Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bad Buzz flashback: The Avengers (1998)

With a beloved British TV series as source material, and cast consisting of Sean Connery as a super villain, Ralph Fiennes as a gentleman secret agent, and Uma Thurman as a black catsuit-wearing femme fatale, The Avengers was initially seen as a sure-fire way to close out the summer of 1998 with a bang. Amidst all the relatively factless hub-bub raging about next weekend's release of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, one can be reminded of another 'last big film of summer' that weathered terrible buzz and creative control issues. Alas this time, way back in August 1998, it was a losing battle.

At the beginning of summer 1998, The Avengers was the film I was most looking forward to. The rumors piled up and the allegations of incompetence compounded, but I still refused to believe that such a perfectly cast film that looked so promising could end up faring so poorly (ah, to be young and stupid). Besides, I had actually read an early draft of the script, and I found it to be a dark, violent, and refreshingly complicated action-adventure film. Little did I know that the script that I had read was merely the skeleton. By the time the film came out, it was so lacking in blood and thunder that it needed an random 'f-word' tossed into a climactic fight scene just to avoid a PG rating.

Allegedly spurred by one terrible test screening, Warner Bros hacked out a good 30-45 minutes of the picture, turning a two-hour plus opus into an incomprehensible 84-minute jumble (quite a bit of the running time is spent explaining offscreen events). The film opened on August 14th without press screenings (which was a pretty rare thing for such a major film in those days) and proceeded to make a mere $10 million in its first weekend. The film made just $23 million on a $60 million budget and sits in a bare-bones DVD, a mere piece of random trivia. To this day, there remains no trace of the would-be director's cut and it's unlikely that the film will ever be revisited in any real fashion. Let's take a moment to remember that sometimes the buzz is 100% correct. And, for such a bad film, that film still has one hell of a trailer...

Scott Mendelson

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