Hollywood: the cinematic capital of the world, where billions of dollars are poured into making stories come to life on the big screen! With all the glamour, the money, the razzmatazz, you’d think it’d be pumping out classic after classic, creating finely-crafted masterpieces of cinema every year with only the occasional film which is merely above-average. The problem, of course, is that everybody who isn’t from the 1930s knows that this isn’t exactly what happens.
What we get instead is usually an uninspired remake of a better film, yet another sequel in a franchise whose shambling corpse should’ve been bludgeoned to death aeons ago, or something based on a particularly popular book, TV show, short story, comic book, cartoon, toy, video game or cereal packet. And when we do get something original, it’s usually something like Zach Snyder’s latest turgid offering, Sucker Punch. It’s shit. Consider that the official Cherwell review. He can put it on the poster if he likes.
But all this really makes you wonder – how? How on earth can a film with a bad script get funded for many millions of dollars, and worked on by hundreds and hundreds of people? In March, director Michael Bay admitted that Transformers 2 was ‘crap’, blaming the writing strike. So this was a script that even Michael Bay – Michael Bay, the man behind Pearl Harbor – realised was awful. You’d think he’d send his script-writers back to whatever Neanderthal cave they’d lurched from in the first place and tell them not to return until they’d come up with something a year 11 film studies student wouldn’t be embarrassed to submit as coursework. Instead, he made it into a movie, and it cost $200 million.
It’s oddly perverse, when you think about it, that the best writing these days can usually be found in small-budget indie films. Of course, in an indie flick, the writing is really all there is to hold up the film – it can’t rely on special effects, set-pieces and A-list actors to wow audiences into grovelling submission. But this isn’t an excuse. All that money and star power should be backing something of genuine quality, and if indie films can find good script-writers, mainstream movies have no excuse. Why, then, has Hollywood yet to get to grips with the groundbreaking idea of actively trying not to make movies which are embarrassingly bad?
Part of the reason is to do with the way Hollywood works. Script-writers may write the actual dialogue, but seldom are they behind the essential plot of the film – that’s up to the producers. And producers are also the people in charge of budgeting and finance. Not the creative type, in other words. With the best will in the world, there’s little chance of a script-writer producing a masterpiece when he or she’s handed a plot written by two glorified accountants trying desperately to appeal to their market demographics (‘we need a hot girl and an explosion, but also a bit of lovey-dovey stuff for the ladies’).
That’s a problem, but it’s not the real reason Hollywood keeps pumping out rubbish. The real reason is simple: Transformers 2 was the 23rd-highest-grossing film of all time. Films don’t have to be good to make money, they just have to have vaguely impressive special effects, be part of an established brand, and/or have enough money behind marketing. Writing simply doesn’t factor. Audiences don’t find out if the writing is crap until they actually start watching the film, and by that time, their money is already spent. Never mind that writing makes or breaks the quality of a film – good reviews don’t a fortune make.
This is why films like last year’s Inception are important. Inception showed Holywood that big blockbuster films, filled with special effects and action sequences, don’t have to be aggressively stupid. Films which require an ounce of thought on the audience’s part can still be fun and can still make money. Hopefully, now that good special effects are so commonplace that audiences are growing increasingly blasé about them, Hollywood will stop trying to push that boundary and pay attention to writing instead.
Of course, first that’d require it to stop trying to turn 3D into a cash cow. But that’s a rant for another day.