Reality television has given us idols and inventors, dancers and models. Wives are swapped and race can be altered. But there seems to be little real impact with any of these scenarios. Why not place people in positions with potentially significant outcomes hanging in the balance — like offer someone the opportunity to become a studio executive? Imagine having the power to green-light and oversee movie productions that could become your studio’s blockbusters a few years down the road.
Now as a film critic, I figure I would be a likely candidate to step into the hot seat. I mean, I sit through the lion’s share of the studios’ offerings each year and I have a business degree, too, so I could also be counted on to count the millions of beans that go into the pot.
The following is a sample roster of films I would have given the thumbs up to a couple of years ago in preparation for this summer.
First up, for all the spirited, infectious fun Johnny Depp invested in Captain Jack Sparrow in Gore Verbinski’s amusement ride of a movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, what if Depp and Verbinski had opted for Elric of Melnibone, the initial installment of Michael Moorcock’s swords-and-sorcery epic exploration of his Eternal Champion? Prince Elric is the frail albino ruler of a warrior clan who must exploit the dark arts and a mysterious life-force stealing sword to survive scheming cousin Yyrkoon, who wields the dangerous twin to his own weapon.
Elric and his world would be perfectly suited to the talents of Depp because it combines the dashing action sequences of Pirates of the Caribbean with the murky hedonism of The Libertine.
(There’s a little incestuous triangle that includes Elric and his would-be empress Cymoril, Yyrkoon’s sister, which, of course, makes her Elric’s kin too, but isn’t that par for the course in most royal families?) Sex and violence copulate on the page and would surely produce onscreen offspring that would make The Lord of the Rings blush.
The six adventures that comprise the main Elric narrative offer sturdy poles to pitch a tent that could accommodate adult sensibilities. Why not give in to the truly dark side of fantasy just once?
Michael Mann revisits his 1980s television series Miami Vice on the big screen, and the feature-film treatment will allow him to delve more fully into his brand of masculine brooding and expressive action. With his recent works like Heat and Collateral, he has shown an interest in the intimate dramas and the deep-seated passions that drive men.
Mann might have done well to pick up a copy of Paul Auster’s Leviathan, a noir-ish tale of friendship and dissolving identities. At first glance, the narrative would seemingly be better suited to filmmaker Christopher Nolan with its existential pretzel logic reminiscent of Memento and his remake of Insomnia.
But Leviathan locks itself so tightly in the head of its protagonist, Peter Aaron. As he struggles to uncover the truth about his friend’s life, which he greatly envied, and the man’s mysterious death, Mann might have more success drawing him out and creating a kinetic movement through an unpredictable world of men locked in existential competition.
It’s too soon. That is what many said as the first trailers for United 93 appeared. Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center will benefit from our slow acceptance of the vividly moving Greengrass re-creation of Flight 93. Surely, though, it is high time for a look, even a largely fictional take, at the life of Martin Luther King. Novelist Charles Johnson delved into the myth with Dreamer, his account of a man who is enlisted to serve as a stand-in for King to confuse assassination plots.
The filmmakers wouldn’t have to fear besmirching the honor and image of Dr. King because he doesn’t necessarily appear as an onscreen character. But the story touches on the notion of celebrity and the political nature of the times, both then and now. And what a casting coup it would be to land Jeffery Wright, who has already taken a stab at portraying the Civil Rights icon in HBO’s Boycott.
My final choices will certainly make the first three seem like the more conventional stuff already offered by the major studios, but every roster should have a couple of counter-programming options.
Michel Gondry will be presenting The Science of Sleep a little later this summer, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is confounding audiences at the Cannes Film Festival with his Babel, which will hit the U.S. later this year. But what if one of these visionaries turned their gaze to the sound of music for inspiration? In particular, Robbie Robertson of The Band, whose last solo album, Contact from the Underworld of Redboy, captured the frisson between the Native-American spirit and our modern technological age. A film based on a song cycle would never fly during the summer — or any other time, it could be argued — but does that mean it’s not worth the effort? Either Gondry or Inarritu has the conceptual chops to weave the stories into a moving American mosaic with pointed commentary on our current immigration debate.
Finally, how about setting Nine Lives’ director Rodrigo Garcia (who also happens to be the scion of the brilliant writer Gabriel Marquez Garcia) loose on poet/novelist Sandra Cisneros’ short-story collection Loose Woman. With lines like, “I will not love like heroin, be martyr of extreme self-inflicted grief, nor romance myself into a tired ‘Fin,’ ” to serve as an entry point, Garcia’s Loose Woman could continue his exploration into the souls of women and provide an emotionally-charged antidote to the slam-bam-no-thank-you-ma’am pyrotechnics that leave more discerning demographic tastes cold.
A vote for this roster of fever dreams could unleash a creative heat wave that might warm up the big screen throughout the year. I don’t know about you, but I’m counting on a change coming soon. Hey, major studios — have your people get in touch with my people.