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10 Promising Filmmakers That Didn’t Deliver When They Went Mainstream

08 January 2016 | Features, People Lists | by Caio Coletti

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX/c. Sony Pictures/Everett Collection (2820472b) Elysium, Neill Blomkamp Elysium - Jul 2013

Not everyone can handle the pressures of helming a Hollywood blockbuster. The studio interference and the huge scope of the production process come as a shock to some filmmakers used to do things in a smaller scale.

Some of them come off well, true to their visions and with a good movie to show for it: Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve made the transition from indie flicks (Incendies) to Hollywood movies (Prisoners, Sicario) with ease and critical appraisal, for example.

Other directors crash and burn when they are pressured to put their signature on a big-budget film for the first time. Here are some of those:

 

1. Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor

Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance

Recently, the duo of action directors split, with Neveldine taking full credit for the terrible The Vatican Tapes. The beginning of their directing career was some kind of promising, though, with the two movies of the Crank franchise proving to be rare action movies that fully committed to the mayhem and inherent absurd of its premise.

They’re not works of art, but they are brainless loads of fun if you just sit and wait for the next ridiculous development – essentially, they’re action movies that don’t take themselves seriously, and that’s a very rare commodity in Hollywood today.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as big studios caught up to Neveldine and Taylor’s talent, they were put to use in the worst way possible: Gamer is a self-serious mess starred by Gerard Butler and Logan Lerman; and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance tries for that dirty, gritty storytelling style they used in the two Crank movies, but is ultimately a deeply weird (and not in a good way) superhero movie.

 

2. Josh Trank

Fantastic Four (2015)

The “cool” thing to do when you’re making a big-budget movie nowadays is to hire an indie filmmaker to helm it, attracting the interest of an audience that he captivated in his previous efforts and attaching his good name to the “artistic” ambitions of the movie. Sometimes the stunt works, sometimes it doesn’t – as much as Josh Trank’s Chronicle posited him as an interesting choice for a superhero blockbuster like Fantastic Four, there’s no denying that, in this instance, it didn’t.

The studio interference, the limited running time, the tonal imbalance: every mistake critics pointed to in Fantastic Four are really there, but the sad thing about it is that there is a smidge of brilliance buried beneath all of its misconceptions.

The sequence immediately after the heroes attain their powers uses the special effects to create a body-horror setpiece that almost feels like it belongs to another, better movie, and the opening scene set in Ben and Reed’s childhood pulsates with scientific and nostalgic wonder.

 

3. Colin Trevorrow

Jurassic World

Safety Not Guaranteed is a captivating science fiction dramedy with cool ideas about relationships and belief, a smart cast, and an offbeat vibe that lends it a lot of credibility. It is the polar opposite of Jurassic World, a cynic and smart-ass “tribute” to blockbusters that nevertheless gives in to blockbusters’ oldest and most irritating clichés. It’s hard to believe they were made by the same guy, and that he was already hired to direct another big franchise entry (Star Wars: Episode IX).

The problem here probably was that, under the immense pressure of a big studio putting out a new entry to one of its highest-grossing franchises, Trevorrow took care of the script trying to obey every rule of the blockbuster textbook while also putting in some ideas about the nature of those movies and the mindset within which they are made.

Trevorrow has Naomi Watts, Lee Pace and Dean Norris in his next project, The Book of Henry, but the movie is written by Gregg Hurwitz (V). Let’s wait and see what’s next for the filmmaker.

 

4. Neill Blomkamp

Elysium

South-African sci-fi writer/director Neill Blomkamp was already Peter Jackson’s protégé when he released his first full-length, Disctric 9, but the production scale (and the names involved in it) were still relatively small. It’s a pulsating, brilliant movie – a rare contemporary science-fiction with social relevance and smart politics, anchored in an intense performance by Sharlto Copley, who was also absorbed (and misused) by Hollywood after the movie’s success.

Blomkamp’s follow-up came 4 years later, in the form of Elysium, that traded the smart sociopolitical message of District 9 for an on-the-nose metaphor, and a complex and antiheroic Sharlto Copley for Matt Damon in action-hero mode. It’s a blockbuster in its purest form, and it still has the advantage of some kind of political conscience and intention behind it, but it’s not worthy of Blomkamp’s promising debut. Chappie didn’t do much to redeem it, either.

 

5. Sam Taylor-Johnson

Fifty Shades of Grey

What drove British director Sam Taylor-Johnson to sign to direct Fifty Shades of Grey is a mystery for the ages. Though the filmmaker’s knack for sexually charged stories was clear since her debut in Destricted, a compilation film composed of erotic short movies, approaching one of the most successful, polarizing and persisting (and utterly cheesy and problematic)pop culture phenomena’s of the last few years was such a pressure-filled task that the director herself claims she doesn’t feel like directing ever again.

It’s a shame, since her first full-length, Nowhere Boy, was such a sensitive and interesting movie, chronicling John Lennon’s early life while making smart casting and filmmaking choices and constructing a film that stands on its own two feet as a drama, without the support of the Beatle’s extraordinary celebrity.

 

 

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  • Rafael Castilho Monteiro

    colin trevorrow its an interesting case: the guy directed one of the biggest grossing box offices ever and no one even know how he looks like or remember his name.

    and yes, neil blomkamp is a fucking hack, im glad his alien movie wont exist, he problably would try once again to make some shitty sci fi with socials analogies.

    the black aliens problably would be opressed by some new race with white aliens or some shit like that, he is that retarded.

    • Alex Gaginsky

      You say “sci fi with socials analogies” like it’s a bad thing.
      Neil is actually one of the very few sci-fi directors who has something to say.

      • Rafael Castilho Monteiro

        when done it right, sci fi with social analogies are great. its not the case with neil. and he doesnt have anything interesting to say, he is obvious and detached from reality in the worst way possible.

  • Pablo Iranzo Duque

    Jurassic World didnt delivered? Audiences disagree, critics too!

    • ray gudel

      Jurassic World was bland as hell, and had plot holes a T-Rex could fit through, not to mention the stupidity that was Bryce Dallas Howard’s heels in the effing jungle. Such a stupid movie that didn’t deserve its box office take, or its title. Trevorrow should have been fired from star wars after that.

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    Kevin Smith needs to be on this list. Nothing as been as good as Clerks.