Great Ideas, Poor Execution
January 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
With 2012 firmly behind us, film critics, bloggers and cineastes alike have begun looking forward to films of 2013, compiling their lists of their most anticipated, the usual awards season predictions and whatnot and likewise, like all good film buffs I have my own list of most anticipated movies like Pacific Rim, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Place Beyond the Pines, Elysium, The World’s End etc. Hell, I’m even looking forward to a Zack Snyder film which is a first. And like every year I’m sure that there will be a fair share of disappointments, flops, unexpected gems, terrific indie flicks that come out of nowhere, superheros, giant robots etc.
I always like the beginning of the year because it means I can look forward with great optimism at the film ahead, my hopes at an all time high, looking forward the potential that a lot of these films have. The majority of the films that we as film lovers look forward to the most are usually the big ones, the ones with big ideas and lots of potential. Sometimes it’s a new film by a well established director or it happens to be an epic blockbuster that happens to have a great idea or central conceit at it’s core. Yet sometimes (if not most) these films which do have the high concepts the ones with great potential to do something truly wonderful and original with the material leave us wanting, or more often than not, squander a great concept, potentially dramatic ideas and concepts ruined by bad writing, wrong choice of director, behind the scenes troubles or whatever else.
I’m not just talking about the Prometheus’s of the world (that’s a wholly different kind of disappointment) but rather films that have at their center great ideas that are fully utilized or are jettisoned in favor of commercial viability or whatever else. These are films that had potential to be blockbusters but failed in executing their high concepts, while some have ideas that are lost amidst the maelstrom of mediocrity on display.
Following on from a post I did about a year ago about the most disappointing films I’d seen, I’ve compiled a list of 25 movies that had great ideas at their core that were ultimately squandered by poor execution.
So here is my list of films of great ideas and poor execution:
25. King Arthur (Antoine Fuqua, 2004)
The King Arthur legend is one of those stories that has been told time and time again over the years in many variations and formats. Here was an opportunity to do something different with the legend, a film that promised to strip away the myth focusing instead on the more historical routes of the legend. It was a great idea, with Fuqua proving to be an interesting choice of director. Yet unfortunately, despite the potential to tell an Earthy, gritty more historical interpretation of the myth, it was squandered and suffered from the unfortunate affliction that was Bruckheimer-itis. Yes, legendary Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer was behind this one and thus the film features all the trademarks that suit a Bruckheimer production. Big, loud, expensive and not much else. Despite a decent performance by Clive Owen, the film suffered from a script that merely plodded along from one set piece to the next with very little in the deconstruction of the myth and just felt like mere name dropping of all the key players than anything else.
24. The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam, 2005)
There seemed no better match of material and director than there was with The Brothers Grimm and director Terry Gilliam. Combining Gilliam’s fantastical style with the dark and grimm (sorry, had to be done) writings of the Brothers Grimm seemed liked an ample opportunity to craft a fantasy adventure of wonderfully dark proportions. By reassessing the brothers (played byt Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) as tricksters and con artists, the film played with the tales and should’ve allowed for Gilliam and the audience to have much more fun than they actually did. Unfortunately the film ultimately fell flat and was more like a guessing game of “How many fairy tales can you spot” instead of wholly involving piece of fantasy cinema.
23. Enemy of the State (Tony Scott, 1998)
With technology ever developing and cameras beginning to pop up everywhere around us, Tony Scott and crew had the opportunity to make an entirely relevant film about the nature of privacy and an ever increasing Big Brother society whcih could’ve laid the foundations for a possibly gripping paranoid conspiracy thriller in the vein of works such as The Conversation and Blow-Out. From Will Smith’s lawyer who finds his every movement being tracked, every word he speaks overhead, all the while having absolutely no idea why he’s being chased in the first place, to Gene Hackman’s wonderfully paranoid Brill, essentially an extension of Harry Caul from Coppola’s great work, the potential was there. However once again, we have a film with all the subtlety of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie and… Oh wait-! Yes, that’s right another film that suffers from Bruckheimer-itis. Granted this suffers less than most as David Marconi’s script is fast moving and entertaining enough without sacrificing much of it’s original intent. However many of the film’s more grand ideas are once again left by the wayside.
22. Hancock (Peter Berg, 2008)
No other genre has dominated the box office in the last ten years as much as the superhero movie. In 2008, Peter Berg and Will Smith offered us a somewhat different take on the superhero. A movie about the worst kind of superhero. A hero who was essentially a bum and whose drunken and irresponsible and destructive antics had cost the city and the government millions in damages and repairs. Hancock promised to be a deconstruction on the superhero myth and indeed for the first hour or so that’s exactly what we got as we see Smith’s brilliantly drunk and hobo-ish Hancock, drunkenly fly to the scene of the crime and get accosted by officials and the public for causing an inordinate amount of danger in the carrying out of his duty. Unfortunately by the end we got some confused weird thing about supreme beings and gods and something or other. Thankfully we got Kick-Ass a couple of years later so it all worked out in the end.
21. Without a Clue (Thom Eberhardt, 1988)
The great detective has seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, thanks to that of Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller’s modern take on the character. Holmes is one of those great literary figures who when done right, can work wonders. Eberhardt’s film back in the 1988 tried a different approach with Holmes, casting his loyal sidekick Dr. John Watson center stage as the one who truly had the great power of deduction while Holmes was merely an invention, an bumbling out of work who was merely posing as Holmes for the cameras. It was a really great idea and the casting of Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine was an inspired choice. However the comedy failed to hit the mark and the story involving something to do with Moriarty and the forging of bank notes would leave anyone bored and struggling to remain awake and just simply stunned at how a great idea could go to waste like this.
20. Boogeyman (Stephen Kay, 2005)
Produced by Sam Raimi through his Ghost House Pictures label, here was a horror film that was supposed to tap into our childhood fears, those fears of darkness and the things that lurk in the shadows. Fears that lurk within the dark recesses of our mind, fears that never truly leave us as we get older, fears that continue to haunt us to this day. It was an opportunity for a horror film to get away from the schlocky torture porn that had plagued the genre in the years before and really do something interesting, going back to what horror should be. A chance to go back to basics and thus scare us silly. How in the blue blazes of hell then, did we end up with this piece of soiled garbage? Lacking in everything from scares, to a script that makes any form of logical sense, we get this, a film that should’ve stayed in the shadows and never emerged. Seriously the Boogeyman in A Nightmare Before Christmas was scarier than the lame ass CGI Boogeyman we got in this thing.
19. Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009)
For two films (I’m not counting the third) James Cameron had teased us with the epic post-apocalyptic vision of the war against the machines. Now finally, after two film, and a very silly third entry, we finally reached that point. A Terminator movie set during the war. We could finally get a glimpse of the world and the war that Kyle Reese had merely described and we had all but seen glimpses off. This was a great idea. After the disappointment of the third movie here was a chance to go back to go crazy, a chance to go the future and make us believe in the Terminator franchise once again. And with Christian Bale signed on as John Connor, everything was in place. Instead what we got was a film that made no bugger all sense, a director who was clearly more interested in staging action than creating any noteworthy story and a viral rant from it’s leading star. This film made no sense. Absolutely no sense, plain and simple. Thank yo McG, thank you for ruining a much beloved major franchise.
18. Hook (Steven Spielberg, 1991)
What would happen if Peter Pan grew up? That was essentially the question that Spielberg and co. set out to answer with Hook and what they eventually said was that the boy who never grew up had grown up to become an arrogant asshole lawyer person, neglectful father and all round douchebag who had forgotten how to fly. Despite featuring some nostalgic qualities for myself, looking back on it now, this film had a great idea that was unfortunately jettisoned in favor of big production value and a by the numbers screenplay. Despite featuring some great moments, you can’t help but wonder that this movie didn’t do everything that was available to it and thus you can’t help but feel that something is ultimately missing from the final product.
17. Van Helsing (Stephen Sommers, 2004)
Taking Bram Stoker’s famed vampire hunter and transforming him into a sort of James Bond of monster hunters going up against the greats such as Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster was a mix of potentially gloriously over the top summer blockbuster fun. Yet I had forgotten that this was a film directed by the man who brought us The Mummy Returns. Alas it was not to be. What we got instead was an exercise in how much CGI and action scenes can we cram into a two hour plus movie. The end result then: dull, boring, and not at all as fun as it potentially should’ve been.
16. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Fran Rubel Kazui, 1992)
Joss Whedon’s iconic television series may have gone down in television history, but this is where it all started, in this disappointing teen flick from the early 90s. Whereas Whedon’s show did something terrific with teen genre, using monsters and vampires and all sorts of ghoulish things as a metaphor for the pains, trials and tribulations of adolescence, it’s cinematic predecessor decided it would be far better to forgo all those things and instead opted for an annoying and lame story with the monster and teenage elements never quite coming together as it should’ve done. Interestingly, Joss Whedon, who was unhappy with the way his screenplay had been changed, ignored the events of the film when conceiving the TV show. An opportunity missed that was thankfully picked up and rectified on television. Thank you Joss Whedon.
15. Last Action Hero (John McTiernan, 1993)
The stories about the production and development of Last Action Hero have become something of Hollywood legend in recent years which makes this film all the more interesting for it. Still, that doesn’t mean that here we have yet another example of a terrific opportunity to do something interesting with a genre that missed the mark by a grand canyon sized margin. This could have been Schwarzenegger’s crowning achievement, a film in which he pokes fun at himself, pokes fun at his on screen action persona as well as many others and a film that could’ve been a terrific deconstruction of the action genre and the big Hollywood macho action movies that preceded it. Instead the comedy and the satire fall flat in favor of something a lot more “commercial”. Oh what could have been…
14. Shank (Mo Ali, 2010)
Over the last few years British film has concerned disillusioned youth trying to survive on some downtrodden estate somewhere, mostly in either South or East London. Shank was a film that had potential to be something different. Set in a future in which the economy has all but collapsed and people live day to day to survive, this was an action film with the youth at it’s center, A Warriors for a new generation. We could’ve had a film about the disillusioned youth presented in a way that hadn’t been seen before in British film. Instead, we got this piece of turgid shit. One of the worst films ever made, this had a potentially great idea, ruined by some of the most inept filmmaking I’ve ever seen in a British film or any film for that matter.
13. Impostor (Gary Fleder, 2001)
Philip K. Dick’s material has always made for some decent movie making. His ideas tap deeply into human frailties and fears that no other sci-fi writer has done since I can remember. Impostor was one of those stories and features Gary Sinise as a man who may or may not be an alien android with a ticking bomb threatening to go off at any second inside of him. It features all the K. Dick trademarks, such as a man questioning his identity and what’s real and what’s not, yet unfortunately, what could’ve been a suitably interesting sci-fi thriller instead descends into B-movie material. A great idea, yet unfortunately sub standard execution.
12. Outlaw (Nick Love, 2007)
Sean Bean as a soldier returning home, getting a mad posse together and taking on some scumbag hoodies and the scum of our society? Brilliant. Sign me up. The trailer promised us a dark character study of a man who had been pushed to the edge, a man who had fought for his country and come back to a depraved society in which government and police are useless, hooded youth run rampant and crime is everywhere. Instead Nick Love completely missed the boat, choosing instead to dispense with any form of character or anything else, choosing instead to have people running around shooting each other for no real reason other than to just shoot them.
11. Alien 3 (David Fincher, 1992)
The third installment of the Alien franchise had more potential than any films before it. Pitting Ripley against a Xenomorph in a maximum security prison with a bunch of loonies, (mainly British character actors), with no weaponry or modern technology of any kind to speak and no way out, it seemed that the filmmakers had hit another home run with this movie. And yet, with all the behind the scene bru-ha-ha that plagued this film, and the fracas that occurred between Fincher and the producers what we ended up was perhaps one of the most disappointing sequels this side of Prometheus. What’s even more disappointing is when you learn about Vincent Ward’s brilliantly insane take on Alien 3, which featured Ripley arriving on a monastery that resided on a wooden planet! An idea that unfortunately may never see the light of day.
10. Underworld (Len Wiseman, 2003)
Vampires have always been a household name in television and movie screens. What was great about this idea was that it pitted vampires in an age old war with it’s mortal enemy, werewolves (or Lycans as they have become known in this series). The idea was a brilliant mix of gothic mythology mixed in with a Shakespearean love story involving a vampire huntress who falls in love with a werewolf. Perfect for goths and fans and all things gothic. Well, at least that was the initial selling point, but that seemed to have been forgotten in favor of Kate Beckinsale running around in leather (which is no bad thing), poor CGI and a confused story and mythology that doesn’t really make that much sense. The sequels unfortunately went further and failed even more. How this series has gone on as long as it has is beyond me.
9. End of Days (Peter Hyams, 1999)
Arnold Schwarzenegger has faced his fair share of opponents over the years in his action movies. Now was the time he fought somebody truly badass and there is no-one more badass than the old red horned son of a gun Devil himself. That’s right, Schwarzenegger going up against old Lucife. Just the very idea of an ordinary joe going up against the Devil was a genius idea for an action movie. I mean, how the hell do you beat the devil? Great idea. For the most part this film actually works well which makes it’s disappointment all the more disappointing. The gothic melodramatics combined with Schwarzenegger and the ultimately weak screenplay and under utilized Gabriel Byrne unfortunately makes this somewhat unintentionally laughable in places.
8. Shoot Em Up (Michael Davis, 2007)
Anyone who had managed to get their hands on the screenplay for Davis’ blistering no holds barred shooter instantly raved about it, from the insane action scenes (shootouts that take place during a freefall, a sex scene and a birthing scene to name a few), the brilliant wit of it’s lead character and the just sheer insanity that would’ve been Shoot ‘Em Up. Something then seems to have got lost in translation somewhere along the way as the action of the film itself failed to live up to the insanity that was written on the page, while the story was ultimately a confusing fuddle that involved a baby and Clive Owen’s somewhat demented and carrot loving Mr. Smith. A huge let down. Where’s John Woo when you need him?
7. Daybreakers (The Spierig Brothers, 2009)
Vampires had clearly made a statement on the box office, in no small thanks to some vamps of the sparkly variety, when Daybreakers was released. It seemed that all the big studios wanted in on the blood sucking action. Daybreakers promised a wholly different take on the vampire myth, re-imagining vampires as no more mere creatures of the night but rather the dominant species on the planet, with humans being hunted and farmed in laboratories for their blood hunting humans. A great concept, one that hadn’t really been explored before and after the release of this film, still hasn’t been explored to it’s full potential. A woefully misjudged film, that had all the fittings of becoming a genre classic that bit off way more than it could chew. Seriously, if you find yourself not managing to giggle during the final act…
6. Surrogates (Jonathan Mostow, 2009)
In our society that has ever increasingly become obsessed with celebrity culture and trying to remain young, Surrogates was aptly placed to be a sci-fi film with plenty to say about the world through it’s concept of human beings living life through younger more beautiful robotic counterparts or surrogates as they were known. In the end director Jonathan Mostow delivered a sub-standard action film involving something like a conspiracy or something, I’m not sure, I kinda zoned out after the first twenty minutes or so. Needless to say, it’s not very good but the idea… the idea was there. If only…
5. Gamer (Neveldine/Taylor, 2009)
Watching this film, you just know that there is a good film in there somewhere, that there is something of worth amidst all the shooting, the frantic, nausea inducing editing and camera work that is a hallmark of the Neveldine/Taylor combination. A film that could have said so much about how we live and how we wish to lose ourselves in our own worlds, and how life and death have become nothing but a game in our world of Call of Duty and others. Exploring the darker side of online gaming and where we as society could conceivably end up, the film was a depressing and wholly turgid mess of a film that did nothing but give me a stomach ache. Alas… Hopefully someone will see the potential and remake this one day.
4. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Stephen Norrington, 2003)
Playing as a sort of Victorian literary X-Men, Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s wonderfully dark and demented take on famous, classical literary characters made for wonderfully dark reading and had the potential to be an overly darker and more adult antidote to that of the recently released Spider-Man and X-Men movies. Jettisoning the more darker elements of the comic (the invisible man is found raping young girls at a convent) the film opted instead for a more family friendly tone, squandering decent elements and leaving characters to middle about with not much to do. The production problems that plagued this now are now legendary, Sean Connery and Norrington famously fading into retirement after the raucous production.
3. Cowboys and Aliens (Jon Favreau, 2011)
This was one genre mashup that had all the hallmarks of being something downright awesome. A great summer blockbuster was in the making. A great B-movie concept with a director coming off two Iron Man movies, James Bond and Indiana Jones in the central roles and a great trailer that promised a masterful mashup of western and sci-fi. But yes, once again, they managed to screw the pooch big time with a script that meandered along with no real logic, aliens that were poorly designed who seemed to have zero motivation for being on Earth in the first place other than making people lose their memories for some reason and horrible characterization. A B-Movie with A-Movie potential that ended being a Z-movie.
2. Reign of Fire (Rob Bowman, 2002)
DRAGONS! APOCALYPTIC LONDON! DRAGONS! DRAGONS! HELICOPTERS! DRAGONS! The original poster promised an all out war of as army of dragons swarmed over a burning London as a wave of helicopters desperately tried to fend them off. That was the fricking movie I wanted to see! FRICKING DRAGONS! This looked to have the scale, the promise of something truly epic to light the summer box office alight. It turned out it was all a con. The destruction that was promised in the posters was merely hinted out through news clippings and journal entries and Christian Bale’s grave voice over. Still, we did get skydivers against a dragon and a complete wacko performance from Matthew McConaughey so not all was lost.
1. Alien Nation (Graham Baker, 1988)
At the heart of Alien Nation there is a great sci-fi movie just itching to burst out. A film in which an alien species have successfully landed on Earth and integrated into human society. This was one of those sci-fi movies that was rife with potential. For a film that could’ve said so much it said surprisingly little opting instead to pit it’s central characters in a by the numbers police procedural as they tried to bust a drug lord who was shipping alien drugs. This was a straight up buddy cop movie, all the potential of the opening narration lost within the opening five minutes in favor of guns and two mismatched cops going up against a drug dealer. Standard. All the viable potential lost. I never saw the TV show so I can’t comment on that. Thankfully Neil Blomkamp did something a lot better with District 9.