Man, it’s been a while since I did one of these eh? According to my blog, I haven’t done one since October 2011, just about a year ago. And so, since I’m bringing it back due to a lack of content, I figured I’d do something special for it. So I have a special subject this time: Fascinating disasters.
I’ve said on a couple occasions that you can learn just as much watching a bad movie as you can watching a good one. Sometimes you can even learn more. But the issue is, most bad movies are irritating to watch (Transformers) or just plain boring (The Wicker Man). But these movies, for better or for worse, are actually watchable and serve as various lessons on how good movies can become shitty ones.
I could stock this entire list with later M. Night Shyamalan movies (and indeed, this was nearly The Village instead) but I think Signs is interesting because it’s one of those rare movies that falls apart slowly rather than quickly. It’s not badly directed, and it’s certainly not a bad idea. It’s got some solid acting towards the beginning and a couple of well staged scare-scenes.
The movie’s main issues show up towards the end, when the movie begins to essentially create plot holes out of nothing, and then falls even more apart on repeat viewings. It’s when you realize that the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, the script kind of poorly written and a lot of the acting just plain surreal. Some of these things can be overcome (Christopher Nolan in particular often overcomes the first one and David Lynch often works very hard to make the latter happen) but the movie isn’t really set up for that. But the movie combines an inability or unwillingness to overcome its flaws with some truly jaw dropping plot holes and some really inappropriate uses of Shyamalan’s favorite screenwriting techniques. It’s a little impressive to see how quickly this movie falls apart in the last act and how glaring all it’s flaws are on a second watch through. If you watch carefully, you can probably grab them on the first run, which makes this at least a study in how to force a movie that should have been good into being bad.
I really hate bringing this one up, partially cuz it reminds me that Brett Ratner made a better Hannibal Lecter movie than either Michael Mann or Ridley Scott, which kind of makes me want to curl up into the fetal position. But the point remains that Hannibal is a massive mess of a movie, pretty much non-functional from the word go.
A lot, and I mean a lot, of this can be traced back to issues with tone, as every sequence seems to be at odds with all of the other scenes. The weird anti-hero treatment of Lecter is completely at odds with his increasingly brutal actions, which is weirdly at odds with the way they’re treating Clarice in this movie (which is not only at odds with other movies, but also weirdly at odds with how they treat her every other scene), which is REALLY at odds with the villain who seems to have stumbled in from a different movie which is RIDICULOUSLY at odds with the villains plan, which seems like something out of a James Bond sequel. A bad one.
All of these issues could have been overcome if the film could blend the genres and subplots more seamlessly (you all know my laundry list of genre and subplot mixing films by now, Brotherhood of the Wolf, O’ Brother Where Art Thou, Pan’s Labyrinth etc.) but that gets harder to do with each thing added in, and once we get to the sequence where the Gary Oldman monster is introduced (he’s basically a monster, shut up) the movie is officially broken. The movie is therefore fascinating for the sheer degree it doesn’t work, as it spends it’s entire run tripping over itself. Scary scenes are undercut by the movie’s treatment of Lecter, the creepiness of Oldman’s character is undercut by how silly his plan is, etc. You could probably get a similar experience watching Hannibal Rising (the movie which ends, I will remind you, with Lecter using his ninja skills to assault the fortress of a ranting supervillain no REALLY) but I think Hannibal is more fascinating for how well it could have worked.
The Thief and the Cobbler
This movie is a case study in vision and ambition getting in the way of getting things done (for more information, go watch Heaven’s Gate, or rather read about it, since the movie itself isn’t good). You can’t see this in the movie itself (which is mostly sort of dull, especially the theatrical release), but more in it’s tragic history. Animation genius Richard Williams (best known for Who Framed Roger Rabbit) first conceived and began work on this movie in 1964, but it didn’t take off until 86 when it got financial backing (yeah he worked on it all that time).
What follows is too long to recount here, but suffice to say Williams went a tiny bit…well crazy. There are conflicting accounts, but he was a supposedly tyrannical boss, firing people randomly and keeping (and demanding) long hours. Many of the people he fired went to work for Disney, which began work on a similar project called Aladdin and well…
Suffice to say, when 92 rolled around (for those of you keeping track at home, 6 years after he got financial backing) the movie was horrifically behind schedule and ridiculously over budget. Similarities to the better known, better marketed Aladdin were making investors worried and eventually the decision was made to pull Williams off the project and hand it to someone else with the mandate to finish it as fast and as cheap as possible, so they could shove it into theaters and try to recoup some of their losses. It turned out all for naught, as the movie was critically panned and barely pulled 500,000 dollars against its 28,000,000 budget. Williams, to this day, has not made another animated feature. The movie itself is kind of a dull, predictable and rather shitty slog, but the story of it’s creation and failure is something of a fascinating one, a tale of being unwilling or unable to temper ambition with reality can sink a project.
Incidentally if you do decide to see it, I’d actually recommend you watch the Directors Cut of this (called the Recobbled Cut). It’s mostly using test footage and it’s still kind of an imperfect movie, but it’s a vastly less compromised vision. Of course the legality of that is kind of iffy and I’m not certain how easy it’ll be to locate (I saw it in Film School). Still, if you can, that’s the version to see.