Seeing the critical and commercial failure of the rebooted ‘Fantastic Four’ film, released last month, got me thinking: in the movie industry, reputations can be built up very quickly, but they can also be lost just as easily.
Rewind to 2012, and the film ‘Chronicle.’ A critical and commercial success, it marked out its director, Josh Trank, as one to watch. It wasn’t long before his name was being linked with a number of high profile franchises, and it was no surprise when he was chosen to helm the new ‘Fantastic Four’ outing.
Trank’s ‘one to watch’ status was further cemented when he also signed on to direct a spin-off film in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise. For a while it looked like Josh Trank was on the fast track to Hollywood’s A list of directors, a well received film under his belt and one, (soon to be two) franchises to his name.
Then, suddenly, things went a bit ‘off script.’ ‘Fantastic Four’ opened to poor reviews and a weak box office, while prior to that, Trank exited the ‘Star Wars’ spin-off, citing a desire to work on his own projects, rather than be attached to another existing property. However, perhaps more damaging are the rumours that Trank was difficult to work with during the ‘Fantastic Four’ shoot, which led to Disney executives deciding against hiring him to helm the ‘Star Wars’ spin-off.
For his part, Trank has accused Fox executives of meddling with the final cut of ‘Fantastic Four’, even to the point that entire sequences were removed. Whether this is true or not, or if Trank’s version would have resulted in a better reviewed and popular film, is beside the point. Trank’s example shows, again, how a bright reputation in Hollywood can suddenly be smothered in a wave of negative publicity and poor box office.
It’s highly reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s career trajectory. After ‘The Sixth Sense’, he was hailed in some quarters as ‘the new Spielberg.’ Then, a few box office and critical disasters later (the nadir surely being ‘The Last Airbender’. Or possibly ‘After Earth’) and suddenly all of that is forgotten, and even some of the very things that had marked him out as a talented writer-director (such as the last act twist) became evidence of creative indulgence.
However, in M. Night Shyamalan’s story there is reason for hope. If Hollywood secretly likes the classic ‘fall from grace’ story, then it’s just as hooked on the story of the comeback, the ‘phoenix from the flames’ tale of career redemption. Shyamalan, like others before him, has started his career rebuild on the small screen with the well received ‘Wayward Pines’, while he is also once again enjoying success on the big screen with ‘The Visit.’ A return to the low budget chiller territory of ‘The Sixth Sense’, it has seen Shyamalan get his best reviews and box office for a long time.
There are plenty of other examples in Hollywood of a career brought back from the brink of either off screen scandals, poor reviews, box office bombs or a combination of all three: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Downey Jr, Mickey Rourke, Drew Barrymore, Kiefer Sutherland, the list goes on. Of course, one box office flop doesn’t necessarily ruin a career, but it can certainly put the brakes on it for a while, as Andrew Stanton may have found when he moved from Pixar to the live action ‘John Carter’, and all the goodwill he’d garnered from his work at Pixar evaporated as ‘John Carter’ failed at the box office.
So what is the lesson to learn from all of this? As I said, in Hollywood reputations can be lost as quickly as they’re built. Though perhaps that wouldn’t be the case if we all, audiences and the media together, didn’t collude in building people up so much. For some, it’s just so they can take cruel delight in watching others fail, in other cases it’s because we expect too much of people like actors, etc, idolising them to the point that they can only fail to meet our high demands.
People are flawed, and no matter how talented a filmmaker, singer, politician or athlete might be, they will fail and make mistakes. It’s certainly a risk in filmmaking. Some ideas work, but some don’t. Even those that looked on paper like they would. Making films is a risky business, and sometimes they don’t pay off. If on some occasions we hype people up too quickly, then equally we write them off too quickly as well. It’s worth remembering that one film doesn’t make a young filmmaker the next Spielberg, Hitchcock or Scorsese, any more than one failure consigns them to the scrapheap.