It's sometimes hard to remember, when crossing a theater lobby or sitting through the previews, that people generally don't set out to make terrible movies. There are exceptions, of course (we can't imagine a scenario in which anyone involved with "Jack & Jill" was aiming for quality), but generally speaking, filmmakers, actors, and even studio executives set out with the best of intentions, and if they don't work out, it's because movies are almost unfathomably hard things to make.
Even so, there's usually someone at fault at some point, but it's rare to find someone, particularly up the ladder, willing to admit to crappiness, and point some fingers. At the Savannah Film Festival this week, Movieline were there to see Ron Meyer, the president & COO of Universal Pictures, do exactly that. The executive, who's topped the studio for sixteen years, more than any of his equivalents at other companies, has had a rougher few years than most, with a number of high profile, expensive, risky flops, But Meyer acknowledged that the problem, more often than not, is that the films that failed just weren't good enough. Speaking out on two of the company's biggest tankers of the last few years, Meyer said of Will Ferrell vehicle "Land of the Lost," an FX-filled stoner comedy masquerading as a kid's flick, that the film was "just crap. I mean, there was no excuse for it. The best intentions all went wrong." While this summer's biggest money loser, "Cowboys & Aliens," "wasn't good enough. Forget all the smart people involved in it, it wasn’t good enough. All those little creatures bouncing around were crappy. I think it was a mediocre movie, and we all did a mediocre job with it.”
But particular ire was reserved for last year's horror flop "The Wolfman," which Meyer singled out (along with, bizarrely, 1998's "Babe: Pig of the City," a rather good, if unexpectedly dark, follow-up to the family smash "Babe") as the bottom of the barrel. "We make a lot of shitty movies," the executive said. "Every one of them breaks my heart. We set out to make good ones. One of the worst movies we ever made was 'The Wolfman.' 'The Wolfman' and 'Babe 2' are two of the shittiest movies we put out." He later commiserated with Joe Johnston film's producer, Stratton Leopold, a Savannah local, about the project. "It’s one of those movies, the moment I saw it I thought, ‘What have we all done here?’ That movie was crappy. We all went wrong. It was one of those things… like I said, we make a lot of bad movies. That’s one we should have smelled out a long time ago. It was wrong. The script never got right, [the cast] was awful. The director was wrong. Benicio [del Toro] stunk. It all stunk."
While it's hard to disagree with the assessment, having sat through the wretched finished product ourselves, you can't help but feel that the cast may have been better served had Meyer and co not replaced original helmer Mark Romanek with Johnston only four weeks before filming began, and then forced a series of reshoots on the project after the fact. Still, Meyer has some love for a few of his products. He praises "United 93," saying it's "one of the movies I’m most proud of. It wasn’t a big moneymaker, but it’s a film I believe every American should see and it showed you what people can do in the worst of times and how great the human spirit is and all that, so there are moments that can make up for all the junk that you make.” He also liked Edgar Wright's "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World," calling it "actually kind of a good movie," while acknowledging, "it just didn’t capture enough of the imaginations of people" (perhaps because the studio marketed it exclusively to the miniscule geek audience, without making any effort to push it beyond that).
To a degree, it's refreshing to see someone in Meyer's position speaking with such honesty, even if he's passing the buck too far in places. For instance, he brings out the old chestnut that audiences don't exist for adult dramas, saying of an Oscar-winning success under his stewardship, "We did 'A Beautiful Mind,' and I don’t know that we’d do 'A Beautiful Mind' again. That’s the sad part. It’s great to win awards and make films that you’re proud of and make money, but your first obligation is to make money and then worry about being proud of what you do.” But yet he doesn't address some of the biggest problems the industry has -- greenlighting expensive pictures based on existing property that no one really wants to see, and then giving them release dates before they have scripts. For instance, Working Title, who've had a home at the studio for well over a decade, were forced to turn to StudioCanal for financing of thriller "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" when Universal passed on it. The film's already made its budget back abroad.
There's lots more from Meyer, who's definitely learned from his mistakes, pinning his hopes for 2012 on a big-screen adaptation of "Battleship" and a Snow White movie made on a rushed schedule in order to beat a rival production, over at Movieline's excellent piece. Unfortunately, it doesn't relate Meyer's views on Universal productions like "K-Pax," "Dragonfly," "The Life of David Gale," "The Cat in the Hat," "The Chronicles of Riddick," "Van Helsing," "Thunderbirds," "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," "Two For The Money," "Doom," "The Producers," "American Dreamz," "The Black Dahlia," "Smokin' Aces," "Because I Said So," "Georgia Rule," "Evan Almighty," "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," "Sydney White," "Changeling," "Wanted," "Death Race," "Mamma Mia," "Couples Retreat," "Leap Year," "Robin Hood," "Little Fockers," "The Dilemma" and "The Change-Up."