WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Consequences of originality

By on March 17, 2015
Visser reads Chappie a bedtime story. (Photo credit: Columbia Pictures)

Visser reads Chappie a bedtime story. (Photo credit: Columbia Pictures)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Neill Blomkamp is a director who came out of the chute running. His 2009 film District 9 broke barriers and reinjected the science fiction genre with a dose of much needed originality. Even though it was an alien invasion story, it dealt with strong real-world themes like immigration and racism, and delivered incredible special effects and top-notch storytelling. But Blomkamp’s second film, 2013’s Elysium, was a flash in the pan—a technologically stimulating production with bare-bones storytelling and forgettable characters. With the ho-hum release of Blomkamp’s third sci-fi offering Chappie, audiences and critics have begun to worry if he is a one-hit wonder.

This type of occurrence is not uncommon in Hollywood. Plenty of directors have offered up one or two incredible movies, and then they were never able to produce anything as good. Richard Kelly, who wrote and directed the cult classic Donnie Darko, followed up his career with a handful of overdone, incomprehensible films like Southland Tales and The Box. Michel Gondry of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame also never got around to replicating the success of his first major film. This year, filmmaking duo the Wachowskis released the laughably terrible Jupiter Ascending, their first original film since they redefined special effects with The Matrix.

M. Night Shyamalan is the epitome of this curse. After his overwhelming success with The Sixth Sense and his just OK alien film Signs, Shyamalan went off the deep end and released one crap film after another. God help me if I need to sit through another viewing of The Lady in the Water or The Last Airbender.

I accredit this to the fact that studios and movie executives are placing a large amount of trust in these writer-slash-directors. They run wild with their new ideas and — because they have one solid film under their belts — there are fewer people who check in and question their decisions.

I talked about the overabundance of sequels and remakes in a previous column (11/18/15; Causalities of Ambition), but in truth these are the films that make money. Audiences are more likely to spend their money on familiar characters rather than take a chance on something they’ve never heard of before.

Chappie suffers from a variety of film mishaps: faulty character consistency, illogical plot progression and cringe-worthy performances by Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver. Even the two most fascinating characters of the film, Ninja and Yolandi Visser of the trip-hop group Die Antwoord, were fairly hit-and-miss. The whole film still manages to be entertaining, but one can’t help to feel a bit slighted by how dumb the film is, especially after the genius District 9.

So what happens? What causes a director to produce incredible work, only to stumble on his own shoelaces? My guess is that there is massive pressure on these directors to continue pumping out blockbuster-worthy original films. While a few writer-slash-directors can continuously create fresh and exciting films (Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan), not every director can be so consistent with their ideas and execution (ahem – Woody Allen).

Studio executives have not yet given up on Neill Blomkamp, but it seems they may take it easy with allowing him to continue making original films. He has recently been tasked with directing the newest film in the Alien horror franchise. Sigourney Weaver signed on to reprise her role as Ellen Ripley, and cannot be more excited that Blomkamp is taking the reins.

“I can’t think of a better director,” Weaver told Variety magazine.

It’s likely because Ridley Scott (Alien) is busy directing a star-studded adaptation of bestselling novel The Martian and James Cameron (Aliens) is working on at least three sequels to Avatar. How original.

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