When you have a savage audience of devoted fans for a character before a camera rolls, why is it the studio system seems unable to avoid sticking their noses where they don't belong.
The biggest films hitting screens in the 00’s are about superheroes. The Marvel Universe, the anticipated DC Universe, the various graphic novel adaptations of everything from Kingsman, Arrow to The Walking Dead. Most of these films and series are successful but every so often we are delivered a stillborn fetus leaving us to ask why? 2015 has given us the embryonic Fantastic Four as well as the behind the scenes documentary The Death Of “Superman Lives” What Happened? by John Campea, both showing how the studio system is potentially ruining some of the comic books we love.
Going back through the stinkers like Batman And Robin and Green Lantern we get to 1995’s Tank Girl for a how-to guide in studio interference and lost opportunities. Conceived by director Rachel Talalay from the the comic strip created by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett in the early 90’s for British publication Deadline, Tank Girl continues to hold a cult following for both its incarnations but is generally regarded as a steaming pile of manure after the studio and creative came to blows over the film. For the uninitiated Tank Girl takes place in a post apocalyptic Australian outback where water is in short supply and a tyrannical corporation looks to control what is left (no, this is 1995’s Tank Girl, not Mad Max), our lead Rebecca is a feisty Riot Grrrl type with a passion for high powered artillery and a sense of humour only matched by Deadpool. Armed with a Courtney Love curated soundtrack and Stan Winston make-up, Tank Girl should have been the perfect anti-heroine for 90’s grunge culture. Alas the diluted final product saw the studio, MGM edit out much of the grit such as interspecies eroticism, sex toy background props and submissive sexual dialogue. Budgetary restrictions and editing even resulted in Martin and Hewlett having to deliver animated segments for the film, a film which they now regret and distance themselves from. The final product is enjoyable, but knowing where studios are willing to go now and what might have been, it is a disappointment.
Twenty years and dozens of films later we have seen another case of studio involvement ruining a potentially enjoyable film. Fantastic Four is a bomb. It may still be pulling audiences but from almost all other angles, the film is a failure from what it could and should have been. Now seemingly a Hollywood outcast having been removed from a Star Wars film, Josh Trank has been very vocal that his creative vision was not allowed to flourish on Fantastic Four. Studio edits late in the game, forced script rewrites and a changing budget have been discussed as reasons for the films incomplete feel and abrupt conclusion. The suggestion that four major action pieces were removed from the film due to creative direction from the studio explain why the film is lacking focus and jumps around to no real success. The cast of the film, the tone and many of the nods to the original source material signalled a successful film, but most will sight Fantastic Four as a nearly dead commodity after another failed pregnancy for the historic property.
Both Tank Girl and Fantastic Four suffered at the hands of over-zealous studios thinking they knew best what would sell and instead corrupting a creative vision. We find the same thing in almost all failures of superhero and graphic novel adaptations. Alan Moore’s reluctance to be involved in Watchmen has lead many to lament over what could have been of Zach Synder’s epic recreation (Note: I personally love Watchmen, but it’s hard to turn a corner of the internet without finding someone tearing it down). Green Lantern saw the studio go behind director Martin Campbell’s back in hiring Ryan Reynolds instead of Bradley Cooper for the role, leading to tension on set and Reynolds to disown the film as well as multiple script rewrites that looked to set up a franchise for Warner Bros and ultimately dooming the film to mockery. John Campea’s documentary The Death Of “Superman Lives” is a stunning expose of studio interference in comic book properties as grey haired men play in convention and lack understanding of the very things that comic book fans would want to see on the screen. While earlier failures may be forgiven for the studio’s requirement to appeal to a wider audience, more recent failures like Green Lantern and Fantastic Four are unforgivable with a built in audience and hordes on the internet reacting to every little whisper.
Is it just the nature of the business that studio’s will mess with creative vision. We saw Edgar Wright leave Antman due to creative issues and there are likely many more over the years we have not heard about. Should studios step back and let the people who clearly love the original texts have creative control over their films? Do studios need to be more vigilant and overarching like Marvel has been to create its almost perfect universe? Is it possible to keep serving up Guardians Of The Galaxy without having the occasional Iron Man 3?
I personally believe that it is inevitable that there will be a downturn in the genre, as money looms king, the green light will shine on wide ranging properties and while Marvel is likely to maintain a consistent tone and universal story line, many studios will prefer speed and big names to drive box office. We will see repetition and loss of artistic vision in the genre, but hopefully it will bring us some smaller directors into bigger budgets (Matthew Vaughn please stand up) and help launch the careers of some younger men and women (RDJ is fine, but i’m more interested in Miles Teller). For the moment though any superhero film is getting my money. But seeing how the studio ruined Fantastic Four, maybe ill pay even more attention to who is calling the final shots before i get emotionally invested in it.