The Reel: How film studios suppress creativity

The poisonous role of production companies in the movies they produce

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Universal Studios presents: The Fast and Furious franchise- a single successful idea initiating a string of seven (now eight) movies with little to offer besides over $4 billion in box office revenue (Photo courtesy of Universal Entertainment).

By Mark Lu, Columnist

Okay, so you’ve seen “Suicide Squad.” You’ve probably seen 2015’s “Fantastic Four as well.” You might have even seen “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” You probably saw it in theaters, at home or even illegally. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered, “What happened? Why are these movies so bad? It’s like they’re not even trying.”

It’s true. Sometimes, movie studios just don’t give a hoot. Many times, they’re simply looking to either retain rights to a character or franchise without any regard for innovative filmmaking (which happens more often if that character or franchise happens to originate from comics) or simply grab some quick cash. Most frequently, it’s option B.

Consider the “Twilight” series. The first film, “Twilight,” made around $394 million worldwide on a $37 million budget [source]. The reviews weren’t great and the movie wasn’t that good, but it generated huge amounts of attention in many people (myself included) because of its both meme-ifiable and romantic storyline. The second, “New Moon,” made almost double that, around $710 million on an also doubled budget of $68 million [source]. The third, “Eclipse” made $698 million on the same budget as “New Moon” [source].

So, how much did the fourth installment make? We would expect around the $704 million range, right? Nope– Summit Entertainment made the decision to split “Breaking Dawn” into two parts- “Breaking Dawn: Part 1” grossed $710 million worldwide [source] and “Breaking Dawn: Part 2”  grossed $829 million [source], which means that the fourth installment of the Twilight Saga brought home a total of over $1.5 billion, more than double the earnings than if the fourth movie weren’t divided.

Now, let’s not forget that these films were absolute trash. None of them have a critics’ rating of over 50% on Rotten Tomatoes [source], and they all feature brooding, stone-faced sculptures engaging in ill-developed relationships and trite pugnacious fighting. There is no doubt that all of the actors and actresses in the saga have had their careers tainted as a result of Summit Entertainment’s campaign for that sweet, sweet cash.

Production companies have all done this before, whether it be Paramount Pictures with the Transformers movies, Universal Pictures with the Fast and Furious franchise, Summit Entertainment with the Twilight films, Disney with their live-action remakes or 20th Century Fox with those stupid, stupid Ice Age movies.

So, what about the craptastic movies that are made without the intention of printing money? This is where we move to the comic book film universe because that’s where bad films of such nature usually get the most attention.

There are two creativity-suppressing aspects to this genre as well: a) comic book cash grab movies (example: 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise) and b) films made to retain rights to a character or franchise. Now, for some comic book movies, films that appear to be cash grabs aren’t. Instead, they’re dedicated to threshing out characters and plot/character development, which leads to a great franchise. The greatest example of this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a film series that has remained pleasantly consistent (this isn’t always a good thing. Every Marvel movie has a boring soundtrack).

The main issue with the superhero genre isn’t money (comic book movies make plenty of dough), but rather legal rights. Have you ever wondered why the Avengers and X-Men are not in movies together, despite their both being the intelligent property of Marvel? It’s because Marvel Studios owns the copyright of the Avengers and 20th Century Fox owns that of the X-Men. Spider-Man only recently made the complicated (and temporary) journey from Sony Entertainment to Marvel (thank God).

The most jarring example of this disgusting phenomenon that is copyright-retaining films is 2015’s “Fantastic Four,” or as I like to call it, “Fant4stic” (because of its ridiculous logo). Out of 208 critics, only 19 gave it a decent review, and only 19% of audience viewers say they enjoyed it [source]. So why did this happen? Because the movie was only made for legal purposes, Fox didn’t bother with the intention to make a good film, which led to a rushed and incoherent production process. Its only purpose was to provide a platform upon which the rights of the characters (Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Thing and the Human Torch) could stay with the company.

You might be wondering, “If the Fantastic Four movies are being eyed by Marvel, why aren’t the rights to X-Men as well? Fox owns both, right?” Answer: the reason why the X-Men franchise hasn’t gone to Marvel yet is because Fox continues to make movies with the franchise, including some very good ones (my personal favorite: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”). However, Fox hasn’t come out with a Fantastic Four movie since 2007, and there has never been a decent one, ever. There was already talk of Marvel competing for the rights to their characters (let’s be real here, Marvel could make a much better Fantastic Four movie), and that’s why “Fant4stic” was made.

If, at this point, you’re asking, “Mark, why don’t you blame the director for doing a bad job? Why do you only focus on the studio?” then you’re thinking exactly what I was thinking when all the press attention for “Fant4stic” first came up.

Josh Trank, the director, masterminded one of my personal favorite superhero films, “Chronicle,” as his first project ever. So after I heard he was directing, I was fairly confident that his would be the first good Fantastic Four movie in, well, ever. Then, I saw the trailer. I lost hope. Then, I saw the movie. I cried, not just out of sadness for the quality of the film, but also out of anger against 20th Century Fox for ruining the future career of a young, talented and visionary director.

Trank didn’t trip on the project- the studio simply took over a certain point when he began disagreeing with them. John Campea of Collider said in an episode of “Movie Talk”:

“I’ve got a source, fairly close to the production of this film, who had told me that the movie that Josh Trank and Fox had agreed on making — included 3 really big action set pieces. That was all agreed upon, it was part of the flow of the movie… And they had agreed upon this vision for a film. Days before production began, Fox came in and made him pull [the] 3 main action sequences out of the film. I was also told the ending of the film was not even Josh Trank’s. At some point they hijacked the editing bay from him, to the point [where] the editing of the film was done without him.”

Trank even posted a tweet that had since been deleted, stating that the version of the film that was released wasn’t his:

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So, why do production companies do this? What is their grudge against creativity in the movie industry? Why are they so thirsty for money despite having mounds of cash, visionary directors, talented actors, skilled producers and creative writers at their disposal?

As a lover of movies, I’m shocked that the crony minds of twisted individuals and organizations who are responsible with the task of inspiring millions turn the more disgusting cheek and go after money. I am actually pissed off that the hoards of creative minds that are desperate for their well-deserved positions in show business aren’t being obliged, simply because what they introduce is out of the norm.

This Christmas, I give you a mission: watch an original film made by an inexperienced and creative film producer. Watch an indie film. Watch a movie that isn’t based on a book or another movie. Watch “Juno,” directed by Jason Reitman on a $6.5 million budget. Watch “Clerks,” directed by Kevin Smith on a $230,000 budget. Watch “Reservoir Dogs,” written and directed by a young, soon-to-be-legend Quentin Tarantino on a budget of $1.2 million.

Sponsor creativity, because that is what human spirit thrives off of. Oh, and screw 20th Century Fox.