Friday, January 14, 2011

Hollywood Ending: Why Do Some Movies Get Made?


I don't literally care about the Green Hornet movie that is opening this weekend. I carry no brief for Seth Rogan. But, reading the reviews, it's clear that there is something especially bad about this latest special effects blockbuster. It brings up that age old question: how, with so many people involved and so much money at stake, can a production go so far off the rails?
"The Green Hornet" may not be the end of movies as we know them, though the people who made this atrocity were certainly in there trying. The question—which rises to the level of an industrial mystery—is, trying to do what? Turn a dumb concept into a smart entertainment? Save a dim production by pouring a fortune into stupid effects? (The budget was reportedly as high as $130 million.) Kill the special-effects industry by doing a parody of its excesses? The effect of those effects, and of the cheesy 3-D process pasted on as an afterthought, is simply numbing. The film's only unqualified success is the end title sequence—because it's genuinely stylish, because it looks like it was shot in genuine 3-D and, most of all, because it's the end.
I guess the starting point would be: why a Green Hornet movie? The TV series ran for one measly season back in the Sixties and is mostly famous for introducing Bruce Lee to the world. I don't remember seeing Green Hornet re-runs on the local UHF station (the path to pop culture immortality in the Seventies) when I was a kid . The movie and radio serials are even older. If you see any of them, they are remarkable for their stodginess. If the Green Hornet occupies any place in America's collective memory, it's an infinitesimal one.

Still, someone decided that it would be worth the effort to invest $130 million (!) on a movie based on a superhero no one has any particular yearning to see "updated." And, not only that, someone decided that the best people to bring this to the screen would be a comedian known for his appearances in raunchy sex comedies and a director known mostly for fey indie productions. (That's not a slight against Michael Gondry - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a Free Will favorite - but it's a little distressing to think he may never work in this town again because he couldn't bring a Green Hornet movie to fruition). You almost feel sorry for them, especially when you find out that they tried to gussy up this fiasco with some tacky 3-D effects. I'm guessing members of the Green Hornet crew will not be wearing their Hornet caps around town.

I'm not the guy to pontificate on what makes a movie "work." I'm still in shock after learning Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland made a billion dollars last year. Maybe Green Hornet's producers think they'll make their money back in the foreign market. But, when you think of how determined Hollywood seems to be a bring us remakes and reimaginings of everything that has come before, you wonder whether a lot of good ideas are being left on the table so that we can see yet another Baby Boom "icon" get the special effects treatment.


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