Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Hey, Have You Guys Met? Good Movie Ideas, I Want You To...
Posted by HandsomeStan
I see that others have tread this comedic path before me, i.e. “not really horror movies” (High School Musical, etc). However, this film I figured was my next best candidate for review for the following reasons:
1) It was the first movie I ever worked on.
2) Brad Pitt does play, after all, Death.
3) The following things about the movie can all qualify as “horrifying:” the overall box office grosses, the actors’ performances, the comparison between the budget, and the elements that that money was actually spent on, why it was spent in the first place, and to round it all out, the actual haircut Brad Pitt sports thoughout.
Take a good, long look at THAT one.
The film is loosely based on “Death Takes A Holiday” (1934) starring Fredrich March and a bunch of other people who are probably dead now. The total budget amounted to about $37.64, which in 2007 dollars converts to about $400 million. The running time was 79 minutes, which becomes important later. It did reasonably well, all things considered, and based on the fact that it fell into the category of so-so Hollywood movie from 60-plus years ago with no franchise potential and zero public clamoring for a remake, they, quite obviously, decided to remake it.
So we now jump to 1997, where Meet Joe Black has been green-lit. The actual budget ended up topping out at around $250 million (only reported as $150 or less, fearing public backlash), which based on its overall, world-wide box-office performance, ended up being one of the proportionately worst films ever made, dollar for dollar. (In 2007 dollars, $250 mil equates to about $17 trillion.) Waterworld, on the other hand, largely got trashed unnecessarily because of its $200 million budget (1st time ever...oooo!) but it at least had the decency to rip off The Road Warrior, and do an arguably pretty damn good job of doing it (big whoop - wanna fight about it?) Not so with MJB. [Sidebar: if you watch the credits (which you should do anyway because my name appears about 35 minutes into them) the director’s name is listed as Alan Smithee, something other than Martin Brest, who directed Midnight Run and a couple other good things. He was, in actual fact, the director, but after the release, he requested that his name be taken off the film and changed to a pseudonym. ‘Pseudonym,’ of course, being a French term for “I am the worst director of all time, and I am now going to go over here and disembowel myself.”]
So here I am, fresh from film school, working as a Production Assistant on this monstrosity of a movie. My very first job ever was to sit on a folding chair right outside the cavernous Hair & Make-Up tent, and, using the clicker in my hand, count how many women of the 600 we had (also 600 men), who were fully camera-ready, in their formal dresses, hair and make-up completely done. That number would determine how they set up the first shot, based on how many party guests they could see. I was clearly an integral cog in the production machine.
So, sitting there, clicking away, surrounded by Teamsters who somehow found the time to tear themselves away from their busy work to stand, arms folded, watching elegant beautiful women in evening gowns sweep through the room, I found myself reflecting on the fact that I could remain in this industry, if this is how it is. (Bear in mind I am still weeks away from discovering the “Craft Service Table,” which is the constantly-replenished snack table that you can go to at any time for a cup of coffee, donut, roast beef sandwich, hot pretzel, or what have you. [Sidebar within parentheses: on Civil Action, my next movie, the Craft Service Truck had a Hot Dog roller machine. I went from my usual 175 pounds to an unheard-of 195 pounds in six weeks.] So there was much left for me to discover on this one. And I do spend a lot of time in parentheses.)
In my downtime in the Extras Holding Tent, which could have also doubled as a Barnum & Bailey sideshow area (i.e., it was friggin huge), I read the script.
Now, I’m not much of a writer (polite humble cough), but I know when I’m reading utter tripe. Page after page of this movie unfolded before my eyes, and the only thought that kept occurring to me was, “They are spending this much money on THIS?” I was just a fresh-faced film student, but if I were suddenly given $200 million to make Whatever I Wanted, this movie would probably rank somewhere near the Absolutely Very Last Thing I Would Ever Even Consider, right below a remake of The Poseidon Adventure. (“The world is crying out for it! It must be done!”) Better to spend the money on Jessica Alba, sitting in a bikini, reading the entire contents of the phone book for two hours. (“Ahem. Aaron Aaronson. 212 555-1234, etc.”)
Overall, one could describe my reaction as “horrified.” (Gotta try to tie it back in somehow…)
So, on to the review. This movie clocks in at 173 minutes, which is 94 minutes beyond what the original took to tell the same story. As some reviewer put it: “At the 79-minute mark, when Death Takes A Holiday has already finished, Meet Joe Black still has yet to have anything significant actually happen.” The movie itself is beautifully photographed by Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubeski, but you could beautifully photograph a dog pooping by a tree and it still doesn’t change what you’re looking at.
And the lighting: the guy had six or seven separate cranes, each at least 150 feet in extended length, being used for the sole purpose of throwing simulated “moonlight” on trees way in the distance of the background of the close-ups of Brad and Claire. I was flabbergasted at this seemingly obvious (to everyone but me) hemorrhaging of money. The amount of manpower, equipment, and lighting gear used simply to make the tops of trees look like they had a moon shining down on them is absolutely, utterly absurd, and in a word, horrifying.
The way to watch this movie and not be horrified (such a staple of Horrorthon) is to start the movie, enjoy the performances and the set-up for the first 20 minutes up until Brad Pitt's body gets really fucking creamed by two different bits of crosstown traffic in NYC (an impressive shot), and then fast-forward five and a half hours to the tail end of the credits, where my name goes scrolling up the screen as one of eight Production Assistants. Brilliant viewing.
And Claire Forlani is one of the unsung total hotties out there in Hollywood. An ass you could bounce a quarter off of. She looks great in this one, but the ensuing years haven’t been so kind to her. But, here, she’s pretty goddamn hot.
And two other things that were really cool: 1) that picture above of Jessica Alba. Jesus H. Christ. And, ah, B), for an entire week, from 11pm until 5am, we blew up some of the largest fireworks displays I have ever seen at the lowest altitudes I have ever seen. Residents kept complaining, but we kept blowing shit up. All week long. One of the producers actually got on the walkie-talkie at one point and asked the 1st A.D. if there were any extras actually on fire. THAT'S how low they were. Totally awesome shit. Oh, and I guess 3) as well: the flights landing at T.F. Green Airport were coming directly over the set on Day 1, so they called the F.A.A. and RE-ROUTED all incoming flights to Providence for a month and a half. Now THAT'S moviemaking. Still doesn't justify the total crap movie, though.
And JPX, thanks for your help today. I’ve been running a daily Super-Hard Star Wars Trivia Contest at work, and once October is over I’ll share some of the questions with everybody on this site. Last Friday’s was damn near impossible to solve, unless you happenend to be me…
Meet Joe Black as a film - what's the smallest fraction of a star? .01 *
One particular moment several dozen minutes into the credits - *****
ps. shameless personal plug: these last few weeks, my name is crawling up movie screens across the country (as the 2nd 2nd Assistant Director) on 2 films: Gone Baby Gone and Michael Clayton. Go see 'em. In between viewing countless horror movies.
at 5:42 PM