Spoiler Alert! “Don Draper Shot ‘The Lone Ranger,’” Evangeline Morphos, a TV and theater professor at Columbia writes at the Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog:
Hollywood analysts are all stumped: How could the dynamic directors Marc Forster, Roland Emmerich, and Gore Verbinski have been so wrong? Why aren’t audiences flocking to see Brad Pitt, Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, and Johnny Depp? Some of these budgets clocked in at around a quarter of a billion dollars. What went wrong?
Well–look at the scripts!
Over the past ten years television has trained audiences to expect better writing—better storytelling. Character-driven epics—”The Sopranos,” “Oz,” “The Wire,” “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men,” which explores the life of ad man Don Draper—have become part of the national conversation. The Writer/Executive Producer is the new star of Hollywood–David Chase, Tom Fontana, Matthew Weiner, David Simon, and Aaron Sorkin.
“Homeland” has led us to expect a level of character development and tension that is not met by the confused and sometimes mawkish screenplay of “White House Down.” We’ve had a Shakespearean view of the wild west and a new justice code provided for us by David Milch’s “Deadwood” that leaves “The Lone Ranger,” in the words of one critic, seeming “odd.” And as far as the zombie apocalypse goes—”The Walking Dead” and other television series show us a more terrifying and coherent end-of-the world scenario than the unintended hilarity in “World War Z.” (Granted the story takes off in the final act, but that re-write was provided by veteran television writer, David Lindelof.)
For all of the dazzle of the CGI effects and the admittedly fabulous chases–including the train sequence in “The Lone Ranger” that is literally choreographed to “The William Tell Overture”—blockbuster movies are just not giving audiences enough to talk about this summer.
When you’ve got $250 million on the line (which is what the Lone Ranger is reported to have cost — before marketing and distribution) and need to create a product that is aimed to appeal more to foreign than domestic audiences, then as far as the studios are concerned, dumbing down the script is essential — and that’s after Hollywood’s PC sensibility has already lobotomized the writing. As Hollywood marketing guru Kevin Goetz tells Lynda Obst in Sleepless in Hollywood, “The studios are in the branded carnival business. Their job is to make amusement park rides:”
“Really?” I asked. “We’re in the amusement park business?”
He looked at me as if I were his very slow half sister visiting from Iowa. “Lynda. Never lose yourself. Don’t forget this: We’re in a business. If we can make six-hundred-forty-billion-dollar rides, why would we want to make two-hundred-forty-billion-dollar rides? It’s a business. Widgets.”
But the real Don Draper would have warned Hollywood of the folly of spending millions in advertising only to risk thoroughly alienating their customers when they discover the inferiority of the underlying product.