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Studios Play it Safe

by Anne Thompson
August 3, 2009 2:47 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

Steven Spielberg is directing a remake of the Universal/Broadway classic Harvey; he's seeking a star like Tom Hanks or Will Smith to star. Fox is partnering with DreamWorks/Reliance to produce the movie about a six-foot, invisible rabbit.

Rob Marshall is "circling" the latest Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

Ridley Scott is ramping up an Alien prequel.

Ron Howard is directing a Robert Ludlum novel, The Parsifal Mosaic.

Robert Downey Jr. is starring as Sherlock Holmes. Russell Crowe is Robin Hood. Warners is rebooting Captain Blood as a space odyssey. Universal has remakes of The Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Wolf Man in the works. Every studio is desperately seeking franchises, tentpoles, remakes, reboots, prequels and sequels. Original is a dirty word. It means having to start something from scratch with no safety zone.

Thompson on Hollywood

We know that books, plays, tv shows, videogames, theme park rides, comics and graphic novels are easier to make than anything original. (The Independent rounds up some of the studios' recent franchise-chasing activity.) But these are Hollywood's best and brightest, the directors who can usually get anything made. But not if the studios don't give them the money. These are what the studios consider to be the most commercial projects. Handing Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland is a no-brainer. And I want to see Downey as Sherlock Holmes, too. But Rob Marshall directing a Pirates sequel tells me the guy is chasing the bucks. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has visual taste. But Marshall considering Pirates makes me wonder how Nine turned out. A gifted musical director, Marshall flubbed the period drama Memoirs of a Geisha . He's not a big-budget VFX action maven.

If you want to go original at a studio, you'd better be the Coen brothers (A Serious Man), James Cameron (Avatar) or Peter Jackson (producer of District 9). Pixar/Disney's John Lasseter and Japan's Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo) have been making originals their entire careers. They believe in it. And it works. You just have to fly by the seat of your pants and make strong judgement calls about actually delivering a satisfying movie that isn't pre-digested, already proven. It's about fear of failure. In today's Hollywood, it takes guts to be original.


  • Anne Thompson | August 4, 2009 6:17 AMReply


  • RGM | August 3, 2009 12:44 PMReply

    New format looks good.

  • Alboone | August 3, 2009 11:20 AMReply

    Love the design. Good job. These things go in cycles. Originals will reign again. But again I keep beating this drum that if the industry wants to increase their profit margins they need to hire those in positions of power who ACTUALLY read screenplays and are interested in telling stories. Can't beat a good story with a beginning, middle, and end.

    And as far as Spielberg is concerned, after that last Indy movie and his producing effort on the worst movie I've ever seen in my life(TRANSFORMERS 2) I just don't trust the guy anymore. His time is done. Sad but very true.

  • Dixon Steele | August 3, 2009 10:38 AMReply

    Anyone can make a mistake, Lou. After all, you raved about the "comedy" BART GOT A ROOM, which inspired me to rent it.

    Unwatchably bad, embarassing even. What the hell were you thinking?

  • Deaf Brown Trash Punk | August 3, 2009 7:47 AMReply

    hey Anne, by the way, I tried adding your blog feed to my Google Reader, no luck. It leads me to "Blogline News" with nothing in there. Hope you can get the RSS feed fixed soon.


  • Deaf Brown Trash Punk | August 3, 2009 7:45 AMReply

    I agree, I don't think the Harvey remake sounds "safe," either but with Speilberg and Tom Hanks attached, it seems like a SAFE BET.

    Hollywood is about making money and providing entertainment to the masses. Art comes in second.

    Nothing's wrong with money and entertainment, but there needs to be a healthy dosage of art once in a while, too.

  • cadavra | August 3, 2009 7:02 AMReply

    Last night at the Aero, Shane Black and Fred Dekker noted that studios are now run by their marketing departments. They don't care if a movie is good or bad; all they care about is "how do we sell it." If true, this would certainly explain all the remakes/sequels/et al.

    BTW, before WB moves forward on CAPTAIN BLOOD OF OUTER SPACE, I suggest they try sitting through Disney's TREASURE PLANET. Oy.

  • Jake Yenor | August 3, 2009 3:39 AMReply

    Harvey doesn't sound very "safe" to me.

    - Jake Yenor

  • Lou Lumenick | August 3, 2009 1:32 AMReply

    Harvey was filmed by Universal, not MGM.

  • Alan Green | August 3, 2009 1:12 AMReply

    would suggest it makes little difference how 'nine' turned out -- i just don't see another big musical succeeding at the box office. 'nine' could be brilliant and still fail.

    however, disagree re: marshall's potential to make pirates work -- he has exactly what's needed for this material. the pirates movies, after all, are musicals w/o singing. these pictures aren't action per se. they are big-budget though, but marshall has technical chops in that regard. he's also very at home with set pieces, which is all the pirates movies are.

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