It seems Artemis Fowl isn't very good
June 22, 2020 9:33 AM   Subscribe

125 million bucks may seem like a lot, but sometimes that's what it takes to inspire a properly apocalyptic bad review: The 9 Most Baffling Problems With ‘Artemis Fowl’

... a movie seemingly written at gunpoint by an insane robot. If you taught an alligator English and shouted “do a Harry Potter” at it until it finished typing, you’d get a more coherent story than whatever I just spent 90 minutes watching. So rather than going through every single thing wrong with the movie, I’ve narrowed down the most egregious, stand-out moments of terribality.
posted by philip-random (88 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
My kids hated it. We had to turn it off after about 10 mins
posted by Organic4ever at 9:44 AM on June 22


Chaotic evil, hey? That's what it's sounding like to me. To become stronger, I must endure it.
posted by NoMich at 9:48 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


The first book in the Artemis Fowl series came out in 2001; the last book came out in 2012. None of the people who read the books at the height of their popularity are still children, or even teenagers. (I've only read the first book, and I'm going on very old memories, but it sounds like a lot of the problems in the movie are problems with the book as well.)

I mention this because normally, when movies are slapdash cash-grabs for properties with lots of child fans who are assumed to have no sense of taste when it comes to their favorite properties, they come out at a time when those child fans still... exist. So I can't really fathom why they made this movie.

Maybe because there's been no hugely popular children's book series (as opposed to YA book series) since Harry Potter, and they were starting to run out of stuff to adapt?
posted by Jeanne at 9:51 AM on June 22 [6 favorites]


I gotta say, the first 8 things on that list really did not prepare me for the 9th.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:54 AM on June 22 [86 favorites]


Yikes! Josh Gad will do anything, I guess.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 9:54 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


Maybe because there's been no hugely popular children's book series (as opposed to YA book series) since Harry Potter, and they were starting to run out of stuff to adapt?

I think so - the observed behavior is consistent with increasingly frantically and arbitrarily matching properties they can get the rights for to productions they have budgeted.
posted by PMdixon at 9:54 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Was barely on my radar, not interested, less from initial reviews, not going to any effort but from the creativity of the reviews I now need to see this at some point. Can we set up a joyful wacky hate watch via chat or that mifi-MST2020 group?
posted by sammyo at 9:55 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: To become stronger, I must endure it.
posted by Fizz at 9:58 AM on June 22 [9 favorites]


Maybe because there's been no hugely popular children's book series

Can I just say it's time that someone made some dark, unruly, visually engrossing versions of, oh I don't know, The Giving Tree or The Sneetches or ... OH my, they made Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark into a movie? With Del Toro? Whoa. I need to see that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:59 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Are the Lemony Snickets not children’s books, at least at the start?
posted by clew at 10:01 AM on June 22


terribality

A Mortal Kritik finishing move.
posted by mhoye at 10:02 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]


The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has sold 200 million books, and they've made four movies so far. Granted, it hasn't reached Potter-like fame (which is mostly to say that it doesn't have a lot of crossover appeal to adults), but it's very, very popular.
posted by box at 10:03 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]


Kenneth Branagh strikes again
posted by mrcircles at 10:04 AM on June 22 [6 favorites]


The worst part is that it could have been a pretty decent movie. I only read the first book when it came out but I remember it being interesting because the protagonist was the villain, with his motives being pretty selfish all the way through (with some slight subverting at the end.)
posted by simmering octagon at 10:06 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


I gotta say, the first 8 things on that list really did not prepare me for the 9th.

To be fair, that's one of the only things that was actually in the books.
posted by mattamatic at 10:10 AM on June 22 [7 favorites]


Yikes! Josh Gad will do anything, I guess.

"I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."
- Michael Caine, when asked about Jaws: The Revenge
posted by jquinby at 10:14 AM on June 22 [57 favorites]


No, no, it's MetaFilter: This is 100% a thing that happens and I don’t care to describe it further.
posted by Naberius at 10:18 AM on June 22 [12 favorites]


They update everything else, why not an Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective series?
posted by sammyo at 10:18 AM on June 22 [7 favorites]


apart from #9, which would be an adornment to any creative work, this sounds rubbish in a not-fun way (although i thought mefi was anti-bad reviews now..?)

but the complaint about 'vague magic' doesn't make much sense. what were you expecting from a kids' film, some sort of diamond-hard magic system a la brandon sanderson (god forbid)?

plus minglings of magic and contemporary tech have been a thing in fantasy / sf since before eoin colfer was born

i award this review 6/10
posted by inire at 10:21 AM on June 22


From the Ringer: Artemis Fowl Is a Master Class in How to Botch a YA Fantasy Adaptation

Also related: The Dark Is Rising adaptation wasn't good either.
posted by LionIndex at 10:21 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]


This movie is terrible, but it's clear that there was something that kept it from approaching the standard level of at least okay Disney-live-action-without-animals. I remember an early trailer with a different cast (I swear Benedict Wong was in it but google turns up nothing), there's a deleted scene that's the entire first scene in the book with finished vfx work that pops up in the trailer.

In the book, Artemis Fowl is a BAD GUY. He's a little kid bond villain. Holly the faerie is the protagonist, and eventually she comes to an agreement with Artemis. That deleted scene shows Artemis essentially torturing a siren to get information, and I think that Disney decided they didn't want the main character of their movie be bad, and honestly it ruined the story.

Josh Gad's character blasting ass as he eats dirt is canon directly from the books.
posted by sleeping bear at 10:22 AM on June 22 [27 favorites]


The worst part is that it could have been a pretty decent movie. I only read the first book when it came out but I remember it being interesting because the protagonist was the villain, with his motives being pretty selfish all the way through (with some slight subverting at the end.)

My kids and I listened to these books, and I really enjoyed them. Artemis Fowl's character development as he slowly, slowly, slowly learns to be less evil, takes books and books and books. It's one of the pleasures of reading them.
posted by Orlop at 10:25 AM on June 22 [11 favorites]


They update everything else, why not an Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective series?

I, too, have old-timey old person memories of things from many decades ago, so I suggest they start making Tom Swift (original series) movies. (His Electric Rifle is ripped from today's headlines!)
posted by The Tensor at 10:27 AM on June 22 [6 favorites]


(although i thought mefi was anti-bad reviews now..?)

my personal metric is that if the budget's in excess of 100 million dollars, it's fair game.
posted by philip-random at 10:30 AM on June 22 [8 favorites]


Highlight of the article - "That’s like shooting the Pope out of a cannon to protect him from rabid bats – he was perfectly safe from bat attack in the Vatican and now you’ve shot him into the air, which is where bats live."
posted by lizjohn at 10:31 AM on June 22 [38 favorites]


Also, several characters teleport long distances, including Artemis himself. In one scene, he sends Dom to wait by a specific tree to see if any faeries show up. We see Artemis standing in his dad’s secret basement, wearing a suit and reading a journal. Then the very next scene, we cut to Dom spying on the tree, and Artemis is standing right next to him wearing a completely different outfit. This kind of shit happens more than once.t

When the editor comes back from a nice long vacation to soothe their shattered nerves, I'd love to hear them talk about what was going on in the editing process.
posted by Orlop at 10:36 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]


my personal metric is that if the budget's in excess of 100 million dollars, it's fair game.

this is a respectable metric, but i must note that cats had a budget of a mere $95 million

(budget as distinct from cost, of course, since the cost of cats extends to the destruction of such financial unquantifiables as the dignity of everyone involved)
posted by inire at 10:41 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]


From what I've read, this thing was massively re-written and recut after it was finished. It may have been terrible in its earlier form too but we ended up with is very different from what Branagh delivered.
posted by octothorpe at 10:44 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


jquinby: "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."
- Michael Caine, when asked about Jaws: The Revenge


Or, given the likely financials in this case, "I've seen the house that it got repossessed..."
posted by clawsoon at 10:53 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


#releasetheBranaghcut
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:55 AM on June 22 [6 favorites]


I don't think I've ever heard of a movie that got the "Hastily assemble something from a pile of garbage after the fact" that was actually successful, I wonder why they even bother. Imagine they just let creative people run wild and stopped trying to get in their way.
posted by bleep at 10:55 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


re: Encyclopedia Brown

The problem with "updating" those books is both that they're dated, and that they're mysteries. Which means half of the plotlines are obviated if the main characters have cell phones.

That said, you can always start from scratch the way it's been done with Nancy Drew several times.
posted by Citrus at 10:57 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


I mean specifically like they let a famous director shoot the movie, and then they second-guess all of it with re-writes and re-shoots and re-cuts, and it always has that obvious taped-together mess feel and it bombs. We've been doing this for 100 years, you'd think we'd know how to do it by now.
posted by bleep at 10:58 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


I was about to post this exact link to askme and ask how this kind of thing happens. How does a book with a servicable, filmable narrative and a ready audience turn into such an assortment of nonsensical plot elements and unhinged decisions?
That makes so little sense that they had to build in a hamfisted, ludicrous narration?

Are there any experts here who can weigh in?
posted by Omnomnom at 11:05 AM on June 22


It has been nearly 20 years since the first Harry potter film; why not just start remaking them all over again (aside from the fact that J.K. Rowling has proven herself to be an ass)? That's a typical level of originality for a modern studio.
posted by TedW at 11:15 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


The Dark Is Rising adaptation wasn't good either.

Why must you hurt me by reminding me of that thing's existence?
posted by PussKillian at 11:20 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]


Nobody has mentioned the casting call? Fans of the books have known it was going to be a disaster since 2017.
At first glance Artemis could be mistaken for a rather ordinary child with little athletic ability, but his eyes reveal a flickering of intelligence; inquisitive and possessing both academic and emotional intelligence, he is highly perceptive and good at reading people; most importantly, Artemis is warm-hearted and has a great sense of humour; he has fun in whatever situation he is in and loves life.
As I recall shortly after that the actress for Holly Short (described as having dark, nut-brown skin in the books) was revealed and the entire fanbase said “fuck this.” I don’t know what this was supposed to be but it wasn’t an Artemis Fowl movie.
posted by brook horse at 11:24 AM on June 22 [16 favorites]


Everyone thinks Kenneth Branagh is good; every time he directs a film everybody is like "ooh Kenneth Branagh directed it!" and I just do not get that. He might be a great actor but look at his directorial output for the last THREE DECADES: when he's not directing Shakespeare, his stuff is terrible. (I'll admit, I haven't seen All is True, it might be great, but it's about Shakespeare, so I stand by this.)
posted by nushustu at 11:24 AM on June 22 [8 favorites]


Encyclopedia Brown has to have a historical setting.

Omnomnom: the prevailing view in Hollywood is to always to regard genre source material as uncool and fidelity to it as unnecessary. Without a defensive architecture around it - the independence of the Marvel story shop, an author powerful enough to maintain creative control - you get people trying to make the stories cooler, simpler, more parentally approved, more politically correct.

When you've got a basically straightforward or familiar story, you end up with a movie that tastes like cardboard. When you've got a story that really RELIES upon its weirdness, you get things like the Artemis Fowl adaptation: epic messes.
posted by MattD at 11:27 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]


Josh Gad's character blasting ass as he eats dirt is canon directly from the books.

Cannon, surely.
posted by mazola at 11:34 AM on June 22 [25 favorites]


When you've got a basically straightforward or familiar story, you end up with a movie that tastes like cardboard.

Yup. See: Star Wars sequels.
posted by Melismata at 11:35 AM on June 22


Everyone thinks Kenneth Branagh is good; every time he directs a film everybody is like "ooh Kenneth Branagh directed it!" and I just do not get that. He might be a great actor but look at his directorial output for the last THREE DECADES: when he's not directing Shakespeare, his stuff is terrible. (I'll admit, I haven't seen All is True, it might be great, but it's about Shakespeare, so I stand by this.)

Branagh gets a pass for the first Thor, because knocking the wind out of all the pompous set-up in the first movie is part of what made Taika Waititi's Thor so enjoyable. But yeah, I don't generally feel like he's somebody who enjoys this kind of thing (kids, magic, popcorn flicks) and he's not great at it, so it's annoying that he keeps popping up.
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:39 AM on June 22 [3 favorites]


This is a shame - I don't remember that much, but I do remember enjoying Artemis Fowl when it first came out. It was a fun read, and not cookie-cutter. I have absolutely no memory of the butt-missiles, but hey, it's been 18 years or so.

As for the adaptation of The Dark is Rising - that one wasn't even an adaptation - it was an attempt to cash in on the magical-kid genre, but not be too like Harry Potter (but not too close) - and completely ignored all the themes of the actual books.
posted by jb at 11:39 AM on June 22 [2 favorites]


METAFILTER: blasting ass as he eats dirt is canon directly from the books
posted by philip-random at 11:41 AM on June 22 [9 favorites]


I think that's the first picture I've seen of an actual plot hole
posted by oulipian at 11:51 AM on June 22 [31 favorites]


We should probably brace ourselves for a whole onslaught of movies that take place pretty much entirely within one person's house.
posted by ckape at 11:58 AM on June 22 [43 favorites]


I think the only successful recut I've watched was Rogue One. But hey, Artemis Fowl reread queued up. I remember I loved Opal to bits.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 11:59 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]


Also I'm confident that Colin Farrell spent, at most, one day on set.
posted by sleeping bear at 12:06 PM on June 22


I understand Ersatz Hagrid and Old Dobby The House Elf being in this - they've been hard up for gigs since the HP movies ended. But Dame Judi Dench? The Dame Judi Dench, from Chronicles of Riddick? Why?!
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:28 PM on June 22 [5 favorites]


I think that's the first picture I've seen of an actual plot hole

I’m guessing you’re too young (or too tasteful) to have seen “Pink Flamingos.”
posted by TedW at 12:36 PM on June 22 [7 favorites]


The Dame Judi Dench, from Chronicles of Riddick? Why?!

I feel like you've answered your own question.
posted by The Tensor at 12:37 PM on June 22 [5 favorites]


But when we finally do see Haven City, the subterranean metropolis where all the magical beings live, it’s extremely unclear what is actually magic and what is just super-advanced technology
lol
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:43 PM on June 22


I think the only successful recut I've watched was Rogue One.

Star Wars was famously kind of a mess in the rough cut, but was saved by a thorough reworking by editor Marcia Lucas, including a complete restructuring of the final battle (Luke originally made two trench runs, and idea that the Death Star was attacking Yavin IV was manufactured in post-production to add urgency).
posted by The Tensor at 12:46 PM on June 22 [15 favorites]


I believe this movie is the universe's revenge on Eoin Colfer for having the temerity to accept money to write a Douglas Adams novel while not being in any possible way Douglas Adams.
posted by Hogshead at 1:00 PM on June 22 [11 favorites]


How does a book with a servicable, filmable narrative and a ready audience turn into such an assortment of nonsensical plot elements and unhinged decisions?
I've seen the movie which is indeed terrible but... was the book actually filmable? The first scene of the book has Artemis strong-arming a fairy for information. It was filmed but the scene was deleted (it's on YouTube), for a good reason. It worked in the fairly abstract world of the book, but on screen it's just a sadistic kid torturing someone, so basically a no-no outside horror movies. Of course, once the filmmakers got rid of Artemis' evilness, all that remained was the uninteresting, smug little asshole we got. I'm not sure there was a way out of this. Perhaps they could have made Holly Short the main hero.
posted by elgilito at 1:10 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]


How does a book with a servicable, filmable narrative and a ready audience turn into such an assortment of nonsensical plot elements and unhinged decisions?

I'm no expert, but I'd guess it has to do with the tendency of mediocrity to fail upwards.
posted by biogeo at 1:10 PM on June 22 [4 favorites]


I don't think I've ever heard of a movie that got the "Hastily assemble something from a pile of garbage after the fact" that was actually successful.

Anchorman. I mean, read the original script if you can find it. It's heavy on the 'You actually filmed this?' The main plot is about defeating a group of beatnik terrorists played by Chuck D, Maya Rudoph and Justin Long. Along the way there is a long sequence where the news crew have to cross the Hollywood Hills on foot to find Ron Burgundy's mentor (the v/o guy), run out of food and decide to eat Brick. It's also a good deal heavier on Champ's love-that-doesn't-know-how-to-speak-its-name for Ron. It's genuinely extraordinary that they were able to salvage anything box-officeable out of it.
posted by Hogshead at 1:29 PM on June 22 [9 favorites]


[Fixed URL in the original post :) ]
posted by loup (staff) at 1:41 PM on June 22


but the complaint about 'vague magic' doesn't make much sense. what were you expecting from a kids' film, some sort of diamond-hard magic system a la brandon sanderson (god forbid)?

From the article linked by LionIndex:

The fairy world in Artemis Fowl features a fascinating mix of magic and technology. The first book, for instance, explains how one type of magic previously performed by a team of warlocks was transferred to lithium batteries as fairy society adapted to modern times. And the creatures’ magic is tied to nature—especially as the series continues, the books carry a strong environmental message—and born from Irish myth, giving it a unique flavor amid the magical YA landscape.

It was actually a pretty good tying together of tech and magic, and Colfer did try to come up with decent explanations of magic.
posted by cooker girl at 1:53 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]


so it's clear now that Disney manufactured an entire pandemic to avoid the shame of releasing this in theaters.
posted by Bwentman at 1:56 PM on June 22 [4 favorites]


the prevailing view in Hollywood is to always to regard genre source material as uncool and fidelity to it as unnecessary.

Hollywood joke: Two producers are lost in the desert and dying of thirst. They come across an oasis fed by a spring and one of them runs forward and lies down to drink the cool, cool water, but he's horrified to see the other producer standing next to him, unzipping his pants. "What the hell are you doing?!" he yells. "Don't worry," the other replies, "I'm just going to pee in it first."
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:57 PM on June 22 [17 favorites]


I believe this movie is the universe's revenge on Eoin Colfer for having the temerity to accept money to write a Douglas Adams novel while not being in any possible way Douglas Adams.

But is there anything more Douglas Adams than accepting a bunch of money to allow a hack job of your work?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:09 PM on June 22 [9 favorites]


I have nothing invested in the Fowliverse, but randomly saw the trailer for it the other day, and boy was it rancid.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:03 PM on June 22


Perhaps they could have made Holly Short the main hero.

Isn't Holly the first female fairy captain? That'd be a pretty good movie, with her having to beat Artemis and deal with the sexism surrounding her. I'm not sure how it'd work with the sequels but it's not like this movie is going to have any anyway.
posted by simmering octagon at 3:25 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


"This scene from Artemis Fowl broke me. It was like all of my senses were assaulted at once"

(The clip is fifteen seconds and man is he not kidding)
posted by Countess Elena at 3:29 PM on June 22


They update everything else, why not an Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective series?

Because this is how we get Encyclopedia Brown, Boy True Detective, complete with McConaughey and Harrelson, and, I swear, even 2020 is not up to that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:27 PM on June 22 [8 favorites]


The first book in the Artemis Fowl series came out in 2001

Hunh, all this time I was spitefully pleased over the movie's failure because I mixed it up with the stupid book John August went to Paris to write and it made me quit listening to ScriptNotes because they wouldn't shut up about it even though it sounded like some hacky bullshit, but that was Arlo Finch, which, considering both protagonists share initials, old-timey first names, and bird-related last names, makes it even hackier and bullshittier.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:43 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]


Don't we already have Encyclopedia Brown via Veronica Mars?
posted by hearthpig at 4:45 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]


in my headcanon reboot she's a girl detective called Wikipedia Brown, which is a derogatory nickname given to her by her anti-intellectual classmates; she hates it because she only uses peer-reviewed sources & how dare they

I'm casting Zendaya
posted by taquito sunrise at 5:36 PM on June 22 [21 favorites]


Everyone thinks Kenneth Branagh is good; every time he directs a film everybody is like "ooh Kenneth Branagh directed it!" and I just do not get that. He might be a great actor but look at his directorial output for the last THREE DECADES: when he's not directing Shakespeare, his stuff is terrible.

Dead Again is a great movie. Peter's Friends was deeply moving to me. Cinderella is probably the most serviceable of the Disney "live action" remakes I've seen. It feels somehow most true to the original in spirit and tone.

Other than that, I have to admit all the other movies by him I've liked have been Shakespeare. I felt like his Frankenstein was well intentioned but didn't work the same way Coppola's Dracula worked as a literary adaptation. Sleuth and Murder on the Orient Express were both needless and not interesting. I don't really do superhero films so I have not seen Thor but I've heard it's one of the better ones.

Interesting observation. He's done some truly terrible work. But he has done good stuff that isn't Shakespeare, just not a lot.
posted by hippybear at 6:17 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]


Because this is how we get Encyclopedia Brown, Boy True Detective

It was called Brick and it was great.
posted by dephlogisticated at 6:41 PM on June 22 [17 favorites]


Are there any experts here who can weigh in

How about the late William Goldman: "Nobody knows anything."
posted by soundguy99 at 7:01 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]


Apparently there was an HBO series of Encyclopedia Brown back in 1989? It looks bad.
posted by octothorpe at 7:02 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Apparently there was an HBO series of Encyclopedia Brown back in 1989? It looks bad.

The Atlantic back in 2012 seemed to quite like it. I have not seen it.

I thought there had been an Encyclopedia Brown series of shorts as part of some PBS show, but I think I'm actually thinking of The Bloodhound Gang from 3-2-1 Contact.
posted by hippybear at 7:13 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


How does a book with a servicable, filmable narrative and a ready audience turn into such an assortment of nonsensical plot elements and unhinged decisions?

Goldman was also of the opinion (paraphrasing here) that there are an awful lot of middle management & non-creative/non-technical folks whose livelihoods still depend on any given movie being a success. So all of these people have like 4 options:

1) Don't really do anything, the movie is a success, but sooner or later other people are going to ask "If you don't do anything, why are we keeping you around, anyway? Fired."

2) Don't really do anything, the movie fails; "Why didn't you try to do anything about this? Fired."

3) Stick your oar in, the movie succeeds, you get to claim some of the credit & keep your job, maybe even get a promotion.

4) Stick your oar in, the movie fails, you might be able to pawn off enough of the blame that you don't get fired.

So the structural best option is "Stick your oar in."
posted by soundguy99 at 7:19 PM on June 22 [15 favorites]


Not having read the books, after watching this with my kids I was disappointed not to find a Fanfare thread to get my two minute hate on. This thread has been enlightening as to why I found the actual Artemis Jr. character to be a flat rendition of a deeply unlikable unrepentant child sociopath.

When the Hamilton trailer popped up the other day, it almost functioned as an abject groveling apology for Artemis Fowl.
posted by romakimmy at 10:33 PM on June 22


So the structural best option is "Stick your oar in."

yeah, solid "properties" generally evolve into inconceivably awful final products one incremental step at a time. It's the corporate process in a nutshell. Many oars get stuck in. Some may even be rowing in the right direction. But if there are enough oars and the organization in question has enough Peter Principle* in its makeup, well gold gets turned to lead.
posted by philip-random at 11:10 PM on June 22


I don't think I've ever heard of a movie that got the "Hastily assemble something from a pile of garbage after the fact" that was actually successful, I wonder why they even bother.

The Thing was famously assembled in editing. It also got negative reviews on release and was only reappraised later.
posted by Merus at 12:52 AM on June 23


the prevailing view in Hollywood is to always to regard genre source material as uncool and fidelity to it as unnecessary.

I'm not sure that's the best way to describe Hollywood's relationship to genre material as genres films are the big money makers for Hollywood, so their relationship to the material is a little more complex than that since movie genres demands are different that of their source materials.

Genres, after all, are stories which are grouped by their likeness to other stories, the more narrow the genre, the further removed from "reality" the story, as adherence to genre "rules" supplants normal existence and the greater sense of potential audience confusion follows along with that rule based storytelling. Because genre films are primarily expected to make money above any other concern, they aren't generally made as "prestige" works, save for those by some few directors who may be considered special cases and rare enough productions of old-school genres that aren't too expensive and have built up enough of their own traditions to be considered their own things, like maybe a gangster/crime movie by Scorsese or a throwback western with a big name cast.

For almost all studio films, the costs of production are weighed against the expected returns, with some bonus added for special critical "artistic" attention given the works that serve as marketing lures in terms of the seriousness of the studios commitment to arty stuff, lures to actors who want to do something outside the genre/money-making tent pole films, beyond the immediate payday being in a major success allows actors more opportunity to select personal projects as they've "proved" themselves bankable enough to have more of their non-genre works funded because of there being greater projected returns based on their fame, and non-genre films can likewise be rewards for producers or directors who've brought in enough money over the years to get a chance to make a passion project.

Big budget genre films are usually none of these. They are mostly intended to draw an audience and as such are built around assumptions about audience expectations fit to a genre model fit to budget and projected returns. The problem is that if you make a movie too singular, audiences will be confused, but if you make it too generic audiences will be bored. The goal is to give the audiences roughly the same thing they've seen before and liked, but with enough little twists to make it feel fresh; identical but different is ideal. Since that goal is matched to the initial box office returns, many films that people would later see as "classics" of the genre don't actually fit the immediate needs of the studio and are harder to predict or quantify in terms of lasting value, while artistically it's often the lasting value of the movie that matters, not the initial reception, putting the two ideals at some odds. (Prestige projects, oddly, are often about the initial critical reaction and awards rather than returns alone but don't really have any better shelf life overall, given audience preference for genre, maybe even worse save for a few big award winners.)

So for most genre movies the question is more about what the budget/projection value of the films are assumed to be, keeping in mind the greatly diversified set of market options for movies to play in the extended term. Harry Potter series was expected to make a comfortable profit, it made more than that and the budgets and productions were expanded to maintain/increase interest by adding a little more "wow" to each subsequent film, where something like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was essentially made as a way to coattail on the Harry Potter movies in hopes of catching the same wave, but within a much more limited risk assessment as the chances of big success was much less and the movie performed accordingly. It made enough money that it got a sequel at a lower budget, thanks in part to the ever increasing need for genre material for all the TV channels and streaming services to play. That's the common case for genre films. They're made to fit the demands of the services they'll play on within a projected financial payoff figured in.

The reason this is important is that, to some real extent, the audience cares about the budget. Not directly, but in the ability to see that money on screen. That is, after all, the main reason why Hollywood is so dominant worldwide, the amounts of money they are able to throw at the screen for these kinds of genre films. (I mean that's assuming one doesn't actually believe Americans are somehow inherently more artistically gifted than the rest of the world or something equally ridiculous.) The importance of the money informs all the subsequent decision making by the studios. They've made a huge monetary investment and run it by a test audience and that audience "doesn't get it" for whatever reason and that pushes the studio into damage mitigation mode. Often that means the movie is deemed too odd or unlike what the audience expected, so they can either release it as is, make some pacing cuts, or attempt to basically rework the whole thing in an attempt to make it generically palatable at the most basic level.

This appears to be kinda what happened with Justice League, Snyder, whatever one thinks of his movies, at least has some sense of thematic consistency to his works, they "make sense" as Zack Snyder films, substituting Whedon shifts Snyder's concerns to that of Whedon, making it half BvS and half Avengerslite, which gives the audience something they understand sort of, being familiar with the Avengers movies, but breaks the internal sense of the movie and how it relates to the other films Snyder made. It's an attempt to play a safety when the original option is felt no longer viable. It's both a vague estimation that making the movie more generic will add some slightly greater returns than leaving it as it was, but more importantly it shows those behind the scenes actively involving themselves in "fixing" something already perceived as doomed rather than sitting on their hands, even though the "gain" involved might be otherwise accounted a loss. The act of doing something rather than nothing in the face of failure is the driving force, especially since the blame will still rest on the initial work for requiring extraordinary intervention by failing test audience previews.

It's not uncommon to fix a movie before its released by tightening the rhythm, adding or subtracting a bit of audience friendly information to smooth transitions or ground a scene, that's part of the normal process of making movies, but changing the rhythm is different than trying to rewrite the entire melody, which is something that rarely works because it so often breaks with the internal emotional logic of the film.

Occasionally it can end up creating a weird hybrid that pleases through the conjunction of its elements, but mostly it just looks like a mess. Josh Trank's Fantastic Four was like that. It was deemed a sure flop and "fixed" towards the generic in a way that makes no internal sense. Whether Trank's version would have been good or not, at least it surely would have made more sense as a whole than what was released, but the issue isn't the logic of the film, but the money and the movie was refit to suit the more common tropes associated with the genre, even though it made less sense that way, because that is the general formula followed by all the movies for making money; give the audience what it expects as that is what the projections are based on.

And it usually works within certain boundaries, most people mostly like getting what they expect most of the time and only challenge their expectations on rare occasion when there don't seem to be enough twists left in their current familiarities to keep them fresh or when they hear enough others have found a shiny new thing.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:36 AM on June 23 [11 favorites]


...beatnik terrorists played by Chuck D, Maya Rudoph and Justin Long. Along the way there is a long sequence where the news crew have to cross the Hollywood Hills on foot to find Ron Burgundy's mentor...

This is the core of the film I want to see, pad the 'sequence' just like Mad Max: Fury Road but climax in a thunder dome under the famous sign with the three terrorists rapping with flaming boom mic's.
posted by sammyo at 8:12 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


gusottersnout, that was good. I'd be interested in your take on Christopher Nolan. He seems to be the only guy trusted by the studios to make super-expensive blockbusters not based on former properties and also things that don't neatly fit into genres. (Obviously, the batman trilogy being the exception that helped give him enough cred to do whatever he wants.)
posted by nushustu at 10:30 AM on June 23


Wikipedia Brown, surely?
posted by acb at 11:47 AM on June 23


My standing rant for anyone who will listen for the last decade or so has been that while Kenneth Branagh is a good-to-great actor, he's an average-to-OK director. But he clearly thinks he's the business as a director because he keeps doing it, and it's usually not really worth it.

This bugs me for two reasons. 1) He is a good-to-great actor, and all the time he spends failing to be a great director is time he isn't acting in other people's better movies. 2) It's the 21st century, and there are only so many major movies made a year. Why do we have to keep offering this rare resource to people who aren't that good at it, when we could instead let someone else have a go? There's a great amount of talent out there if you are looking for it. How could it be worse artistically and financially than this?
posted by YoungStencil at 11:57 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]


I've never seen Hudson Hawk

but it sounds like Hudson Hawk
posted by sugar and confetti at 12:35 PM on June 23


YES YoungStencil. He's a great actor. And if he wants to produce/direct more Shakespeare, then I say yay. But that's the only time they should let him go behind the camera.
posted by nushustu at 12:49 PM on June 23


Hudson Hawk has some legitimately fun scenes ; Artemis Fowl does not.

I am a big fan of the books, and my family watched this on Sunday night. It is every bit as dire as the reviews suggest. I can enjoy some bad movies, but not this one.

We had an interesting discussion afterwards that went basically like this -- it certainly would be possible to make a better Artemis Fowl movie than this piece of trash, but is it possible to make a good Artemis Fowl movie? After all, the fun of the books is that he is a 12-13 year old sociopathic criminal. He gives no fucks about morality, and everyone in the fairy world hates him during that whole first book. But while that is great fun to read, is there any actor in the world who could pull that off without being insufferable? I'm not sure there is.

As for Kenneth Branagh, my theory is that there are lots of artists who work best under strict limitations -- his truly great movies (Henry V, Dead Again, Much Ado) have shoestring budgets that require focus and discipline to get out a successful film. But give him $100m and he'll just spend it on whatever tickles his fancy. His version of Frankenstein was dull and stupid; Thor was loud and stupid; Orient Express was bloated and silly. I think the guy just has bad instincts as a director, and a large production just gives him too much leeway.

I think there's plenty of blame to go around with this one, but hoo boy was it terrible.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 2:18 PM on June 23 [4 favorites]


After all, the fun of the books is that he is a 12-13 year old sociopathic criminal. He gives no fucks about morality, and everyone in the fairy world hates him during that whole first book. But while that is great fun to read, is there any actor in the world who could pull that off without being insufferable?

A recent Netflix series (The Umbrella Academy) features Aidan Gallagher, who is 16 now. In the series he played a well-liked-by-audiences character who's pretty no-fucks about morality. Admittedly a couple of years off, physically, but it can be done! That's a series with a very different target audience and goals, though, which I imagine makes it easier.

On another note, I appreciate this thread/movie for reminding me that I should do an Artemis Fowl re-read -- I'm not sure I ever got to the sequels that came out after I read the first couple as a kid.
posted by jdherg at 6:30 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


I'd be interested in your take on Christopher Nolan. He seems to be the only guy trusted by the studios to make super-expensive blockbusters not based on former properties and also things that don't neatly fit into genres.

Nolan is really interesting, I mean I'm not actually much of a fan of his films myself, though I find Interstellar to be perversely compelling for how singularly bizarre it is, but he is both a somewhat unique case, Spielberg maybe being the closest comparison in terms of being able to make what he wanted at his peak, and a good indicator of how Hollywood and art mix, where the relationship of power to artistic creativity and careers is often slighted when talking about "great directors".

Nolan is at a position where, due to the wild success of his films, he is able to make almost anything he wants with the studio greenlighting his ideas with minimal opposition other than discussion of budgets. The only possible hesitation a studio might have is if Nolan would want to take on a property like Harry Potter, where the value of the property itself might make giving a series like that to a idiosyncratic director feel riskier than giving it to someone the studio has more control over, like Chris Columbus, the epitome of the generic "just don't fuck it up" style of directing, who directed the first two Potter films and went on to the Percy Jackson series.

Studios choose guys like Columbus because they don't have a strong, or really any notable "artistic" ambitions, they do the work more or less as written and on budget the way the studio wants it. Branagh, I suspect, was chosen for like reasons, having directed a few recent money makers without much in the way of a strong personal style, but there is still some difference between not having a strong style and not having any quirks, which Branagh does seem to maybe have in ways that someone like Columbus doesn't. That, I suspect, didn't bode well for Artemis Fowl as Branagh's quirks seem to run a bit counter to what I understand the material to be, Branagh, for example having a tendency towards both grandiosity at times as well as something of a broad but stodgy old fashioned sense of humor. The studios may not have looked as closely at his manner of storytelling as they did his managerial abilities.

Nolan, on the other hand, is more representative, at the largest scale, of what making money for the studios allows a director to be able to do. Almost every Hollywood director that is now considered an artistic "great" got that way in part because they found some freedom within the system to take a more personal approach to the movies they made.

For a good number of the directors people tend to think of as "major" now, that meant they made relatively cheap movies which brought in outsized returns, allowing them to keep doing their thing or move up to higher budget films, building a significant body of work as judged in hindsight. John Ford, for example, became "John Ford" because after Stagecoach he gained some independence and held on to it making what he wanted while also making enough money to keep playing the way he wanted to play.

Jacques Tourneur, on the other hand, was just good enough to keep working on lower budget films that didn't attract a lot of studio attention, that made enough money in aggregate to keep him in a regular lower tier gig where he found enough occasional freedom to make some interesting films that were often more marginal properties at the time of their release. A couple big successes buoyed the others and a studio system where he got the work done gave him enough freedom in the tiers he worked in that he is considered a more important director today than most of the directors who worked on "A" level properties the studio was more invested in.

In more modern terms the importance of making money is often even more important as the old studio system is no more and directors don't get work assigned to them in the same way. A guy like Nolan gets the power to make movies the way he wants to because he works with popular genre adjacent stories that draw a big audience for their formal inventiveness and money on display, an opportunity most directors could only dream of getting. Nolan of course deserves credit for getting himself into that position as his movies do draw that audience, but that is orthogonal to long term artistic success. Nolan may indeed someday be considered a great director in that sense, but getting big box office is no guarantee of that as many of the past popular movies don't hold the same continuing esteem as some of their low budget cousins.

Contrast Nolan to, say, someone like Charles Burnett or Julie Dash who've only been able to make a handful of films, only a couple of which they had anything like full control over, but which were outside the popular genres completely and have only gotten limited work for beyond those films, which they sometimes are able to add their personal touch to, but often are too limited by the competing demands of the medium and budgets, like doing TV work on limited time frames fit to specific story demands. They simply can't build a body of work like Nolan or even older studio directors could because they don't have the power that comes from making money for the studios.

That might seem fair in some sense because the audience wants what the audience wants or something, but that doesn't account for the unavoidable biases of the audience and the weight it puts on the "now" of whatever the zeitgeist of the moment may be. Those elements mean the history of film is written by the winners, where the winners are determined thanks to a heavy hand on the scale which favors those that work to support the values of the status quo, which is of course making money above all else. What that has left out is what we can only guess at from the fragments of careers seemingly great artists had before they were forced into supporting the system that denied then better opportunity.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:21 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


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