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12 Movies That Were Ruined By One Dumb Decision –

 

When you sit watching a bad movie it is normally the culmination of a long series of bad decisions. Chief among them you spending your hard earned cash on a ticket, but we’re talking less about your shockingly poor judge of quality (did Movie 43 really look funny to you?) and more about how the film itself has came into being.

Lots of things can go wrong in the journey from concept to screen. Although a truly terrible script can be spotted, without any sensory input a mediocre one can appear stellar, while a great one can crumble under bad direction (just see the varying success of movies from Hollywood’s widely-revered Black List of unproduced scripts).

Of course, that’s not always the case. Whether it led to a destructive chain reaction, or was so heinous it overshadowed everything else in the film varies, but there’re some choices made during production that single-handedly manage to derail what could have been pretty damn fine movies. Today we’re going to bring you twelve movies that could have been awesome, but one dumb decision led down a path of destruction. Quite how no one realised they were leading themselves to critical (although in most cases regrettably not commercial disappointment) is, frankly beyond us, but movie-making is a strange business.

12. Reducing Phoenix To A Subplot – X-Men: The Last Stand

Fox

After spending two films slowly building character interactions and setting up its world’s politics, X-Men looked ready to dive head first into the Dark Phoenix Saga. The franchise’s biggest storyline, in print it saw Jean Grey unlock her full potential thanks to the Phoenix entity, leading to the loss of billions of lives and ultimately her death. On screen it’s a different story, with Jean an almost ethereal presence who bumps off characters for shock value until she’s anti-climatically killed.

Bryan Singer, director of the first two movies, left production early on in The Last Stand, leading to Brett Ratner taking his place. Neither knowing or caring about the comic mythos, Ratner left the story and its faithfulness to the writers, who were under immense pressure from Fox to drop the Phoenix storyline in favour of the much less complex idea of a mutant cure. In the end a compromise was made, with Phoenix’s rampage remaining, but relegated to a subplot.

Ruining two movies worth of set-up in favour of pushing a painfully unsubtle story to the fore (and this is a series that blatantly parallelled itself with the Holocaust), Fox forcing the writers to keep things as broad as possible led to something that even the franchise itself has since disowned; Days Of Future Past wrote all of the movie’s events out of history.

11. Spending So Much Time In Zion – The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions

Warner Bros.

What did you like about The Matrix? Was it the incredible wire action, the smart logic behind it all, the unique sci-fi setting or the clear philosophical questions it raised? If you answered yes to any of the above then you were probably let down by the sequels.

With a much higher budget, The Matrix Reloaded pushed everything that worked to the extent it was actually tiresome (you liked Morpheus’ fancy talk? Well here’s the Architect to say lots of words that mean nothing), while The Matrix Revolutions rushed to a vaguely meaningful finale in the most laughable way possible. By far the strangest preoccupation of Reloaded and to an even worse extent Revolutions was the amount of time spent in Zion, home of the human revolution. The second film saw us finally visit the oft-discussed city, only to discover it was a depressingly generic sci-fi locale, complete with that definitely-not-tired staple the mech suit, full of people with a love of sweaty cave raving. And, by the final movie, half the action sequences were set there, featuring characters we neither knew nor cared for.

What everyone loved about The Matrix was, well, the Matrix – that fake world where anything was possible. Why, then, was the decision made to spend half of the remaining time in the purposely depressing real world?

10. Casting Daniel Radcliffe – The Woman In Black

CBS Films

Daniel Radcliffe gave a pretty damn fine performance in The Woman In Black. After we’d spent ten years getting used to him as a boy wizard, he suddenly appeared on screen a disheveled, widowed single father, yet we fully bought into it. He was a solid, relatable presence that fit the role of haunted victim very well.

But his casting hurt the film to such an extent that the finished product would have been much scarier without him. Being so intrinsically linked with Harry Potter meant Radcliffe brought with him a new audience that a ghost story a Hammer production wouldn’t normally have; teenagers and even younger. So naturally the studio were keen to get them in, leading to a film that by all reasoning should have been an R/15 toned down to become a PG-13/12A. Some region specific changes needed to be made to the film in the UK to manage that, with the image darkened and six seconds cut, but even before that the movie was compromised.

The stage version (and Susan Hill’s original novel) both had a prolonged sense of terror, but James Watkins’ film, obviously unable to do that lest the kiddies get too scared, threw in numerous jump scares to turn a night in Eel Marsh House into a momentarily startling, but mostly unaffecting experience; imagine the second act without a jolt every time the woman appears.

9. Splitting The Book In Three – The Hobbit

New Line Cinema

Strip away the made-for-film subplots and needless action set pieces and there’s a good film in The Hobbit Trilogy. It wouldn’t be perfect – the overuse of unconvincing CGI has seen to that – but a competent editor could take Peter Jackson’s officially released movies and turn out a version running less than three hours in total and much more faithful to Tolkien’s novel.

The decision to split the the book in three was allegedly done for creative decisions, although we never saw any evidence of that. Not just three movies, but three longmovies, the attempts to eke as much cash from the property as humanly possible mean there’s been so much stuffed in to justify the length that it all feels aimless. One less touched on effect of the divide is that the individual parts don’t get a proper narrative structure. All three entries of The Lord Of The Rings felt like self-sufficient installments despite being part of a bigger whole, whereas An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation Of Smaug are essentially painfully long episodes in a TV serial with a protracted release schedule; the cliffhanger may be cool, but the second film does just stop.

8. Making Mater The Protagonist – Cars 2

Pixar

In a way Cars 2 was exactly what the fans wanted. It’s just that we’re not the fans; Pixar’s sentient vehicles has always been more exclusively aimed at children than the studio’s other releases. The thing with Cars 2 is that unlike the first film, which despite its more juvenile trappings boasted an enjoyable experience for all ages, it is an objectively bad movie. The script is uncharacteristically sloppy and the jokes consistently fail to land.

The central problem is the shift in protagonist. The first film had the typical, but ultimately likeable arc of Lightning McQueen from stuck up celebrity to small town saver, but Owen Wilson’s race cartook a backseat in the sequel to Larry The Cable Guy’s Mater. A hillbilly tow truck, all Mater is is a funny voice and dumb statements; other than that his character is as rusted as his body. And with such little depth any film based around him would be equally surface level; there’s a vague attempt to comment on his stupidity, but the plot is really as dumb as its hero.

If you trace back the development of the film it becomes apparent why this happened. The idea of a spy film set in the Cars world popped into John Lasseter’s mind when promoting the first film; he kept thinking of how his creations would interact in the various countries he visited. The man behind Toy Story evidently adored his characters too much to realise their weaknesses.

7. The Length – Avatar

Paramount Pictures

You could put any film that’s way too long here, but Avatar stands out because it does very little to justify its 161 minute run time. It’s not a terrible movie, but lacks the oomph of some of James Cameron’s other films. It’s now customary for movies to skew longer, helping create the illusion of worth; the only film in the ten highest grossing films of all time to come in at less than two hours is Frozen. But often it is just padding to ensure audiences think they’re seeing something big.

This is painfully true with Avatar, a film that really doesn’t have a second act. Oh sure, it adheres to the three-act structure, but between Jake meeting the Na’vi and the humans gearing up for a final assault on the Tree of Souls there’s little narrative drive. There’re lots of musing and walks through pretty scenery, but that’s really it; you could leave the cinema for an hour and not struggle to catch up. For all its majesty, Avatar is a pretty simple story.

This is something that was picked up on and mocked relentlessly in the months following release, although it was always in reference to originality, not actual entertainment. That Cameron’s sci-fi has an identical plot to FernGully doesn’t matter when it’s a good presentation of that story. What does matter is when it’s over double the length and adds little additional stuff to proceedings.

6. Starting Filming Without A Finished Script – Men In Black 3

Columbia Pictures

There’s some unwritten rules in movie-making; ensure the audience knows where they are; always turn the camera on; make sure as much of the plot is given away in the trailer. You know, obvious stuff. But, most important of all, is don’t start shooting until you have a finished script. Promising films have totally unravelled because not only did the characters not know where the story was going, but neither did the film-makers.

This is particularly heinous for Men In Black 3, a film which heavily relies on time travel. Contrary to popular belief writing time travel is not easy and requires a full understanding of its internal logic. Men In Black 3 disregarded that to such an extent that filming had to actually be stopped half-way through so the logistics of the third act could be worked out. Yet, judging from the finished product, they didn’t do a very good job of that; in the finale their self-imposed rules are twisted and totally broken to bring us to some form of resolution. With Will Smith back and Josh Brolin delivering a spot-on take of Tommy Lee Jones the film could have been an entertaining return to form for the franchise, but instead we left the cinema asking just why Agent K always met Agent J’s father despite him needing the time travelled K to get him there in a world where Grandfather Paradoxes don’t happen.

5. Making It A Sequel – Quantum Of Solace

Eon Productions

James Bond hasn’t ran for over fifty years, overcoming repeated turns into ridiculousness, directly targeted parodies and a shift in world landscape making it seem obsolete, by making itself impenetrable to new audiences. It’s been smart, moving with not only the political, but also cinematic times and turning the periodic character recast into something of a badge of honour. And, unlike its modern counterparts – chief among them Marvel – it doesn’t rely at all on an overarching continuity.

Oh, of course there was SPECTRE running through Connery’s adventures, but that was vague at best, with each movie serving its own purpose; rather then story, it’s the general and malleable tropes that make the franchise. When Bond and M drive off in the Aston Martin DB5 at the start of Skyfall’s third act the audience chuckle. Even though most of them haven’t seen Goldfinger, they appreciate the car’s importance in the series legacy. And yet, in the late-naughties, only two years after successfully rebooting the franchise, Quantum Of Solace threw out that convention in favour of making Daniel Craig’s second outing a sequel to Casino Royale. No longer would Bond be part of a bigger story; he was a rogue forging his own adventure, with the villain a bland B-story.

The film was really hurt by its action trying desperately to capitalise on the Bourne mould, turning the granddaddy of spy films into a cheap rip-off, but it was in the confused story further stretching out the character’s origin that really made it a slog. The lesson was clearly learnt, with Skyfall switching things to not only stand-alone, but dealing with an older and more run-down Bond.

4. Jar Jar Binks – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Disney

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of comic relief in Star Wars; the supporting cast of the originals provide plenty of laughs through the trilogy. Having a major supporting character totally dedicated to comic relief, however, seems a little out of place – C-3PO’s asides never detracted from the story at large.

Of course, surrounded by yes-men, George Lucas didn’t realise he was sending his saga towards destruction. In behind-the-scenes footage he can be seen uttering “Jar Jar is the key to all this” and, while his intention is a bit faulty, the facts of that line are spot on; the film’s success really did hinge on the bumbling Gungan. Remove Jar Jar, who appears in most of the film’s major scenes, with focus directly on him eating up a disproportionate amount of the run-time (particularly in the third act) and you have a leaner film that feels more like Star Wars.

There’re obviously a lot of complaints the prequel’s detractors have and not all of them stem from Jar Jar, but as evidenced from the high levels of backlash, he’s central to many criticisms and shows how Lucas completely missed the point of what he was doing with The Phantom Menace.

3. Aliens – Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Lucasfilm

Indiana Jones is a joint venture between writer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg, with both parties having to be in total agreement of where to take the character. Which, in actuality, translates to Lucas sitting in a huff until Spielberg relents and makes whatever movie George wants. That’s why it took so long to get a fourth Indiana Jones movie; since way back in the early nineties, Lucas was adamant that the movie would deal with aliens, with a 1993 draft titled the unbelievable Indiana Jones And The Saucermen from Mars. Seriously.

Spielberg originally refused stating he was done with aliens after Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, although we think the main motivation was that it was a f**king stupid idea. And you know what? It is f**king stupid idea. And this is a series whose first entry ends with God swinging down to kill the Nazis.

It’s not that aliens don’t have a place in the Indy universe (although that is part of it), but that they don’t bring with them an inherently interesting mythology. The Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones and the Holy Grail have an exciting-yet-grounded story, which, even with the Crystal Skulls added, extra-terrestrials don’t. Maybe (and this caveat keeps Indy 4 from the top spot), had the film followed its original plan of invoking fifties B-movies rather than simply copying earlier installments, it could have worked, but it’s doubtful. Many of the film’s dumbest moments (yes, including the lead-lined fridge) come from those early ideas also, although it’s the alien one that renders the plot fundamentally uninteresting.

2. The Live Singing – Les Miserables

Universal Pictures

On the face of it it sounds like a genius idea. Instead of having the actors mime on set to pre-recorded songs, why not have them belt out the numbers there and then? You get a more honest performance (whatever that means), as well as unique selling point to trot out during the press junkets.

And, in Les Miserables defence, to some degree the conceit of the actor’s singing every line of the musical live works. Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed A Dream is certainly more impactful thanks to her belting it out rather than mouthing the words and it kinda excuses Russell Crowe’s, shall we say questionable, delivery.

But for every gain there’s a much bigger loss, with the trick making the movie feel less epic than the restricted stage musical on which it’s based. The cinematography of Les Mis comes in two flavours – so close to the actor’s face you can almost smell their breath and massive wide shots dripping with CGI – which after two and a half hours gets incredibly tired. And while this may be a creative decision made by director Tom Hooper, we’re more inclined to think it was done because of the restrictions placed on the film by the amount of recording equipment present on set; you can’t have the boom mike in shot after all.

1. Reimagining Everything – Man Of Steel

Warner Bros.

Reimagining existing properties is the bread and butter of Hollywood franchising. The Amazing Spider-Man mixed things up so much it was afraid to use “with great power comes great responsibility” and Maleficent made the self-proclaimed mistress of all evil into a wronged anti-hero, repurposing the animated Sleeping Beauty as propaganda.

The only ones who don’t seem to be getting in on the act are Marvel, who understand that audiences want to see things that are new. Shocking really. Most of this stems from the success of The Dark Knight Trilogy, which jettisoned much of what audiences expected from Batman and made things incredibly sombre (the Joker literally blows up the love interest), but misses the fact that not only was there a precedent for this in the source (Batman: Year One is as grimy, if not as enjoyable, as Nolan’s films), but it was the only way the series could continue in any legitimate way. Batman And Robin had essentially smothered the franchise with a sickening day-glow, pun-infused vibrancy that a gritty reboot was the only way forward.

No one has misunderstood this more than the studio behind those films themselves, Warner Bros. Ignoring the inevitable !*$%-up that the D.C. Cinematic Universe will be, with Man Of Steel they simply followed the Dark Knight vein of CHANGING EVERYTHING. Superman wasn’t the hippest superhero around, but simply watching Richard Donner’s first movie and going “let’s just do the exact opposite of everything” isn’t going to work. Similar, yet painfully different mythology and a sombre, fun-free tone made the whole thing a slog, with its occasional glimmers lost in the murk.

Worst of all? The one thing they kept was those bloody glasses.

 

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