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Terry Gilliams Explains Why '2001' Is Better Than 'Close Encounters'; Talks Abandoned 'Time Bandits' TV Series

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by Kristen Lopez
May 7, 2013 2:45 PM
8 Comments
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2001: A Space Odyssey Close Encounters Of The Third Kind Terry Gilliam

There’s no doubt Terry Gilliam is one of the chattiest directors out there, and his disdain for mindless popular entertainment is well-documented.  During a sit-down interview at Entertainment Weekly’s first ever CapeTown Film Fest, the director answered questions about his career, popular culture, and everything in between.  

Gilliam’s failures have been just as heavily documented as his successes. Case in point, the excellent documentary “Lost in La Mancha” which details his struggles to get an adaptation of “Don Quixote” off the ground (an idea the director continues to bring up every few years).  In discussing his legacy in film with EW, he considers the failure of his film “Brazil” as a “huge success. And that’s why we, today, are so proud of Homeland Security.”  

No doubt the director has a wry sense of humor and sarcasm is his main method of communication. When he’s not making quips about Homeland Security, Gilliam talks about his latest film, “Zero Theorem” starring two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz and which could be gaining actor Bill Murray... Gilliam didn’t go into details on the plot, at least if what he says is the plot, but described it thus: “If you want to go see a movie about a guy sitting in front of his computer in a burnt-out chapel waiting for a phone call that gives meaning to his life, that’s the one for you!”  

He also went into detail on what could have been, such as a television spin-off of his movie “Time Bandits,” and the almost, not quite time he was set to direct a “Harry Potter” movie.  In terms of the “Time Bandits” television show, he explains that Hallmark considered doing a show at one point, and that a couple episodes were written by him and Charles McKeown.  Unfortunately, “9/11 occurred…and they decided after that that people didn’t want to be entertained.” If you haven’t noticed by the comments, Gilliam has no filter. Such is the case with his views on almost directing an installment of the “Harry Potter” franchise: “J.K. Rowling and the producer wanted me. Then wiser heads -- studio heads -- prevailed.”  

Gilliam also doesn’t have any love lost for the spate of remakes and sequels that permeate the theaters today, saying that he refused to sell the rights to “Time Bandits” because “the only stipulation was that there wouldn’t be any dwarves in it.” Don’t expect him to craft any sequels to his work, as he finds the continuous repetition in Hollywood to be “like a McDonald’s hamburger.”  

But perhaps his most quotable remarks of the conversation come when he talks about his preference for endings with ambiguity rather than definitive answers. And he pits two sci-fi classics against each other to make his point. “It always stuck with me, the ending from '2001.' I don’t know what it’s really saying. I know it’s beautiful, it’s telling me many things, I don’t quite understand it, but I know it gets me thinking," he explained. "When I look at 'Close Encounters,' there’s a perfect ending: the door opens, and that great sort of Preying Mantis Silhouette figure comes out. Cut to black, folks! Don’t let the little kids with the rubber suits come in! That’s a really fucking awful answer!”

The video interview with Gilliam is hilarious and includes more of his views on “Transformers,” God, and anything else you can think of.  You can head over to the Entertainment Weekly website to watch it.  

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8 Comments

  • JOEY | May 29, 2013 1:51 PMReply

    "When I look at 'Close Encounters,' there’s a perfect ending: the door opens, and that great sort of Preying Mantis Silhouette figure comes out. Cut to black, folks!"

    Yeah, and this guy wonders why no one in America wants to finance his movies. That has to be one of the dumbest endings anyone could think of. This guy talks about "Close Encounters" like it's some kind of a European movie with existentialist themes. Hello? It's a big-budget adventure movie with UFO's. How can you even compare it to "2001", which is more of an art-house movie? They're different movies. Either Gilliam's brain has gotten smaller or he's just saying this because he fears he may be forgotten by American audiences (which is often the case with hasbeen filmmakers who haven't done anything relevant in over a decade).

    Have fun in obscurity, Gilliam. You and Godard deserve each other.

  • Alan B | May 7, 2013 8:36 PMReply

    Gilliam once said that he criticizes studio executives, not film directors. "Once" being the operative word.

  • serpico | May 7, 2013 5:56 PMReply

    Gilliam has always had it out for Spielberg. It's annoying. "Close Encounters" as a stand alone film is great. Probably the best movie made about UFOs.

  • spassky | May 7, 2013 3:48 PMReply

    That he feels the need to describe why it's better (regardless of whether he's right) goes to show how much of an arrogant dickhead he actually is.

  • Max | May 7, 2013 3:41 PMReply

    Gilliam has a very poor grasp on why 2001 is better than Close Encounters. Spielberg, who understands Kubrick far better than Gilliam does, has said time and time again that it's because Kubrick changed the very form of cinema, changed the kind of stories that could be told on film. With Gilliam, it's all "Hollywood ending bad!", and his suggested ending for Close Encounters A. is not the story that Spielberg wanted to tell, B. isn't the logical conclusion of the story the same way Star Child is the logical conclusion for 2001, and C. ignores the moral ambiguity of Close Encounters, e.g. Roy Neary leaving his family behind just because he wants something more. I don't care how Gilliam would have done it. That's not criticism. He's not actually grappling with the film he saw, but with what he wanted to see.

    He's on my long list of "filmmakers I like but can't read because they constantly say irritating shit" (see also: Peter Greenaway, Michael Haneke, Steven Soderbergh).

  • Alan B | May 7, 2013 8:41 PM

    Yeah Sean, kinda like how Spielberg tacked on the happy ending that Kubrick never would have conceived. THAT HACK Spielberg explains HOW HE CAN SLEEP AT NIGHT: "People assume that Stanley ended "A.I." with David and Teddy underwater trapped by the Ferris wheel, and then end credits role, and they are going to be down there until their batteries run out. That's where they assume Stanley ended it, and I of course get criticized for carrying the film two thousand years into an advanced future where the robots that we created have replaced us, and super-mechas rule the world. It has become a silicon-based society, no longer a carbon-based society, and they certainly assume that's how I wrecked Stanley's movie. When in fact Stanley's treatment, along with Ian Watson, went right into the two thousand year future. This was where Stanley was going to take the movie had he lived to direct it. This is where I was obligated to take the picture, and even if I didn't feel such an obligation to fulfill Stanley's vision, that would have been my vision as well."

  • Sean | May 7, 2013 4:18 PM

    I guess Spielberg knew Kubrick so well, that he decided to adapt an idea of Kubrick's and make it his own movie. One that was terrible and should have never been made.

  • droop | May 7, 2013 2:59 PMReply

    of course 2001 is better, even spielberg would agree

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