While I was caught between flood and fire with another infection in my lungs that I seem to contract now with terrifying regularity every two weeks and at the same time trying to help out a friend again that has his own share of being under the weather with a cold by fixing up a 3D project (and really getting a bit weary of Cinema 4D‘s bad drawing performance in complex scenes), the respectable Mr. Maschwitz has posted a pretty interesting article on his blog. I usually love what he writes, but this time I think he got a few things wrong.
I’m not debating his points about everyone having an opinion about everything. Hey, if you read this blog, you sure see enough traces of my failed career as a film critic. ;-) And I love that part about Starbucks (or for that matter everyone’s favorite pizzeria, bakery, food chain, clothing store and so on). On the other hand, and that part is a bit surprising, I think he misses a few critical aspects with regards to the technicalities and process of filmmaking.
While it may be true that films are 100% other people’s opinions, the question remains whose opinions are actually represented. Is it the director’s? The DOP’s? The editor’s? The producers’? The actor’s? In part certainly yes, but as we all know just as much not. Even on the production level there are so many influences that shape and color the result. And then there’s a lot of interference from “studio heads” who in fact may be just as much wannabe movie directors as you and I. Therefore even the most reputable’s directors opinions are formed based on the pressure from execs as well, the constraints of the overall budget (and hence the director’s paycheck), actors being divas and all the other madness that surrounds such productions. If you get my meaning: There is a lot more going on than the director saying “I want to make a great film.”.
Based on the previous point and quite specifically to the Star Trek flares this then begs the question if anyone else but JJ Abrams would have gotten away with it. What if he hadn’t had a free hand and a upper rank staff person that, as Stu puts it, “reacted” to the flares with “I don’t like flares.” and then scheduled a full reshoot or canned the whole project? I think this is one thing one might not wipe off that easily. Even people “in the know” from inside the industry do not necessarily form complex opinions because in the end they are more concerned with the (commercial) success of the project and make decisions based on other factors than artistic self-fulfillment. And not every director is afforded the luxury of working on big budgets and prestigous movies, putting them even more under the gun. Imagine you were some no-name director with not enough leverage and wanted to use those flares…. ;-)
One of the comments on the blog is also very, very true – these days there never seems to be a definitive version of a film. Different edits of movies are tailored for specific markets to avoid legal issues, ethnical discrimination, political tangles and what else you can think of and then they are again reworked when released a few months later on DVD, BluRay and VOD. Sometimes like in The Lord of the Rings this can turn out great, many times like in Star Wars or this year’s battle for the Weinstein‘s trying to trim Snowpiercer into a more family-friendly format it just goes plain wrong. And if that weren’t enough, this not just happens with contemporary movies, but also old ones. I mean it can still be great to see a fan favorite with some restored “lost footage”, but ultimately, wasn’t there a reason why this footage was left out in the first place? If you get my meaning, and now we are getting to a point: Is there actually one such thing as the perfectly realized vision of a director? We would have to ask those people directly, but often we simply can’t for very practical reasons like them being dead.
On a more technical note there is of course nothing wrong with lens flares. I do them for fun when I feel like it and despite my best intentions I’m sure I’ll do a fifth Sapphire flare pack one of those days (sidenote: You can quit poking around. There is no “free” version of the fourth pack. You seriously have to send me those Amazon voucher codes ;-) ) or create some for Optical Flares. However, even the greatest flare afficionado has a saturation point when it comes to what I call “uneducated use” of flares. For all intents and purposes they need to have a bearing on what you actually see on screen and make some kind of sense. Most flares in Star Trek did not and neither did those in the Star Wars prequel movies and I believe that’s ultimately what many people and I criticized. Those flares did not serve the movie, they really got in the way (at times). It also strikes me as a risky road to take in terms of longevity. People today poke fun at the old Star Trek movies but wait what future fans are going to say in thirty years about Mr. Abrams‘ entries… Or in other words: The more stylish/ stylized your look is, the greater the risk of it going out of fashion and looking dated.
All bad? Absolutely not! I still respect Stu in every way and in fact Mr. Abrams is one of those people I would spend a day on set just to see him goof around and chit-chat. It’s just that it’s in my opinion not as simple as to say “You are not in this place.” The irony is in fact that most of that wouldn’t actually even be necessary to discuss if it wasn’t for the overflowing information from the Internet. In a way movies especially are a victim of their own in that regard – there are teasers, trailers, set photos, unofficial imagery, tweets and lots of other things that encourage or lure us into making up our minds – often prematurely – and this has a way of sticking with people for longer than anyone would like one way or the other. If I hadn’t seen so many of them already, I could still look up old trailers on YouTube for instance or look up their IMDB entries and think some of them are actually pretty terrible when they are not. Such is the nature of the beast…