How Did It Begin: Terry Gilliam coming off the critical admiration but box-office failure of “Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas” picks his next project.
What Went Wrong? Maybe problems began when Terry Gilliam decided to direct a script by Ehren Kruger ("Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Scream 3," and "Reindeer Games" not exactly being the best movies or screenplays of all time to put it mildly). But really, once things got moving on set, the problems started. Dimension/Miramax Films took over the movie from MGM when production was already on location in Prague and the meddling started immediately. "Usually my battles are when I finish a film, but this one got off to some very bad beginnings," Gilliam told the New York Times of the notoriously hands on Harvey Weinstein who made him recast Samantha Morton with Lena Headey. Miramax tinkered and fucked with Gilliam’s cut to the point that the movie was delayed 10 months -- it began production in 2003 and didn't arrive in theaters until 2005 -- and Harvey Scissorhands was on full display. "He just had a different view of the film," Gilliam told the Times. And by the time the movie was completed, "the division was so extreme we're talking about two different films.”
When The Press Got Hold Of It: The problem was ‘Grimm’ was delayed for so long, Gilliam’s aforementioned quotes came out when he was discussing his next movie, the indie “Tideland” that arrived in U.S. theaters only a few months after Grimm. So the majority of the world knew that a compromised effort was waiting in the wings, unfortunately. "I'm used to riding roughshod over studio executives," Gilliam explained to Time Magazine, "but the Weinsteins rode roughshod over me." Other outrageous Weinstein moves: they fired Gilliam's longtime DP Nicola Pecorini after six weeks, they nixed a funny nose Damon was supposed to wear and things got so heated that production shut down for 2 weeks midway through shooting. "I've never been in a situation like that," Damon said in 2005
. "Terry was spitting rage at
the system, at the Weinsteins. You can't try and impose big compromises on a
visionary director like him. If you try to force him to do what you want
creatively, he'll go nuclear."
What Happened In The End? The Weinsteins' botched and compromised effort was released in August 2005 to little fanfare. The movie was met with mixed reviews at best and only grossed $37 million in the U.S. off a $80 million dollar budget. But you know, it grossed just over $100 million globally and thus is Gilliam’s biggest box-office film to date.
"Last Action Hero" (1993)
How Did It Begin: At the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, known for his hyper-violent blockbusters like "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," was looking to enter the more family-friendly arena. Along with his "Predator" director John McTiernan, they decided to create a sweetly family-friendly, Capra-esque action comedy (Arnold called it the "ultimate kid's fantasy" in the press notes) that was based off a spoofy spec script called "Extremely Violent."
What Went Wrong? Basically, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The script went through a platoon of highly paid screenwriters (among them: Shane Black and William Goldman) with different opinions on what the story should be and how it should be told, with each iteration violently clashing with the version that came before it. The studio set an unreasonable release date of less than a year after production formally got underway, which was unheard of at the time given the complex visual effects involved (not to mention the constantly-evolving screenplay). Schwarzenegger was given complete control over every aspect of the film, at one point sending back the film's poster to be redone because he wanted his hair to be "flowing." By all accounts the shoot was absolute misery and a reported test screening ranked so low that the test cards were destroyed instead of reported to the studio (last minute reshoots only made things messier.) When the movie was finally released, a number of dumb-ass marketing ploys (including an ad that would be part of a NASA rocket launch) failed to garner attention, despite a number of lucrative tie-ins and an incredibly catchy AC/DC song on the soundtrack. Oh, and it didn't help that "Last Action Hero" opened shortly after some little movie called "Jurassic Park."
When The Press Got Hold Of It: The press was there almost from the movie's inception, with Claudia Eller reporting in her "Dish" column in Variety in August 1992 that the movie was having script issues and Arnold and McTiernan were pleading directly to William Goldman to come onboard. Since the movie's inception, every mishap was lovingly chronicled. At one point Jeffrey Wells, then a freelancer working for the Los Angeles Times, was threatened by Columbia after he reported about a disastrous test screening of the movie. (It turned out that Wells was reporting on a screening of "Rising Sun" instead. Whoops.) The bad buzz became so deafening that the studio was forced to issue a press release stating that the movie would make its intended release date of June 18th. If you have to issue a press release just to make sure people know your movie is going to come out on time, it's pretty bad.
What Happened In The End? It tanked. Big time. It was a colossal critical bomb (a line from Vincent Canby's incredibly bitchy New York Times review: "That's if you're dying to find out what a two-hour "Saturday Night Live" sketch might look like given, reportedly, a $60 million budget, some of Hollywood's best special-effects people and an Arnold Schwarzenegger who wants desperately to please") and commercial flop that got eaten up by the "Jurassic Park" phenomena. The final budget was never revealed but even with lucrative corporate sponsorship and tie-ins Columbia announced a nearly $30 million write-off (this was back in 1993). Schwarzenegger was supposedly heartbroken by his failure to crossover (he would attempt it a few more times with things like "Jingle All the Way") and then went back to the violent action movies that gave him his fame. John McTiernan went to his Wyoming ranch for a year and when he returned did so in the most surefire way possible: with a sequel to the film that made him, "Die Hard with a Vengeance."
There’s loads more examples, like "Ishtar," obviously. The writing was on the wall for “The Island Of Dr. Moreau” and it turned out to be a huge fiasco flop. Ditto “Battleship,” “John Carter,” the latter being probably the tentpole to suffer from the worst bad buzz in the last five years save for maybe “World War Z” and paying for it in spades. Even Pixar’s “Up”: remember that ridiculous New York Times article before it came out about how poorly it was going to do commercially? Yeah, that didn’t happen. As the New York Times detailed quite well Steven Zaillian's "All The King's Men" starring Sean Penn had its bad buzz written on the wall over a year in advance of its release, though admittedly, it was more of an inside baseball knowledge (was anyone clamoring for this film?). Word got out on the 2004 fiasco “The Alamo” pretty early on and it went on to become one of the biggest box-office flops of all time. “Green Lantern” is sort of a similar case, though it was mostly audiences who thought it looked terrible and they were right. Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" went through a lot of public problems (a version with Brad Pitt completely fell apart before filming began), but it's second version was something entirely different and wasn't scrutinized as hard and is maybe a bit of a different beast. A lot of skepticism followed Mel Gibson’s ambitious, all Yucatec Maya dialogued “Apocalypto,” but the film turned out to be decent and neither flop or mega hit. Both "The Wizard Of Oz” and “Cleopatra” had troubled productions, and while the press were aware, “bad buzz” meant something completely different in those non-information ages. More on target is something like 2010’s “The Wolfman” which suffered from delays and one director (Mark Romanek) spending a year working on the movie before he eventually left. Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret” was delayed for over five years due to legal battles and while uneven in the eyes of many, a cult following has formed around that indie drama.There’s obviously many more. Your thoughts or particular “favorite”? - Rodrigo Perez and Drew Taylor