Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Interesting Directors Should Stay Away from Stephenie Meyer

The Host...a Stephenie Mey-- I mean, Andrew Niccol film.
The Host comes out on Friday, and I'm sure the readers of the young adult (YA) novel it is based on would watch it if it was directed by anybody.  Why, then, is it directed by Andrew Niccol, the man behind Gattaca, Lord of War, and The Truman Show (he wrote the screenplay)?  Niccol is an interesting director; a filmmaker who is capable of creating worlds and compelling stories.  Wouldn't it be better if he devoted his time to a more serious film and left this YA stuff to a journeyman director?

Sure, The Host might not be terrible.  Honestly, based on the trailer, I think it looks like a step up from the Twilight series.  But both properties are based on books by Stephenie Meyer.  This means that it is probably intended for screaming tween girls, and it will be watched by those girls no matter what (although I'm not picking up any Twilight-like buzz about this one).  The premise of the story, humans taken over by aliens, seems par for the course for Niccol, so maybe his decision to direct isn't too nefarious.  But still, there's bound to be some other, better property out there that he could have attached himself to.  This isn't a one time problem, either.  This has been going on for a while.

It all started with Twilight (or T1, as I'll call it).  Catherine Hardwicke dropped all of her indie cred to make that (shudder) hugely popular film.  She had been making movies like 13 and Lords of Dogtown.  Those movies are for and about younger people, too, but they are infinitely more interesting than Twilight, which was a series mainly devoted to the question of which boy the main character would choose.  Hardwicke would've been a fine choice if she had decided to put her stamp on the series and stay with it for the long haul.  But she stopped after one film and her career looks less and less interesting each day.  Plus, the film she made looked like it was made by a directing program rather than a human. 

T2 took away director Chris Weitz.  I found his installment to be the best of the series, but only because I liked a montage featuring a Thom Yorke song (and who knows how much he had to do with that, anyway).  There was nothing that different between that film and the first, though.  Weitz had made American Pie and About a Boy before this.  He is capable of better things, evidenced by his latest film, A Better Life.  He rebounded nicely, but he never should have jumped on the Twilight train.

T3 stole David Slade from us.  He had directed Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night.  Oh, and he also claimed to hate the series and wouldn't even watch it at "gun point."  This is the perfect example of how directors will sometimes take a money job instead of attempting to produce original work.  Slade, of course, issued a statement claiming it was just a joke and he eventually came to love the series, but that was just damage control.  He wanted money for a high profile job.  And what did he do?  He churned out another film in the series that is utterly indistinguishable from the rest.  Most infuriating of all?  He had made a hard-R vampire film before in which the vampires were vicious monsters.  He goes from predatory beasts to shiny, porcelain-skinned wimps? 

Give me...$2 million.
Make that...$4 million.

The fourth installment of the film was actually divided into two for the now obligatory cash grab established by the Harry Potter series.  Bill Condon inexplicably directed the last "two" films.  Condon had previously directed Gods & Monsters and Kinsey.  Not exactly the background one would expect for a director meant to tackle the most action-heavy installment of the series.  To his credit, the action isn't terrible, and the films are sort of coherent.  But, once again, there is nothing about these films that set them apart from the rest. 

That is my biggest complaint about all of this.  These directors have all made films that show a bit of style on their part.  Why, then, would they latch on to this banal series that was only meant to please the already-crazed fans?  I know that the simple answer is money, and that it most likely the correct answer.  But why didn't they attempt to make these films their own?  There are many ways to tell a story visually, but they all just went the same plain route.  Were their hands that tied?  Or are these directors so artistically dead inside that they would take a job for a paycheck and make no attempt to attach their signature to the film?  How do you make some artistically valuable work, then turn around and jump for the money? 

This sorry trend continues with The Host, but hopefully that film turns out to be more like an Andrew Niccol film and less like a Stephenie Meyer adaptation.  It is possible for this to happen.  Just look at the Harry Potter series.  The first films were directed by the boring Chris Columbus.  There was a built in audience, and the producers just wanted a cookie-cutter adaptation to bring in the kids.  Then, as the series and audience grew older, they brought in some actual talent with Alfonso Cuaron, which set the darker and more entertaining tone for the rest of the series.  Twilight never had its Cuaron moment.  This is why the Potter films will be fondly remembered for years to come, and the Twilight films will probably be remade in five years. 
I don't care that the Twilight films are plain.  They're not intended for me, anyway.  I just wish the producers would stop hiring interesting directors and that the interesting directors who do get asked would start turning them down.  It is possible for a crappy YA series to hire the boring directors that the source material deserves.  D. J. Caruso directed I Am Number Four, Daniel Barnz directed Beastly, Stefan Fangmeier directed Eragon, and Richard LaGravenese directed Beautiful Creatures.  Sure, none of those films reached the popularity of Twilight, but the directors played no role in their demise because they were all just journeymen directors there to do a job and move on.  At least those series had the decency to stay away from the talented directors.

It looks like that other giant franchise, The Hunger Games, has taken notes.  Plain director Gary Ross isn't returning for the next installment.  But they didn't go fishing for an over-qualified director.  Instead, they've hired Francis Lawrence to direct the rest of the series.  Is Lawrence a bit of a name?  I guess.  But he isn't interesting enough to get upset about.  I'm sure he'll do an adequate job, the kids will be happy, and then everyone can move on.  Hopefully the producers of the next Stephenie Meyer adaptation are taking notes... 

Hey guys, mind if I just kind of hang out for three movies while you play your Hunger Games?


1 comment:

  1. I saw The Host a few weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. Were there problems with it? Yes. But it's a huge step up from the Twilight films. Your prejudice is premature, IMO.