Today, I'm slipping on the long rubber gloves and breaking my scalpels of analysis and sarcasm to perform autopsies on two currently famous flops.
Wheel in the first patient....
CASE #1: THE FIFTH ESTATE: This film is about Julian Assange and the rise of Wikileaks from Dreamworks and Disney with British rising star Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role of Assange. The film died a horrible death at the box office, pulling in one of the worst per-screen averages for a wide release seen in a long time.
This is despite a big money ad campaign, and reams of publicity, hoping to make the film not only a hit, but an Oscar contender.
WHY WAS IT A BAD IDEA?: There are those who dislike Assange, true, but there are also those who support Assange. So why didn't they go to see the movie? Because nobody seems to actually like Assange as a person, even if they support his goals of publishing the secrets of countries that won't assassinate him.
If people already think they know about as much of his story as they think they can stand then they need to have some one of two things to make them want to see the movie. An emotional connection, or a deep interest in the main character.
Take the movie Gandhi for example. Ask the average early 80s movie-goer about Mahatma Gandhi and while they may not know much about his life, they associate positive notions to him. The studio then marketed the film as an uplifting emotional experience, and it paid off big time.
Now I'm not saying you can't make a movie about a "bad boy" or "antihero" but if you do that person must be INTERESTING.
Assange just strikes most people as a creepy, often hypocritical, opportunist and possible sex-offender. He's not really interesting enough to carry a big screen bio-pic. Those who oppose his work, find him and a film about him too repulsive to pay money to see, and those who support his goals find him and his story too boring. Especially when the commercials portray the film about him as a sort of action thriller-meets-hagiography, whether the actual film really was or not.
WHY DID SOMEONE THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA?: This is where Hollywood's tendencies for isolation and group-think affect decisions.
Do a survey of the residents of the Axis of Ego and you will discover that the overwhelming majority vote the same way, support the same causes, and rarely encounter anyone that thinks differently from them. On the rare occasions they do, they just assume that the outsider has something wrong with them.
They think Assange must be interesting to everyone because he doesn't like the same things they don't like, they also believe their own way-unrealistic portrayals of the CIA, and they honestly believe the mainstream audience agrees with them about everything.
HOW CAN SUCH THINGS BE PREVENTED?: A little common sense. Which means that such things will never be prevented.
CASE 2: IRONSIDE: NBC revived the 1960-1970s series about a wheelchair bound detective, only to see it crash and burn horribly being cancelled after only a few episodes.
WHY WAS IT A BAD IDEA?: Here's what I think is what happened at NBC the day they decided to green-light Ironside.
PRES: We need show ideas! But nothing too original! Original is wrong!
VICE-PRES: How about Ironside, except this time around, we make him young, sexy, and black. It's guaranteed to be a hit!
PRES: Brilliant! You're fired so I can claim the idea as my own!
Now let's look at the facts of the original show.
The original Ironside starred Canadian legend Raymond Burr as a Chief of Detectives for the San Francisco PD crippled by a sniper's bullet. The premise was that he was an old-school authority figure who now depended on a team of modern young people to help him fight crime and prove that he was worth just as much as an able-bodied detective. It was as much as the differences of generations as it was about the case of the week.
Ironside was about the wisdom of age and experience being partnered with the energy of youth and how working together made both better.
Now making the Ironside character young and sexy kind of tosses the premise out of the window. It's like doing a remake of Fawlty Towers, without Basil Fawlty (which actually happened).
But even the original premise probably wouldn't fly today since the war over the generation gap ended with the complete surrender of the baby-boom generation.
WHY DID SOMEONE THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA?: Because the people running big 4 TV networks are all scared of being fired.
This fear says that they should avoid originality, because originality is dangerous. The only safe thing it to get something vaguely familiar and hope that the familiarity will sell it. Even when it tanks, which happens pretty regularly, they can always say: "Don't blame me, we did all we could."
HOW CAN SUCH THINGS BE PREVENTED?: Only if the mainstream networks decide to fully follow their cable brethren and go whole hog for creativity over fear.
That's not to say that a remake or a revival can't work. It is possible. However, the people doing the remake/revival must have something more behind the premise than just making the lead younger and sexier.