Saturday, June 13, 2015

World of Trevorrow

Or, Trevorrowland, if you prefer.

I'm going to see Jurassic World on Sunday night, and have considered it one of this summer's movies I'm most excited to see. (And I haven't let a highly negative review from two different acquaintances unduly poison my anticipation.)

However, being excited about it has required overcoming, or even forgetting about, some of my initial trepidation regarding the movie.

Namely, that it was being directed by the guy who directed Safety Not Guaranteed.

Both because I didn't like Safety Not Guaranteed, and because even if I had, it wouldn't have seemed like the type of platform to launch a director into the stratosphere of tent-pole, A-list directors.

Indeed, Colin Trevorrow has not made any feature film other than Safety, whose only claim to the arena of big-budget blockbusters is its high concept. If you haven't seen it or don't know, it's the story of a newspaper reporter (Aubrey Plaza) who tracks down a man (Mark Duplass) who has placed a personal ad, trying to find someone to travel through time with him. She intends to write a quirky story about him, but disguises her identity as a journalist and of course ends up falling for him. Hijinks ensue.

Weirdly, the film contains almost no special effects, and is really an indie movie in pretty much every aspect except for the fact that its subject matter does not usually appear in indie movies. Why Universal thought this alone was reason to hand Trevorrow one of its most ripe for rebooting franchises is anyone's guess.

It was one of an inexplicable series of directing announcements around the same time, all involving people who didn't seem to have earned the big shot they were getting. I think also of Josh Trank, director of the shitty found footage movie Chronicle, who was handed the keys to both the Fantastic Four reboot and a standalone Star Wars movie. Word about Fantastic Four has already not been good, which is one of the rumored reasons he was yanked from the Star Wars movie last month. (He says he chose to leave "in order to pursue something original." Because, you know, most people just walk away from a Star Wars movie.) At least Chronicle had some legit special effects and big canvas ideas, even if the acting was shitty and the adherence to the found footage conceit was basically nil.

So "World of Trevorrow" is not just a clever play on words, though it is also that, if I do say so myself. (And I imagine it has already been used plenty of other times on the web, but I came up with it without seeing any of those other usages.) It's also a description of the state of Hollywood right now, where the world is the oyster of people like Trevorrow and Trank, and others whose names do not begin with "Tr." Hollywood execs seem -- or at least, seemed a few years ago -- to be desperately in search of someone hip, someone cutting edge, someone who could "become the next big thing," someone they want to get to before he or she actually becomes the next big thing.

Well, it seems a course correction could be underway, if not already, then after the probable tanking of both Jurassic World and Fantastic Four. There's a reason studio bosses have always entrusted their expensive commodities to proven directors, or at least directors who are more proven than Trevorrow and Trank. There's a lot of money on the line, so having a vision is not enough. Knowing how to manage a crew and relate to actors is also a big part of it, and that only comes with time and experience.

It's the mid-range gambles that have worked better. As much as I was underwhelmed by this movie, another Chris Pratt movie, there's no arguing that Marvel made an excellent decision in hiring James Gunn to direct Guardians of the Galaxy. That was certainly a leap forward for Gunn, and likely a step outside his comfort zone, but at least Gunn had already directed two features in thematically similar genres, in addition to having written a bunch of scripts. Yet more established, but still a fairly unlikely candidate for the job he got, was Joss Whedon on the two Avengers movies. In fact, Marvel is all about this, with the Russo brothers on Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well. For whatever reason -- the guiding hand of the studio in the creative process, perhaps -- these have all worked out.

Since we've already been talking Star Wars, it's worth noting that Star Wars is more or less following this approach. J.J. Abrams directing The Force Awakens was kind of a perfect combination of cutting edge and established -- he's already helmed a number of successful movies (including two in the other biggest sci-fi series, Star Trek), but he doesn't feel like the kind of guy an octogenarian studio boss (theoretical though this octogenarian studio boss might be) would choose to restart the franchise under Disney. Rian Johnson, the director of Episode VIII, is slightly more of a step into unknown territory, though I'd argue that the construction of Looper was so confident that it probably put to rest any nerves the studio had about his fitness for the job.

Because I must be some kind of masochist, I will see my fourth straight Jurassic Park movie -- and probably the third straight I will not like -- in the theater on Sunday night.

For the sake of my own prospective enjoyment, I hope I'm wrong about Colin Trevorrow.

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