The Film Pit: ‘Director Jail’

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There are film makers who, despite obvious talent, cannot find work due to an overhanging box-office bomb that is stinking up their resume. This usually happens with a film based on a beloved property with fans rabid for something spectacular only to be given something a little limp and clammy, like my horrible tiny hands. This is the fate known as going to Director Jail.

Director Jail, to put it simply, is the metaphysical prison where directors go when they have sufficiently disappointed film fans or big money studios – usually both. This week I’m examining a few occupants of Director Jail to judge if their sentences match their crimes, and whether any of them might be suitable for early parole.

 

PRISONER #1: MARTIN CAMPBELL

CRIME: GREEN LANTERN

Like many detainees in Director Jail, before the “incident” happened Martin Campbell was a decent and productive member of Director Town, the fictional dwelling of movie directors that I just made up.

He has a few solid action films to his name, among them Vertical Limit and The Mask of Zorro, but what really earned Campbell his stripes was sweeping in to save the James Bond franchise from the brink of destruction on two separate occasions. In 1995 he launched the Brosnan era with the eternal classic Goldeneye but, not content with doing it once, then launched the Craig era in 2006 with Casino Royale, which if we’re all honest is the best of the bunch.

It was a shame then in 2011 that Green Lantern was released to thunderous silence. It bombed with ticket sales and fans alike, who were excited for the launch of the DC movie universe that would compete with Marvel. The film is an undeniable mess, with a sad lack of energy from the actors and, it must be said, the direction. The infamous CGI mask that Ryan Reynolds wears for the role is one of the most bizarre directorial choices ever seen in a modern blockbuster, and when the biggest talking point of your film is an eye-mask you know something has badly gone wrong.

PAROLE DECISION: Campbell has served his time, and the good in his back catalogue far outweighs the bad. This court grants approval for Campbell’s parole.

 

PRISONER #2: GEORGE LUCAS

CRIME: THE STAR WARS PREQUEL TRILOGY

In a rare example of justice in Director Jail proceedings, here we have a director who turned himself in.

Before we get to to the crimes and their aftermath, it’s worth looking at where exactly Lucas came from. It often gets lost in the mix of The George Lucas Conversation that before the Prequels, before the empire of Lucasarts, before Star Wars even, Lucas was this little avant garde film-maker who was bubbling away on the edge of cultural awareness. After a series of experimental short films he hit it big with THX 1138 and American Graffiti, before redefining the word “big” when he released the first Star Wars in 1977.

1977 is a key date, because despite heavy involvement in the next two films and the trilogy of Indiana Jones that would follow, Lucas wouldn’t direct another film for twenty-two years when he would return to helm The Phantom Menace. It’s a shame that the last three directorial efforts of his career are the frankly pathetic Star Wars prequels.

It was after Revenge of the Sith in 2005 that Lucas backed away, seemingly permanently, from directing. Usually for a director to enter Director Jail the films they make have to fail financially but, being Star Wars, the prequels still made a pretty penny. It was Lucas himself who decided it was too much, and the angry voices that surround any public statement or appearance of his were enough to put him off directing for the past decade.

PAROLE DECISION: The internet hates George Lucas with an uncomfortable passion, but when you take into account that the man is responsible for Star Wars and Indiana Jones any grudge melts away into puppy-eyed love. Since he had the heart to turn himself in, this court grants approval for early parole. That is, if we can prise him out of his cell.

 

PRISONER #3: M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN

CAUTION: STILL AT LARGE

CRIMES: THE VILLAGE, LADY IN THE WATER, THE HAPPENING, THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH

Before we continue I’d like to point out that the list of films above is eleven years of consecutive film-making.

Getting the obvious out of the way, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are rightly regarded as masterpieces. The former is especially tight and tonally nuanced with some hard-earned moments of iconic suspense. Whether or not these two great works redeem the following decade is down to your levels of patience, but make no mistake: each film in the list above is the cinematic equivalent of a damp burp in an empty room.

Much like George Lucas, it feels passé to make fun of Shyamalan. We’ve been down this road one too many times. Also like George Lucas is the fact that after very promising early work he has made multiple awful films each individually deserving of a place in Director Jail. Unlike George Lucas, Shyamalan doesn’t make any money.

To put it more correctly, he doesn’t make enough money. On average his films tend to just about make back their budget at the box office without turning much of a profit, with the exception of The  Village and The Last Airbender, which fell into a profit margin after a more successful worldwide release.

What is profoundly strange is that Shyamalan does not make cheap films. The lowest budget he seems to work with is $50 million, for which price it’s worth remembering you could make Duncan Jones’ Moon ten times over. How does he keep getting projects? This is a director who has no fan-base and has no reliable profit-making ability, and his freedom from Director Jail feels unjustly earned.

PAROLE DECISION: We’ve got to catch him first. His latest film The Visit comes out this year and, maybe, after more than a decade of running, we can finally bring him to justice.

 

Image credit: Kitsadakron via Compfight.

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