You’ve raised an important point a lot of people are ignoring. You can’t judge a person’s skill as a director in terms of their skills as a writer. A person can write a good script and do a bad job of directing it or vice versa.
The thing with Smith is he recognizes his limitations. He openly admits there are directorial skills he’s weak at. So he generally avoids movies that require those skills. When he sticks with what he’s good at, he makes good movies.
And to tie two thoughts together.
Before “Signs” came out. MNS was talking about doing a horror film with the following premise, “Imagine a Godzilla film, but from the perspective of the people on the ground.” That’s not really “Signs”…but it does more closely resemble another film.
To a large extent, this is driven by the fans. They want a static situation where James Kirk has always been the Captain of the Enterprise and always will be the Captain of the Enterprise, from the day he graduated from Starfleet Academy to the day he died fifty years later. It forces writers to create a completely unrealistic career arc for the character. And then repeat it several times over to lock all the other characters into a single position for life.
But it is the writer’s duty (yes, duty) to challenge and excite his audience rather than just pander to them. The original Wrath of Khan is a prime example of this; instead of just making just a movie that was an extended episdoe of Star Trek, Sowards and Bennett drafted a story which explored the themes of aging, regret, and responsibility. The result is a film that, while a rollicking popcorn muncher, also makes a much deeper connection to the audience, in which they can see in Kirk and others the flaws they see in themselves, and which serves to destory the mythology of Kirk-as-hero while elevating him as a flawed but noble protagonist. And that thematic depth was largely responsible for completely revitalizing Star Trek as a viable franchise as well as making it interesting an accessible beyond the science fiction community. It’s not just a good Star Tre film; it’s an actually good film with an engaging story and character development to accompany the (then impressive) visual effects.
Abrams reboot and the excrable sequel completely miss on that. Sure, they “develop” the characters but only in the broadest and most superficial manner possible and the viewer only gets the lampshading by knowledge of the previous series, e.g. that Pike was the former captain who Kirk will rescue and will end up in a wheelchair, that Spock is in conflict over his dual nature, et cetera ad nausum. Instead of creating a new mythology or taking the characters in a genuinely new direction, he’s just “rebooted” the franchise by casting younger, prettier people, pumping up the action scenes, and throwing in so many artifical lens flairs that you can’t tell what the fuck is going on most of the time. Basically, it is the equivalent of remaking Raiders of the Lost Ark by having Indy have to face off against Nazi snake cultists with a fleet of jet-powered flying wings who are actually aliens searching for the Titulus Crucis which explains how to turn the Ark of the Covenant into a supernova bomb. Oh, and Amber Tambylin would be castas Marion and featured in multiple rack shots just to ensure that he covers the 13 year old pubescent boy demographic, which seems to be the intellectual level at which his films are aimed.
On the other hand, his films make a shitton of money, albeit with the benefit of saturation marketing campaigns rivaling the introduction of “New Coke”. So…good for him and his bankers. But it doesn’t make his films good by any artistic or critical standard.
Funnily, I think you’re being a little hard on Abrams and (lol) not giving enough props to ST: TWOK. I know you said it’s actually a good film…I think it’s actually a GREAT film. Fantastic soundtrack, great performances from Shatner and Montlebon (“Buried alive. Burrrried allllive.”)
And there ain’t a GD thing wrong with Amber Tamblyn!
Here, the real problem with Abrams ST films is this:…besides the already mentioned artificial use of Khan (I AM KHAN!!..Kirk: who? Spock? Spock: I got nuthin.) They totally should have had Khan be some random augment, and the final shot of the film being Harrison put back in his pod and some shadowy figure rolling away the pod labeled “Khan”…
The real problem is Kirk and Spock’s roles are reversed. Who gets the best scenes in ST (2009)? Spock. The stuff on Vulcan as a child. Really, really good stuff. Spock’s action beam down to save his parents? Good stuff. Kirk is the comic relief. With all his screaming and running around.
Now onto ST:ID. Who outsmarts Khan? Who gets the world’s biggest fanboy fight scene ever filmed? Spock. And Kirk? he can’t even annoy Khan. Kirk becomes so impotent, that he kills himself because he can’t stand to be humiliated any more.
So overall I agree with you, but…I think the generally held view is correct: Well-acted considering what they had to work with, and…yes…what they’ve done is cannibalize TOS to make two entertaining (IMO) films.* But they are entertaining, and frankly a lot of scenes look gorgeous.
*Hey, I’m the first person to say that there is nowhere for this franchise to go. The Kirk-Spock relationship is more of bickering spouses than brothers. McCoy has been replaced by Uhura. Scotty shares comic relief with Kirk. At least Sulu got elevated…unless they made a TV series with these actors. I would totally be down with that.
I think I heard Pine discussing an idea that in the third film, Khan’s blood makes Kirk more aggressive and out of control. So Khan’s blood is making you eeeevilll? Yeah…great idea Pine.
edit: I think his Star Wars film is going to be really good, if they can avoid doing something stupid like cloning the Emperor or bringing back Vader. I’m sure he’ll be more in touch with what made SW and ESB good films than Lucas was.
Oh, sure, set the bar low.
I have a hard time accepting this claim. I don’t see how a writer has any duty to the audience. And even if there is a duty, I don’t see challenging the audience as that duty. I think you could make a better argument that if a writer has a duty, it’s to entertain the audience - and sometimes that means feeding them the same old shit.
Well Directing has so many dimensions that someone can be good in one area and horrible in another, like Lucas. I think Lucas is very good at pacing and vision, but he is absolutely horrible at directing the actors. He writes pretty bad dialogue, but it is made even more horrible from his inability to get anything from his actors.
Any hack can feed an audience “the same old shit”; someone who wants to be a good writer and director will find originality and thematic depth in the work, even if they are working in a well-worn genre; e.g. Nugent and Ford with The Searchers, Kasden and Spielberg with Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jeb Stuart and John McTiernan with Die Hard, et cetera.
To use an example, a film like Galaxy Quest is a lightheared romp, but it is also a very well constructed parody/homage/extension of the space opera genre that challenges the viewer to keep up, and that makes it a great film with rewatchability and themes that are deeper than just shallow (if enterining) jabs at improbable plot devices like the “chompers” and the autodestruct feature that always stops at 1 second. One can say the same about a film like Ted or Men In Black or any number of other comedic crowd pleasers which are still outstanding films on a critical level. Just because a film is a not some deep brooding piece about the plight of an orphan in some dog-foresaken Central Asian country doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be help up to critical standards of consistency, originality, effective character development, et cetera. Lazy characterization, sloppy writing and hacktastic direction is what it is regardless of the genre it is being expressed in, and Abrams is lazy, sloppy, and hacktastic regardless of how much his films make or how many studio heads he convinces to let him run their franchises off the rails.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending Abrams. His version of Star Trek was an terrible movie (and I’m not a big Star Trek fan - I thought rebooting the series was a good idea in principle).
I’m just saying that good filmmakers can line up the old tropes, give them a good shake, and make an entertaining movie out of them. I like original ideas but I’d rather watch a well-made reuse of old ideas than a sloppy use of original ones.
Late to the party, to be sure, but I’d also have to say M. Night Shyamalan—if only from what I’ve seen of his work on The Last Airbender. Yikes.
(Unless you believe in the moonbat theory that he loved the series so much, but was so sure Hollywood would never get it right, that he secretly got the job just so he could deliberately make such a lousy movie that no one would ever dare make an adaptation of it again, knowingly torpedoing his own career in the process.
Far-fetched, to be sure. Especially since it would mean he was actually the greatest director of all time. One who made his life into the work of art.)
And I was going to put in a word of defense for Brett Ratner—until, double checking, I find that I’ve only actually ever seen two of his movies. Both ones I liked, or at least didn’t hate. Most of the others looked like things I’d never watch in my life. Huh.
Maybe those two flicks were just the ones he did while he was on medication, or something. Or off it. Well, y’know what they say about broken clocks…
This is a whole other thread, but I absolutely agree 100%. And too few people in the Industry seem to recognise this fundamental factor.
JJ’s two Star Trek movies score 95% and 87% on rotten tomatoes. Is that not a good film by critical standards?
These all sound like problems with the writing, not directing, but I admit I’m not really sure how much a director changes the basics or details of a script.
It makes me question the critical standards, truth be told.
I’m going to throw Christopher Nolan into the pot. Dude cannot direct an action scene. He sets up these big, complicated scenes between two opposing groups attacking or fighting each other – but then films them so incoherently that I have no effin’ clue which group is which. Wait, am I rooting for those guys to scale that icy wall, or am I rooting for the other guys to repel them? No idea. Drives me effin’ nuts.
Can’t disagree with Twicks. Nolan’s struck me lately as someone who’s getting by on reputation and the ability to create mood.
For all the love they get, Nolan’s three Batman movies are messes saved by some good - and one great - performance from the villains. In each of them the plot wanders, logical fallacies abound and threads are unresolved. It’s like he doesn’t really care that much about created a MOVIE so much as creating the FEEL of a movie that people will like. Memento was very good, and clearly took a lot of planning and thinking, but afterwards he seems to not have spent the time.
That just means they are popular eye candy. People–even movie critics–tend to relax their critical sensibility when it comes to something they are predisposed to like, and Star Trek comes with an existing built-in fan base that the Abrams reboot is specifically designed to pander to, hence why they occur in an alternate reality rather than just completely rebooting the franchise. But if you had no backstory on the characters and missed on the lamp shading, the films are significantly less ‘clever’ and are poorly constructed. I literally walked out of the 2009 Star Trek saying, “I enjoyed it better when it was called Galaxy Quest,” because it used so many of the ridiculous tropes that had been thoroughly skewered in that 1999 film. And the ‘red matter–it does everything you need!’ is such a sloppy, lazy, borderline comedic plot device that they might as well just have called it the Omega-13 device.
Now, I’ll have to admit that I’ve studied scriptwriting, and therefore have a more critical opinion of lazy plotting and the overuse of applied phlebotinum to get out of the corner the writers have painted themselves into, which the Star Trek franchise has been guilty of since the first episode, and in general is massively overused in science fiction film and television in general. I’m also not a particular fan of Star Trek, which occasionally rises above the mean but generally just perpetuates the standard science fiction tropes. It’s good for Abrams that he can get away with people offering him dumptrucks of cash for creating flashy eye candy and relying on comparison and lampshading the previous franchise to avoid having to establish a new and consistent backstory for his universe all by conveniently saying that it occurs in an alternate but similar timeline. But it doesn’t make it good writing or excuse his spastastic directing style, or otherwise make it them anything more than transitorily entertaining films. And at least directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich admit they are making high priced schlock to fill cinema seats, and don’t come in with any pretension that they are making any kind of great art, whereas in nearly every interview with Abrams he seems to buy into his own press that he’s the next DeMille, Kubrick, or Spielberg, when really, he is a hack with approximately zero original ideas and no ability to finish a story.
It depends on the situation. In some cases, the director is just brought into to interpret a script and direct the cast. In the case of Abrams and Star Trek, it is clear he has a large measure of creative control as to what goes on screen and how the characters and story are fleshed out. And to be fair, he makes flashy movies that are quite popular with the vast majority of the public who don’t really care about or pay much attention to the story, so he’s doing the job that movie executives–who only care about the bottom line take–want. So of course he is getting more work. But from any thematic or critical sense, his work is a long string of inchoate crap in which he has never really resolved major plot developments (Alias, Lost) or has relied upon lazy plotting and prior characterization (Super 8, Mission Impossible 3, Star Trek) to carry the films.
You’re way off base Stranger. I don’t particularly care for the direction that Abrams has taken the new Star Trek franchise, but they are critically acclaimed and well loved movies.