Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
A miracle of mediocrity
Several years ago, a member of my close circle of friends had a birthday. To celebrate, we decided to look at the available entertainment options out there, and select from amongst them whatever seemed most likely to make us laugh. I will not deign to fabricate a list of our choices for that night, because none come to mind except our ultimate selection: Lake Placid. For those of you who don’t remember this film, which I would estimate to be roughly every single living one of you, this was not the movie about the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team, nor did it have anything whatsoever to do with the Olympics. Rather, this was a horror movie. About a crocodile. Starring Bill Pullman. Our choice, when observing these facts, seems obvious, but there was more. The script was written by David E. Kelley (perhaps better known as Mr. Michelle Pfeiffer, or simply “That Lucky Little Fucker”), who has proven himself to be the unparalleled master of quirky comedy shows about lawyers from Boston (insert lawyer-as-crocodile joke here), and it was showing at our local Cineplex, which was rarely full, and since we were going to a late-night weekday showing, we were certain to have an empty theater, which is perfect for our purposes. If it turned out to be legitimately good, we could laugh and enjoy a film that no one in their right minds would actually attend; if it were bad, we would be able to mock it like the crowd at the Apollo taking in a set by Woody Allen.
Long story short: this was an unmitigated disaster. When we arrived, the theater was not empty. In fact, it had just enough people in it for there to be no good place for a group of wiseass jerkoffs to sit and mock it without raising the hackles of another patron, thereby leading to an “incident” with the manager. We therefore had to watch this piece of embarrassing jetsam in “respectful” silence, which is akin to solemnly taking in the symbolic subtleties of a Christina Aguilera video. (Writer’s note: I have never seen a Christina Aguilera video, nor do I even know if I have spelled her name right. Therefore, for all I know, she just may have incredibly nuanced videos, thereby making this analogy flawed. However, I nonetheless feel I am safe here, as she is clearly a skank.)
I would have written this movie off as simply a failed attempt to cross genres (I’m pretty sure it was billed as a “comedy-horror”), and allowed it to pass on into oblivion, if it wasn’t for the fact that it was written by a famous, rich, and well-established writer. Why do successful writers get to make shit? Why do we let them? And who thinks it’s a good idea? (Incidentally, I can think of at least one other writer of some repute who fell into this exact same trap. John Logan, who won an Oscar for Gladiator, also wrote RKO 281, Any Given Sunday … and Bats. That’s right, Bats. The horror-thriller, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, that even I haven’t seen. Logan will be discussed, at length, in my thorough dissection of another of his scripts, The Time Machine.
This is something that has bothered me for a long time. Writers struggle to make a living for themselves doing what they love. Most of us never succeed, and end up giving their services away to movie-review websites. However, every once in a while, one of us breaks through, be it through novels, stories, essays or scripts. Due to good luck, or an executive that is truly dedicated to discovering new talent, people do get discovered. Whereas before they were just another faceless writer trying to get their ideas heard, they are now a name, and powerful people everywhere are eager to hear what their next brainchild will be. Because this scenario, having people excited to listen to your brainstorms, is such a dream come true to writers everywhere, it infuriates me that, at this point, so many writers turn to shit.
Maybe it’s due to complacency, or maybe these writers start believing the ingratiating bullshit that gets spewed their way by their agents and publicists, but one gets the impression that these people get to the point where they feel that every idea that emanates from their head is capital-B Brilliant. We have certainly seen this happen with novelists. If anyone out there ever felt like John Grisham was a good writer (for the record, I read his first two books, and in both cases I felt he had good plots and terrible endings. Even back then, I was appalled at his success), can they possibly still think so, now that he’s retreading his retreads, and using his spare time to write “funny” Christmas novels? Michael Crichton was a revolutionary writer when he first started out, using his doctor’s background, a predilection for research, and a fertile imagination to create fiction of a sort that no one had ever seen before. Then, he started signing film option rights to books he hadn’t even come up with yet. The results now are these hackneyed “thrillers” that read like screenplays; plausibility and complexity are now replaced with “kick-ass scenes where shit blows up and stuff.” The list goes on and on.
In films, the crimes are just as egregious. Once a writer gets a taste of success, he is allowed leniency that is astonishing. There’s Something About Mary was an extremely successful movie … but if that is the only reason why the Farrelly brothers are still allowed to make movies, we should all wish it had failed. The scope, imagination, and technical brilliance of the first three Star Wars movies is comparable only to the embarrassment of the recent ones, a testament to the inability for anyone to raise a dissenting voice to Lord Lucas. Lake Placid is far less-noticeable on this landscape, but it still deserves its mockery. Kelley was a successful writer with two hit shows on television when this movie was released. Clearly, some industry hack’s desire to have “David E. Kelley’s Next Project” in the can far outweighed the fact that the project in question was so undeniably shitty that if I, or any of my friends, attempted to sell this concept, we’d be blacklisted from Hollywood for life.
This stud is the creator of Lake Placid. Even with success,
a guy this ugly couldn’t possibly get a date … right?
One final point on this topic: success in one area should not, yet somehow invariably does, lead to success in other areas. Kelly found success in writing television shows of a very specific nature; they were quirky and weird with endearing characters (so I’m told). This does not automatically translate into being able to write movies. Each is different, and it is insulting when, in a world where there are thousands of brilliantly creative people who spend their whole lives undiscovered, executives rush to have successful people cross over into other areas, thereby taking up two slots in the hierarchal ladder. We live in a world where Ethan Hawke (a middling actor) is a published novelist, Sam Shepard (a great writer) is a movie actor, Minnie Driver (the fat chick from Circle of Friends) is a recording artist, and recording artists Britney Spears and Mariah Carey get to star in movies that they came up with themselves. (That the results were Crossroads and Glitter respectively should send a message to executives, but it won’t. I can’t wait to see what movie Clay Aiken decides he wants to star in. I bet there’ll be some pretty boys in it …) This is a trend that has to stop, and it’s up to all of us to stop it.
It’s a simple fact that all of the aforementioned executives do these things because they think it will make money. Clearly, that is the root of the problem, and it is also our avenue for solving it. As consumers, we hold all the cards, and we must start playing them. Let’s all agree to stop seeing movies (and books and CDs and plays etc.) just because of a name attached to it. Instead, base where you give your money on the content. Also, insist on giving your time and money once in a while to the independent film or record label. If even a few more people not under the thrall of the corporate machine made it, it would keep us struggling types going, and competition would only make things better for the viewer. And lastly, if you are going to heed neither of these things, and you are going to patronize vanity projects and blatant cash cows of celebrities, then do yourself a favor and go to a theater that is empty; you’ll want all the leeway you can get for shouting at the screen in disgust.
AND NOW, A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
that shit like this will stop getting made one day.