The best filmmakers will give a film a distinctive style that will make it stand out from others. Think Wes Anderson’s quirky miniatures, Zack Snyder’s, albeit sometimes excessive, use of slow motion, Alfonso Cuaron’s love of the long take, and JJ Abrams utilization of lens flares. We admire these filmmakers because of the grand visions they’ve graced the silver screen with, many changing our lives or redefining the world for us. More importantly, these directors bridge the gap between the lowest common denominator studio cash-magnet film and an eccentric “artsy” indie film. This region of creativity is fading, making room for a new breed of stagnant, impotent directors who exist only to serve the studio’s agenda. The era of creative-but-commercial directors is nearly at a halt, and the era of strictly commercial directors is almost upon us.
Hollywood’s best and brightest directors are stuck making other people’s movies, mainly your clichéd blockbuster. Close to 90% of such films are sequels or remakes. Consequently, any director trying to make a name for themselves are stuck abiding by an already laid-out template and the big name directors studios aim to attract will have their hands tied throughout the process.
For example, great directors like Jon Favreau and James Wan are slated to direct upcoming projects that aren’t their own and will no doubt have every aspect already controlled and mapped out by their respective studios. Favreau will be directing the sequel to this year’s live action Jungle Book film, as well as a live action Lion King, and Wan is slated to direct the silver screen debut of the most made fun of superhero, Aquaman, in 2018. Because both The Jungle Book and Lion King already have established universes, characters, and stories, Favreau will no doubt be left little wiggle room for adding his own creative flair, and his hands will be further tied by Disney making sure their properties aren’t misrepresented and will appeal to the widest range of audiences. Similarly, Wan will be restricted creatively, as Aquaman also has an established continuity, world, characters, and stories that DC and Warner Brothers will no doubt be very attentive to, while meddling in his creative process to make sure the film doesn’t turn out to be a flop like their two most recent films, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. Their potential and creativity is almost wasted on these projects.
Mentioned before was David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, DC’s latest entry into their rushed together cinematic universe attempting to rival but mostly take advantage of the popularity of the “Marvel movie”. Thanks to much interference from Warner Bros, Ayer’s vision of a darker, more cohesive and edgier version of the squad was canned due to the overwhelming positive reaction to the films second trailer which used the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody. Re shoots were scheduled to make the film more in line with the tone presented in the trailer, distorting Ayer’s original vision into one synonymous with a cookie cutter Marvel movie (*cough* Guardians of the Galaxy *cough*). In the interest of making the film the most consumable piece of media possible, and therefore the most money, Ayer’s vision for the film was lost to the studios pursuits of profit and universal appeal. Ayer maintains that the theatrical cut of the film was his cut, but the fact that the trailer studio was hired to make a cut of the movie and the films inconsistent tone and pacing tell otherwise.
Like it’s predecessor, Suicide Squad got an extended edition release on Blu-ray, which brings us to our final telling sign of creativity dwindling at the director’s chair. Many, like Blade Runner: The Final cut are adored, while others like the Star Wars special edition trilogy are despised. Essentially, these extended editions, or directors cuts, are just a marketing tactic by the studio to make more money. The aim is to coax people into buying the same film they enjoyed with a few additional scenes. Alien director Ridley Scott has said that the theatrical cut of Alien is his cut, and the extended editions were just a marketing ploy. In addition to Suicide Squad, two other big budget blockbuster movies – Batman v Superman and Ghostbusters- had extended edition editions released. These made up for the plot holes and lack of character development in each film. Studios have realized they can make up to double the profit by releasing a terrible film in theaters followed by a marginally better version branded as an extended edition on Blu-ray.
The directors vision of a cohesive film is dismantled by the studios. The work of the director is cut down to be the most consumable piece of media possible, and all the feeling, style, intrigue, and soul of the film intended by the director is lost.
Every director exists on a scale from imaginatively inimitable to universally consumable, and the best fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Due to studios scale tilting in favor of profit over artistic value, the creative integrity of film and those that make it great is slowly going away.