Over the last couple of months, a number of outspoken voices amongst the cinematic community have come out claiming that commercial filmmakers frequently undermine, patronise and belittle their audiences. Case study one – at the Venice Film Festival last month, Colin Firth claimed the film industry underestimates audiences’ intelligence and capacity for concentration in response to questions […]

Over the last couple of months, a number of outspoken voices amongst the cinematic community have come out claiming that commercial filmmakers frequently undermine, patronise and belittle their audiences.

Case study one – at the Venice Film Festival last month, Colin Firth claimed the film industry underestimates audiences’ intelligence and capacity for concentration in response to questions asking whether his new thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, would be a hit given its intricate plot. Case study two – much-loved critic Mark Kermode recently wrote an article vilifying those big-budget producers who cynically ignore intellectual filmmaking, citing Inception as an example of a blockbuster that can bring in crowds without alienating them. Case study three – The Inbetweeners Movie, a film so simple and banal that its assured place at the top of the box office almost certainly signals the de-evolution of today’s youth (and yes, I’ve actually seen it – it’s every bit as delinquent and generic as predicted).

But despite this criticism, there is one thing we can thank those four sex-starved teens for and that’s the toppling of their American competition in the UK market, most notably Cowboys and Aliens, which made a measly £1.8 million in its opening weekend. Nothing fills me with more joy than seeing an overly marketed, Hollywood pyrotechnics show be crushed by ‘one of our very own’ (spare me this moment of unfashionable patriotism – the opportunity is too rare). It is equally joyous when a film with no beneficial purpose to its audience or society manages to destroy itself, without aid, prompt or competition from another picture. I’m talking about those films that unintentionally defy logic, wholeheartedly embrace cliché or are manufactured as a marketable commodity.

Before we digress into the past, one film released this year deserves a mention. Suitably named The Worst Movie Ever! – no, seriously – an ingenious mix of ‘robot aliens, angst-ridden teens, cleavage-wielding soul takers, dark overlords, pregnant 14-year-old cougars, macho scientists and Santa Claus couldn’t stop this confused character cocktail from only bringing in $11 at the box office, meaning only one person saw it. But let us now turn our gaze to one of those stars that refuses to let integrity or talent hamper his one-man quest to make the most unprofitable, terrible films in cinema history. That man is Kevin Costner.

Having reached a career high with The Untouchables, poor Kevin couldn’t face competing with his own high standards. Instead he opted to spend the next decade starring in some of the most uneconomical and poorly received films in history. This mayhem culminated in 1997, when Warner Bros allowed Costner to direct himself in the mawkish post-apocalyptic The Postman, brilliantly satirised in The Simpsons as Costner, a former postman, aimlessly wandering around a desert delivering people suspect packages that contain the concept of ‘hope’. The film lost $62 million at the box office and Costner’s career has been doomed to failure ever since.

From the ambitiously inadequate to the religiously misguided – Mitsu Haru Ishii to be exact, keen follower of South Korea’s Unification Church and aspiring film producer. After receiving a message from God and deciding against Jesus and Elvis biopics, Ishii chose to focus on American General Douglas MacArthur and the plight of the Korean people under his stern control during the war of the 50s in Inchon. Ishii’s strategy was fairly questionable. First he secured a $46 million budget from the leader of his church. Then he hired down-and-out actor Laurence Olivier to play the lead role for $1 million, convinced the US Department of Defense to aid the filming – a collaboration which resulted in mass protests – and felt the need to completely fictionalise the apparent factual-grounding of the film. He chose to lead the marketing campaign by quoting the long-deceased General MacArthur, supposedly contacted through a psychic, who gave his full consent to the making of the film and endorsed its authenticity. The list of insane film production techniques is endless and as a result it made less than $2 million at the box office, becoming one of the biggest financial
failures in film history.

Another trend in this ill-fated world of flops is those films that anticipate future blockbuster fads. Perhaps the most tragic of all of these unintentional trendsetters is Delgo, a film ten years in the making and with a budget of $40 million. The story tells of a group of friends who try to stop a feud between two clans on their planet motivated by diminished environmental resources. It is an animation featuring strange-looking protagonists, flying beasts and levitating platforms in the clouds. The production was often hampered as the producers ‘leaked’ some of the dailies during the film’s production. Rather than creating a suitable amount of buzz among the paying public, it caught the attention of members of the industry, who used the provisional film clips to poach talent from the film’s production team. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Weeks before its release, Delgo was unlucky enough to be obscured and overshadowed by the first teaser trailers for the momentous Avatar, which offered all the appealing features of Delgo plus ‘revolutionary’ 3D and a gargantuan marketing budget. There was no competition and the rest, they say, is history.

Alex Keegan.