The Question - What's Going On With Terribly Cut Blockbusters?
This is a disturbing trend that is beginning to rear it's ugly head more frequently. Last year I can only remember one film that felt chopped up, that being the now-legendary failure of a movie, Fan4stic. Even that film was cohesive until the toilet-flush of a finale. This year there were at least three films that I really had to do my own work to figure out what was happening, where it was happening and in what order. That's a lot of questions that a viewer shouldn't have to ponder.
The curious thing is that these three films were helmed by three directors with some great movies under their belts. The first one of course is the Zack Snyder-directed film, Batman V. Superman. Then we have Duncan Jones' Warcraft and finally David Ayer's Suicide Squad. I know some will cry fowl about Zack Snyder being a good director, but we have to remember that he's made at least three good films and if there's one thing he knows how to do, it's adapt a comic book. 300 and Watchmen were, in my personal opinion, great movies and both visual spectacles. He also made the excellent Dawn of the Dead remake. Duncan Jones has two acclaimed films under his belt; Moon and Source Code. He's also known for being a huge fan of the Warcraft game well before he was up to direct the film. Finally, there's David Ayer, who wrote Training Day and directed a couple of greats in the form of End of Watch and Fury, he also has a couple of duds to his name in the form of Sabotage and Street Kings.
Every director is certainly capable of directing a bad movie, and these three aren't the exceptions to that rule, but judging by their past films, none of them have seemed to have had a problem with editing. All of their films seemed to make sense chronologically. You can say that they hadn't handled such a big production before, but you'd be wrong. Snyder has definitely had his fair share of big-budget experience with Watchmen, Man of Steel and 300. Hell, even Legend of the Guardians was a pretty big animated film. David Ayer directed Fury, which had quite a bit of money behind it. Finally, Duncan Jones was beginning to spread his wings with Source Code, which did a lot with a little. Each of their latest films both have the sweet aroma of good ideas mixed with the stench of studio involvement.
I am so thankful for Batman V Superman Ultimate Edition, not just because it was better, but because it provided insight into what the studio did not deem as important enough to include in their films. I'm not tooting the horn for Batman V. Superman being a great movie now (It's simply good), but it actually made more sense. It's upsetting that a director has to promote a studio cut of a film and isn't allowed to say anything about the cuts made until around when the movie gets a physical release. I would be beyond pissed if I made a great 3-hour film, then the studio cut it up and told me I had to promote how great their version is under my name. I don't know how these directors keep their cool in some of these interviews. I'm hoping they release similar cuts for Warcraft and Suicide Squad.
While watching the original cuts of these three films I noticed one thing in common with all of them. They are far more concerned about the destination than the journey. They all ignore the fact that audiences tend to only care about the destination when it feels earned. Same goes for characters. Warcraft felt the brunt of this the hardest; we are introduced to Lothar (Travis Femmell) who we're supposed to automatically care about, but there is no character development before he swings his sword and we're zipped to like 50 different locations without a single traveling scene, you know, the scenes that The Lord of the Rings had where we were actually shown how the characters bond. I know people make fun of all the walking in Lord of the Rings, but how terrible would it be if right when the hobbits met Strider, they escape the ring wraiths, then we're immediately placed in Moria where they meet the Balrog, and once Gandalf falls, we're then taken directly to the confrontation with the Uruk-hai at the end. That's what Warcraft felt like. Thanks Universal.
Suicide Squad also had some very questionable cuts that I just can't believe were meant to be where they were originally. The set-up of the villain is not told in a way that makes sense chronologically. The cuts here are so abrupt and awkward. It would not have taken more than a few seconds of footage to establish the times and locations a little bit better. I just don't understand any of the decisions here. I was on board for all of the character intros at the beginning, I thought it was a cool way to show the roster of character, but then towards the end of the film we get character intros for El Diablo and Katana out of know where. This shows once again a priority over getting to destinations sooner and giving short shrift to natural developmental moments.
I don't know if these studios realize that they're shooting themselves in the foot. I won't ever actually be able to be behind the scenes to see what's going on, but I know that there were better ways to piece together these films. Maybe have a little faith in the director you chose? Just a start. Another thing that irks me is studios cutting films to a "reasonable length" because audiences don't want to be in a theater for more than two hours. I call bullsh*t on that. It's true that people don't want to be in a theater for more than two hours if your movie is sh*t. However, people also don't want to be in the theater at all if your movie is sh*t, no matter how long it is. It has been proven time and time again that it doesn't matter how long your movie is, so long as it's compelling. Let's play the numbers game:
1. The Dark Knight - Length: 2 hrs. 30 min. Box Office: $1 billion
2. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring - Length: 2 hrs. 51 min. Box Office: $871 million
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Length: 2 hrs. 59 min. Box Office: $926 million
4. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King - Length: 3 hrs. 20 min. Box Office: $1.119 billion
5. Titanic - Length: 3 hrs. 14 min. Box Office: $2.186 million
6. Interstellar - Length: 2 hrs. 49 min. Box Office: $675 million
7. The Revenant - Length2 hrs. 31 min. Box Office: $532 million
8. The Wolf Of Wallstreet - 3 hrs. Box Office: $392 million
9. Avatar - Length: 2 hrs. 40 min. Box Office: $2.787 billion
10. Gone Girl - Length: 2 hrs. 25 min. Box Office: $369 million
This proves that studios should not be concerned about length, because if it's a good movie, people will come back and see it over and over again. These studios want that instant gratification, but with that there comes no longevity critically and financially. In addition to that the name of the brand and studio is tarnished. I almost can't fathom just how stupid this mentality is.
I'm not trying to say that these films were works of art before they got cut up, and I do believe that there are times where studios make good calls, just not here. The studio has quite obviously cut out important character moments and plot progressions. I get the impression that they sometimes take audiences for fools, thinking we won't notice what's missing. Well, we do notice. It makes me so angry to think that all of these movies could have at least made more sense, but the suits overseeing the films opted to cut meaningful content in order to get more plays in the theater. It makes Duncan Jones look like an incompetent director, when I know deep down, if Universal had just had faith in him, we would have had a much more cohesive and watchable Warcraft picture. I remember a report surfacing about Universal being worried about Warcraft because it was "too nerdy". F*ck you, it's called an identity. Guardians of the Galaxy was allowed to embrace it's immense nerdiness, and look how that turned out. Star Wars is often considered one of the nerdiest things around, it's not like that's the biggest franchise in cinematic history or anything.
I guess I'm just hoping that studios trust their filmmakers a little bit more. Let them have a certain degree of freedom and say in the final cut of the film they directed, y'know, since their name is attached to it. Their final cut might be not exactly what the studio wants, but more often then not, I bet you it's what most audiences want and what will eventually get that studio more of that money they so desperately seek.