FilmTalk 1: Water Cooler Moments
You Know, For Kids
It’s infantamalisation, says a friend. Remember when films were for grupps? We’re all teenagers now.
No, I say, it’s not as simple as that, it’s about the development of macro-demographics.
What are we arguing over? Why, the new Star Wars movie, of course. The film is heading toward its first global billion, but everyone on the ground seems to hate it. Let’s break that down; nine of my friends hated it, but they’re all adults. Kids seem happy, but then they like ‘The Emoji Movie’, fart jokes and covering dried pasta with sparkle dust.
So, the facts. George Lucas made ‘Star Wars’ in 1977 as a nostalgic homage to the Flash Gordon serials of his childhood. Watching them now, you wonder how astronauts coped with so much wool next to the skin, and how Jean Rogers managed with Buster Crabbe’s overbite.
I attended the world’s first screening of ‘Star Wars’ for the cast and crew because I was going to be marketing it, and I had a mate in the cast with a speaking part. He’d been advised not to take the job by his agent because the money was rubbish and it was shooting in Tunisia, where everyone said he would get sick. The production eventually offered him a percentage, and he never had to work again.
The second part, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, dumped the homages and told a dramatic story well. By now merchandising had proven massively successful, so the third film was peppered with cuddly toy characters. George Lucas’s always-shaky understanding of dramatic structure was exposed in the next three films, which were mostly like intergalactic episodes of ‘Yes, Minister’ with a few desperately misjudged action sequences thrown in. Now the demographic skewed young and older fans were regarded with the same contempt that’s showered upon adults who read Harry Potter and watch Dr Who.
Then we hit the double-ended demographic sweet spot that contains both new 7 year + fans and older viewers reliving their childhoods. What appears to have upset the latter group is that the latest film has plumped for the former audience bandwidth. You had your fun, the studio says to nostalgists, we’ve markets in India and China now and they’re all kids. Which, to my mind, is as it should be. DC tried existential angst and look where it got them. They just couldn’t find Marvel’s pleasure button.
Having said that, the SW prequel ‘Rogue One’ was actually ‘The Dambusters’ in drag and worked brilliantly – but it was a swan song for the original fans of the series, who are now left with a children’s show. As William Shatner said to his fans on SNL: ‘Get a life.’
When Dialogue Becomes Wallpaper
Now that action blockbusters are committee designed, pre-shot in CGI and grid-mapped so carefully that no actual acting can be allowed to poke through, the end result can be unintentionally hilarious. When the second unit green-screen stuff is added to the first unit’s plot scenes, disparities emerge that require ADR. Possibly the worst example I’ve come across is uttered by Chris Pine in ‘Wonder Woman’, which by the way is not remotely wonderful but entirely ersatz and apparently cobbled together from the trims of 1950s movies.
Pine and Wonder Woman leave Amazonia (somewhere tropical, so let’s presume it’s between the Antilles, Bali and Hawaii) in a tiny, teensy fishing boat. In the next shot they’ve sailed to Northern Europe, without food, warm clothing or navigational skills. The director must have realised that a line of dialogue was needed, and came up with this. (I’m paraphrasing from memory):
PINE: Phew, we were lucky that passing ship picked us up and shaved some time off our journey!
Frankly, that didn’t wallpaper over any cracks at all. It just fired off a Stinking Dialogue alert that proceeded to cause untold hilarity through the rest of the film. By the time poor old David Thewliss started ranting about vengeance and cataclysmic evil, we were off the charts and into Ed Wood territory.
When Full Disclosure Goes Wrong
Increasingly, cast and crew members are required to sign NDAs as studios protect their investments. So when ‘Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” lined up some sizeable guest names it was forbidden to reveal who they might be. It seemed fairly obvious to me that they would rope in a new character called Fernando just to get a song out of him.
All was revealed in the first trailer, which went live a couple of days ago. A boat arrives at the island of Taramasalata and an absurdly overdressed woman gets out. She’s garbed in Hollywood’s idea of sophistication; big hat, big glasses, foot-thick makeup. My God, I think, Liza Minelli’s had gender reassignment! But appropriate as that might seem, it’s not her. The glasses lower. I’m praying for Shirley Bassey. I get Cher.
Cher acts as if everyone has been waiting decades for this moment. Not quite so; according to industry sources, the test audience (yes, they have them for trailers) had not the faintest clue who she was. Welcome back Cher, you’ve been away for far too long.