Friday, February 17, 2012

In a 'trash your last movie' era, why I'm glad that Pixar is defending Cars 2...

As a result of director Andrew Stanton and the various producers of John Carter are making the junket rounds this week, there has been opportunity to discuss what many pundits and critics feel was a rare Pixar whiff in Cars 2.  Producer Lindsey Collins, while speaking to Movieline's Jen Yamato, discussed both the film's critical reception and the fact that it was the first Pixar film not to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature since the inception of that category in 2001.  Without simply laying out the quotes (hence the link), she correctly states that there were a number of really solid animated films this year, that she believes that Cars 2 suffered from a kind of anti-Pixar backlash, and that director John Lasseter still loves the film.  I don't know if the film suffered from an anti-Pixar backlash (although expectations were that the film would be mediocre prior to press screenings), and I am personally not a fan of Cars 2.  But I personally am darn-happy to see the Pixar gang defending it against the critical onslaught.

I find it to be narratively mundane, focusing on a somewhat obnoxious supporting character and basically ditching the small-town nostalgia elements that made the first Cars somewhat endearing (the first act is terrible, but once Lightning McQueen gets stranded it vastly improves) for the sake of a generic action narrative.  But the film is visually striking, with a few interesting (and surprisingly violent) action sequences and, while the end result doesn't work, I can't entirely condemn Pixar for telling a wholly different story from the first Cars.  Point being, it is quite refreshing in this day-and-age to see filmmakers actually defending their less-than-acclaimed projects.  The status quo of late has seen stars, filmmakers, even studios trashing their prior pictures, usually in a bid to convince us that  "This time it will be different!".

Disney basically based its entire marketing campaign for Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides around the idea that the sequels were terrible and that no one wanted to see any characters other than Jack Sparrow this time around.  Michael Bay and Shia LeBeouf spent much of the last two years apologizing for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, although Megan Fox's somewhat similar statements ended up getting her fired from the franchise.  And just this December, while doing rounds for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Daniel Craig took time out of his schedule to bash Quantum of Solace (a film that is vastyly underrated in the 007 cannon) while generically reassuring fans that Skyfall will be much, much better. 

This isn't a new concept, as Sandra Bullock went on record trashing/apologizing for Speed 2: Cruise Control a few years after its 1997 release.  And this is different from the rare case where a filmmaker or star bashes his or her own project prior to release (as Bill Cosby famously did with Leonard Part 6 in 1986).  This new form of 'trash the prior entry to pump up the next entry' has become almost a given over the last few years.  And this summer will surely see such retroactive criticism of all three of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films (even the critically-lauded second entry, although I prefer the initial installment), as well as Stephen Summers's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra from many of the same people who swore that the films were both fantastic and well-worth your money at the time of their respective releases.  And one must only wait until the junket tours for next month's Wrath of the Titans to hear star Sam Worthington and producers waxing poetically about how they knew full-well that Clash of the Titans was a narrative disaster and how they got it (and the infamously lousy post-conversion 3D) right this time.

I'm not saying that Clash of the Titans wasn't pretty lousy, or that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen wasn't abominable, but there is something deeply cynical about a studio basically admitting that they sold you an inferior bill of goods the last time around, but *this time* they are making a winner.  It insults those who paid to see those films in a theater and further insults those who actually like the prior entries in question.  I have long defended the relative artistic merits of all three Gore Verbinski Pirates of the Caribbean films.  How nice of Disney to basically tell me that I'm wrong to do so while selling what turns out to be a painfully inferior cash-in.  

Worse yet, most of these post-mortum mea culpas offer no real details into what allegedly went wrong, merely offering generic 'the script needed work' or 'we didn't mean to make a sequel' proclamations that shed no real light into the nitty-gritty of making a bad film that was intended to be a good one.  Does anyone think we'll get an honest account of the infamous behind-the-scenes turmoil that went on during Iron Man 2 or X-Men Origins: Wolverine when summer 2013 sees the release of Iron Man 3 and The Wolverine?  Nope, but the producers and cast will be sure to apologize and swear that "this time it'll be different!'. 

I personally find it downright refreshing that John Lassetter is unwilling to throw his latest film, obviously one that was a personal project for him, under the bus merely to be seen as in agreement with the critical status quo.  Just as I find it refreshing watching George Lucas defending the various changes he has made to the original Star Wars trilogy and the quality of the prequel trilogies, even when I don't agree with every defense he offers (I never found Han Solo to be immoral for shooting first), I am happy to see Pixar standing up for the product they made.  John Lasseter made the Cars 2 that he wanted to make.  That I didn't care much for the end product doesn't mean he is obligated to dislike it as well.  He still champions the movie, and I have to give him credit for bucking the trend.

Scott Mendelson                           


corysims said...

Nice write up, Scott. Totally in agreement. Disney's rejection of the last two Pirate films has to be the worse of the recent lot, followed by Bay and company with Revenge of the Fallen (a film vastly superior to Dark of the Moon for a lot of reasons that have never been covered by the critics....)

Liam_Ho said...

You say vastly superior but neither one of them are good so it seems kind of moot.

corysims said...

Too true but at least Revenge of the Fallen actually works in conjunction with the first film. Dark of the Moon's plot doesn't even fit the mythology set forth by it's predecessor's on bit.

I'm still surprised no one mentioned this. Yes, it's about robots fighting robots but even without anytime to work on the script, the first film and Revenge of the Fallen work together as a unit.

Dark of the Moon is a quasi-reboot/sequel that doesn't work at all.

Ask yourself this; if Megatron and his Master wanted to blow up our Sun to steal it's energy in the second film, how the hell does that work out for him with his plot of the third film to use us as a slave labor force to rebuild their planet?

That plan doesn't even remotely work if they succeeded in the second film.

Ehren Kruger is on my shit list after what he did with Dark of the Moon because there was no excuse for it. He had plenty of time....and it's not like the plots of the first two films are that hard to figure out.

Liam_Ho said...

Honestly, any of the plots of the three movies could be inserted into any part of the trilogy since its basically the same thing. Only difference is that they've escalated in scale due to the nature of sequels.

All my hate resides with RotF, it couldn't even deliver on the spectacle. So I'm apathetic towards DotM due to the fact it comes later when I had already resigned myself to the fact that the plot is inconsequential. To me the lack of logic is due to Bay and them not caring since it doesn't matter.

Maxwell H said...

Regardless of the fact that I seem to be the rare individual who doesn't hate Cars 2, I definitely agree with this post. I think the studios/actors/filmmakers should focusing on saying that they have fixed some of the mistakes of previous entries in series instead of entirely trashing the films. It can alienate fans of those films and also comes off as you put it, cynical. I, for example, much preferred Pirates 2 and 3 to 4. So according to Disney, what does that say about me?

corysims said...

See, I'm the other way. I didn't think Dark of the Moon delivered the spectacle at all. Just because the tone went serious for the final 50 minutes plus ILM's visual, I think people got fooled by the so called spectacle of the film.

NOTHING in Dark of the Moon matches the IMAX brawl between Prime, Megatron, and the others in Revenge of the Fallen. Nothing.

Danny said...

Anyone who gives a toss about Transformers is nuts, regardless if they made it or not. Bay's been pretty open that he makes the lowest brow movies possible to make the most money he can-- Mark Kermode wrote a nice piece about it last year, condemning him to hell for just such a thing.

If the filmmaker wants to trash their own work, that's okay with me, but their opinion of their work is just the same as a critic's-- an opinion. I don't care about opinions from people I don't care about, which coincidentally includes a great deal of filmmakers who spend their time making franchises based on toys and comics. I think that saves a lot of needless hand wringing.

Liam_Ho said...

Don't get me wrong I thought the spectacle in DotM was serviceable because of the low expectations set by RotF but still pointless since things just happened with no narrative drive behind it.

Aside from maybe the forest fight in RotF all the action in that movie was terrible.
How is the Devestator defeated? A rail gun that literally comes out of nowhere, definition of a hand of God. It could've been creative to take down such a large enemy but nope the highlight of it is the dangling balls. How is the Fallen defeated? Prime powers up with Jetfire and takes him out in 30 seconds.

So we are left with the two human leads running through two miles of desert in real time apparently with stuff blowing up around them. Bay focuses most of the action on random bots while spending so little effort on what should've been the main ones.

Andrew Davies said...

Thanks for writing this Scott. "Ocean's Twelve" falls in to the same category, where the cast joked that "Ocean's Thirteen" should have been called "The One We Should Have Made Last Time" or something like that.

My biggest worry, and it's already happened, is the trashing of the Sami Raimi Spider-Man films in favour of the new film. It would be great if both the original trilogy and the new film could exist at the same time but I know that's not going to happen. What's ironic is this new film wouldn't have existed without Raimi's trilogy. I also feel a lot the choices made for "The Amazing Spider-Man" were made to distinguish the film from Raimi's films. Mary Jane was the main love interest of the last three films so they pick Gwen Stacy for the new film. Yes, Gwen Stacy is supposedly Peter Parker's first love but that doesn't mean the filmmakers "get Spider-Man" more than Raimi did.

Scott Mendelson said...

May I just say that this is EXACTLY the kind of conversation I'd like to see in the comments section on a more regular basis. So thank you for that.

As for my Transformers thoughts, Dark of the Moon is the only one I actually enjoy, and I did like the sheer level of spectacle and actual robot-fighting in the last 90 minutes. Yes, the plot completely contradicts the first two films and yes, the IMAX forest fight in Revenge of the Fallen is the best set-piece in the franchise, but Dark of the Moon is closer to what I wanted to see in a Transformers film - a robot-smashing spectacle seemingly unencumbered by budgetary restraints where the Autobots/Decepticons were, if not the lead characters, real supporting players with an arc for a few of them. I do agree that a big part of why Dark of the Moon feels more epic in scope is the serious tone, much of which is brought on by the Steve Jablonsky score, which seemingly repeats that 'sweeping emotion' music from the Inception trailer over and over again. Still, it worked for me at least once, earning the picture a solid 'B'.


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