Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Voice of Reason #16: Hitting It Big

This column contains mild spoilers for Godzilla - you were warned. 

If the huge success of Godzilla and Amazing Spider-man 2 proves anything, it's that Hollywood's growing urge to promote small-time indie directors to the big-time is paying off. And for once, that can only be a good thing.

Want to know who the big winner over the weekend was? Well, if your the accountant over at Legendary Pictures, you're most likely reaching for the bubbly right now. Their latest picture, a little-known property called Godzilla, has just stomped across box offices worldwide, setting opening-weekend records pretty much everywhere.

But the box office takings are just one side of the story - whilst it's cool that audiences are flocking to see what is admittedly a great, if simple, summer blockbuster, the real winner in all of this Godzilla hysteria is the film's little-known director Gareth Edwards.

Edwards is undoubtedly the real star of the show in Godzilla - yes, I know the film is about a 300+ foot monster that is terribly misunderstood, but Edwards' direction, and haunting visuals, are the biggest drawcard. That scene in the final third where we see Aaron Taylor-Johnson's army solider parachute into what's left of downtown San Francisco is simply spellbinding. It's in this scene that we experience Edwards' fantastic eye for striking visuals, and we the audience sat slack-jawed as columns of smoke curled around the jagged spine of Godzilla's back and through mountains of debris and ruin.

Judged on this masterful scene alone, Legendary's decision to promote Edwards' from indie obscurity to A-list director and arm him with a $160 million budget, pair him with actors like Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe for one of the most iconic franchises of all time is a masterstroke. Of course, this was no fluke. No doubt, a myriad of producers and execs at Legendary have seen Edwards' debut feature Monsters, an equally haunting dystopic sci-fi which was put together on a shoe-string budget by comparison.

Edwards then is the latest success story in a growing list of directors who hit the big time when studios put some faith in their fairly small, albeit impressive, body of work. Take Colin Trevorrow...

"Erm, who?"

You know, he directed Safety Not Guaranteed, a quirky time-travel piece in 2012? Trevorrow may be little-known, but right now he's hard at work on one of the biggest films of the last ten years - Jurassic World. Yeah, you know the film franchise kicked off by a certain Mr. Spielberg...

No pressure, mate.

These examples aren't anomalies; Edwards' success with a big-name franchise or film forms part of a wider narrative with a number of indie directors hitting it big when Hollywood takes a chance on them. Another great example is Marc Webb, best known for his bitter-sweet rom-com (500) Days of Summer before he was handed the keys to the kingdom of the Amazing Spider-man franchise.

Who could have known Webb's penchant for delicate and affecting romance would also lend itself to the high-speed, dizzying spins and swings of Spider-man? Not us. But fast-forward to now and Webb is ploughing full-steam ahead into a third entry of the web-slinging franchise.

Looking further afield, we can see that this is a recurring thing of late; take Rupert Sanders' directorial role on Snow White and the Huntsman or Joseph Kosinski being handed the reins to TRON: Legacy and Oblivion. Marvel it seems play a big part in this trend after a few ballsy choices have paid off; Alan Taylor (best known for Game of Thrones and The Sopranos) was hired for Thor: The Dark World, Joe and Anthony Russo (directors on NBC's Community) worked their craft on Captain America: The Winter Solider and James Gunn is in charge of delivering this August's Guardians of the Galaxy.

Brad Bird took the reins of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol after only having directed Pixar animations like The Incredibles. He's now in the post-production stage of directing a Disney film called Tomrrowland, with an estimated budget of $200 million+. Before him, a nerdy looking guy called JJ Abrams took M:I 3 and catapulted himself into the directors chair of two of the biggest sci-fi franchises of all time - Star Trek, and now Star Wars. Hmm, I'm starting to see a pattern here...

It's an intriguing trend then, to see these promising directors thrust into the spotlight and handed a budget for some of the biggest films currently in production. More often than not, they themselves have an established love for the series, a la Joss Whedon and the Russo brothers with Marvel, or JJ Abrams with Star Wars. For me, it's really cool to see this sense of ambition and passion placed above an obvious track-record, or in the case of some directors, notoriety for excessive pyrotechnics*

So whilst I usually use this column as a forum for inexplicable rants or (in rare cases) considered criticism - hence the tagline 'voice of reason' - there is really very little negativity that can be drawn from this trend of 'let a nerd do the film'. After all, who doesn't love seeing the little guy get his chance to show what he's made of?

I mean, who would've thought that Joss Whedon, after discovering his cult shows Firefly and Dollhouse were cancelled, would go on direct the third biggest film of all time (and its sequel). Hindsight's a wonderful thing, ain't it?

*You all know who I'm talking about. Man, the Ninja Turtles are screwed.

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