced them). The documentary, Raging Boll follows the filmmaker in the lead up to fighting his critics, whilst also looking to promote and sell the aforementioned Dungeon Siege. It’s a fascinating, surprisingly endearing slice of life that shows another side to Boll’s outspoken public persona. Additionally it showed the seedlings of the very worst in bastardised online film criticism, and brought with it some degree of satisfaction when seeing Boll dominating the snidey keyboard warrior critics who went personal instead of constructive and disciplined with their reviews.
Boll hasn’t only made video game adaptations (which almost come pre-packaged with negative reviews), he’s made some surprises too, not least Rampage, an atypically uncompromising approach to violence as Boll dared to make a mass-shooter his protagonist and delve into the psyche and rationality of a man seeking vengeance on an unfair society. Uncomfortable to watch due to its brazen unrestraint, but deeply fascinating as a vociferous trashing of a system that breeds so many mass shooters. Additionally, Brendan Fletcher is unsettlingly gripping. Boll sensibly allows unfettered freedom (as well as more restraint in how the film is shot and edited compared to the larger scale video game films per-say) for the actor to shine. The film’s impact and sincerity might have been lessoned by veering into a trilogy with two sequels, but the second at least, remained intriguing. Stripping back the big budgets and big stars, Boll at least, was never afraid to make films with a deeper message (sometimes they hit, sometimes perhaps not), and often aided by frequent collaborators like the thoroughly underrated Michael Pare (starring in one of my upcoming films Renegades). If there’s a fascination with the psychology of shootings, Boll certainly continued to show it with a recent comeback film, Hanau (based on the QAnon mass shootings in 2020) which was released in Germany.
There’s a new Boll film on the horizon though, according to recent reports, with the director returning to the big(ger) budget arena again. Time will tell if it goes ahead, but Boll will helm Ness, a $25 million thriller, based on a period in the life of Eliot Ness. Ness has most famously been brought to cinematic life by Kevin Costner in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, which focused on Ness taking down Al Capone. In Boll’s Ness, the titular law enforcer, post Capone, tracks a notorious serial killer known as The Butcher of Kingsbury Run. The film will undoubtedly delve into the violent acts of the killer if Boll stays true to form, and whether it surprises people or not, it’s still kind of pleasing to see a trailblazer return. The elements that must come into place to get a film from page to screen are a delicate house of cards. Boll has made films the down and dirty, penny scraping way, but more remarkably, has made films that cost many millions. As outspoken has he has been (and occasionally he perhaps plays up to his own persona), he’s always stood his ground vehemently. Whether you like him or not, Boll will always bring unto the world a Uwe Boll film and no marketing meeting or executive committee will diminish the stories he wants to tell.
What are your thoughts on Uwe Boll? Does the prospect of a Boll film about Eliot Ness intrigue you? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/