After a long and eventful week at the office, my friend and I decided to head to the movies to take our minds off work and to calm our senses back to an acceptable state of normalcy. After going through the available options and a couple of online searches later, we decided on John Wick: Chapter 3- Parabellum, starring Keanu Reeves.
At the time of checking, it had an approval rating of 88 percent and an audience score of 92 percent on rottentomatoes.com.That can’t be bad, we thought. Little did we know what was in store for us.
After a rollercoaster two hours and ten minutes, we walked out with a sense of déjà vu of having gone through the same arduous experience before.And then it hit me!, Rohit Shetty. A Rohit Shetty film on Steroids is what the movie was. Minor differences being better cars, bikes, weapons, better choreography and Keanu Reeves. The movie definitely looked like a masterclass that Mr Shetty could attend and pick up a couple of pointers.
Without much change in my stress levels, I woke up the next morning to the news that John Wick’s Parabellum had dethroned Avengers: Endgame at the box office for the weekend’s collection. Another Déjà vu moment with regards to Rohit Shetty’s film collections at the box office. Having failed to understand the logic behind it, I decided to move on to simpler things that could possibly have a positive impact on both my mental and physical well-being and that is where the article begins.
Last week James Cameron got on Twitter and congratulated Marvel and Kevin Feige on
Avengers sinking the Titanic. It’s no mean achievement for Endgame given that Titanic was No. 1 at the US box office for a record 15 consecutive weeks from December 19, 1997 to April 2, 1998. The story goes that James Cameron forfeited his salary running and his percentage of the gross, when he realised how over-budget his possible ‘sinker’ of a film was on paper.
Cameron, according to sources, joked that it “took the Avengers to sink my Titanic” after
But this piece is not about forfeiture or sacrifices. It’s about mutual respect, passion for the art and passing the baton. It's about the extent people can go for their cinematic creation and is a nod to all that it celebrates.
Box office success is not based on a recipe or a formula or excel sheets. However, projections and presentations do need to be made to convince the studio bosses for the moolah in the first place.
Often, when it comes to big budget movies, the tales of wrong projections are many and the taste of success, much sweeter. Be it Ben-Hur, Baahubali or possibly the upcoming Brahmastra. Storytelling visually involves bringing all the elements together at the right place at the right time; costume design, camera, lighting, sound, well, the list goes on.
Regardless of how important and critical they may be, they are secondary compared with the core of filmmaking, which emanates from the very soul. Joy, anger, love are some of the human emotions that film makers play on while concocting their stories. Similar to soul music, perhaps.
In this piece, I try to go behind these directors, dreamers, story tellers and geniuses whose stories go beyond the realms of competition and instead aspire to create an environment that is conducive for the greater good of their craft. They are in it for the long haul. Pushing boundaries and going where man has never gone before. Each of these individual’s path maybe intertwined with each another but ultimately leads to the same goal of telling stories that are bigger, brighter and better than the last. It's a journey through relationships, unfailing friendships and respect for each other's art. It's about acknowledgments and paying tribute. Giving the devil his due and celebrating success, be it monetary or just acknowledgement, when an auteur has set a new gold standard.
At last count,
Avengers: Infinity War was close to $152 crore. It has been collecting a raft of superlatives: the highest opening weekend, highest single weekend gross, the fastest to gross $1 billion, fastest to hit $1.5 billion, highest-grossing superhero movie, highest 3D opening weekend gross, the highest 4DX gross $13.5 million, the first movie to reach two million admissions, and by far the highest-grossing movie of 2018. This list seems so unending that Wikipedia has a page dedicated to the records broken by this movie.
However, it’s still around 300 million behind James Cameron’s magnum opus, Avatar, which did around $2.78 billion overall.
The practice of auteurs acknowledging, celebrating another’s success began in 1977 amid the pages of Variety when Steven Spielberg, in a wonderful gesture, recognised the surpassing of his film’s (
Jaws) record by George Lucas’ Star Wars for the highest domestic film rentals. Spielberg always felt that Lucas was one for the numbers and one for competition. He went out and took a full paged ad in Variety congratulating his buddy.
A full page ad in the December 2nd issue of Variety by Spielberg in 1977, when Star Wars moves ahead of Jaws in domestic film rentals.
Jaws was also not always destined to be first choice for Spielberg to make into film. Urban legend says that he discovered the book written by Peter Benchley in a stockpile in his producer’s office and initially thought that it was book for dentists. Neither were his crew a big fan of the shark and went to the extent of calling it the ‘Great White Turd’ sometimes. Spielberg in fact called the three mechanical sharks used for filming Bruce, after his cash-guzzling shark of a lawyer. Roy Arbogast the part-creator of the monster loved what he had made. He went to extoll that the sharks had a skin hard polyurethane rubber over a tubular-steel skeleton. In addition to that chopped-up walnuts, sand, dust and wet mud were added to the paint which give the shark skin its texture on the exterior, such was his attention to detail. Though many nicked it as ‘Flaws’ its postponed release from Christmas to the summer time led to the coinage of the term ‘summer blockbuster’… People loved and feared the movie so much that they stopped making weekend visits to the beaches and Castro interpreted the shark attacks as a direct metaphor of American Capitalism.
Star Wars overtaking Jaws can be construed by some as a prophetic karmic giveback in some ways because during pre-production, the mates Spielberg, Scorcese, Lucas and John Milius went to check on how Bruce was being created. Lucas being the adventurous one snuck his head in the shark’s pleasant mandibles and Spielberg and co made the jaws clamp on this head. Murphy’s Law prevailed. Bruce’s tech malfunctioned and George’s head got stuck for some time. Seems pretty right that he paid back with Star Wars.
The same gesture was returned in kind by George in 1982 for
E.T, as it became the biggest blockbuster for the year.
A Variety page ad by George Lucas in 1983 when E.T. surpassed Star Wars.
While still on the subject of
E.T., there have been multiple instances where characters from each other’s films have been subtly included as a form of homage to each other’s work. For example, during the Halloween scene, E.T, sees a child wearing a Yoda costume which triggers a longing of having recognised someone familiar from a home. In a similar vein, during the galactic senate scene in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999), as the senators rise up on their feet shouting, one can see E.T. species placed among the senate in the lower right corner of the scene. The story behind Spielberg E.T’s character conceptualisation in terms of the appearance started when production illustrator, Ed Verreaux who had worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark was asked to come up with the initial designs of the titular alien creature. Spielberg finally settled on a different set of visuals created by special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi who had earlier worked and had also designed the mechanical head effects for the xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s Alien and the visitors from Spielberg’s own Close Encounters of the Third Kind. For E.T., Spielberg tasked him with coming up with an alien form that audiences could connect and sympathise with without looking too grotesque. Rambaldi’s primary inspiration was one of his own paintings from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, which was titled ‘Women of Delta’. The painting depicted a shrivelled character with stumpy legs, a long neck, an oblong head, and large eyes which later on became the feature set of E.T’s visual appearance. To make the alien’s persona appeal to the moviegoers, Rambaldi studied the photos of elderly people during the Great Depression with a sole aim to understand their facial features which could bring out a feeling of empathy. These series of facial expressions was meant to add a more humane touch to E.T’s overall personality. In addition, he combined and collated the alien's facial design using references from some of the world’s most well-known characters such as Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, and Carl Sandburg. Rambaldi then went on to finally complete his character design in clay which left Spielberg very much impressed and thus ended up giving it the green light to the character that we today lovingly know as E.T.
“Carlo Rambaldi was
E.T.'s Geppetto, Carlo was the biggest hero of the film,” said Steven Spielberg recalling the Academy Award-winning special-effects artist in one of his interviews
This opinion was seconded by David Lynch whom Rambaldi worked with on the sets of his film
Dune. Lynch said that he could see Rambaldi in all his creations not just in sensibility, but also in likeness. In an article on slate.com, Lynch is reported to have said “I have a theory about Carlo Rambaldi: He always builds himself. And so, somehow, the Navigator looks to me a bit like Carlo Rambaldi. And E.T. looks exactly like Carlo Rambaldi!” Bringing E.T. to life began with Matthew De Meritt, a 12-year-old born without legs whom Spielberg found through the UCLA Medical Center. Matthew was an instant hit with the cast and crew and would be seen on his skateboard with the heavy radio-controlled head placed on top of his head. He looked out through the slits in the 15-pound puppet’s chest and ‘walked’ on his hands. Matthew also wore the costume during one of the many memorable scenes from the film which had the alien stumble around the kitchen drunk and eventually falling on his face. This only enhanced the friendly, human like traits that Spielberg had been striving for with the character. E.T. was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the 1983 Academy Awards but was beaten to the award by Lord Attenborough’s Gandhi. Gandhi the film, was driven by Gandhi’s life in story which was its strong point. It was never about its cinematic appeal. As reported in an article by independent, “Without the initial premise of Mahatma Gandhi, the film would be nothing. Therefore it's a narrative film but it's a piece of narration rather than a piece of cinema, as such.” Attenborough further added “[ E.T.] was an infinitely more creative and fundamental piece of cinema [than Gandhi].”
His above statements were driven further home when he and his business partner Diana Hawkins had viewed the film just before the awards and were lost for words at the end of the film. Such was the extent of their amazement that they felt that they did not stand a chance against
His quote summarises just how well ahead of its time the film was - “
E.T. should and will walk away with it”
Round three – In 1997, Spielberg takes out a Variety ad crowning R2-D2 in honor of Lucas’s
Star Wars Special Edition.
E.T. handing back the crown to Star Wars in 1997 for the Special Edition of the classic Star Wars movies.
The bond between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas is well known in Hollywood and makes for some the most well-known anecdotes. One of them is as follows. George was preparing for the release of his film
Star Wars and was nervous that it would not be a box office hit as he hoped it would be.
His fears were only made worse after he visited Steven Spielberg who was on his set of his own film,
Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lucas confided in his friend about his apprehensions and also stated the Steven’s film would do much better than Star Wars. To his, Spielberg thought otherwise. This led to a wager between the two of them which has now been etched into folklore. The condition of the wager was that they would each swap 2.5 percent of Close Encounters for 2.5 percent of Star Wars. The result ended with Steven Spielberg pocketing around $40 million. Of course, both being billionaires never felt much of a pinch. The two horse race finally found a third wheel in 1998, when Titanic surpassed Star Wars' box office earnings and James Cameron entered the fray.
Lucas being the nice guy, again commissioned an artwork in Variety, containing all the characters from
Star Wars on board the sinking Titanic, in reference to Cameron’s film.
A period then ensued where such events receded, briefly though.
Fast forward to 2015,
Jurassic World surpasses The Avengers record and Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige reignited the process by congratulating Chris Pratt bestride a T-Rex, wielding Thor’s Mjolnir.
Marvel Studios' congratulates Jurassic World for surpassing ‘The Avengers' record in 2015.
There have been multiple moments in the entire Jurassic Park series with references to some of the earlier movies or the movies that were made by other directors who considered each other as their buddies, pals and not as adversaries.
At the end of the day, they were a very close knit circle of filmmakers who always backed each other. It was never about the competition but for the common love of filmmaking and always encouraging each other to push the boundaries of cinema without losing the human touch.
Case in point, in the movie
Jurassic Park, there is a scene where Nedry walks into the control room and begins arguing with Hammond, there is a short clip of Jaws being played on one of Nedry's computer screens. For your information , Jaws was directed by Steven Spielberg. The Lost World too has similar references where the bus crashes into the front of the video rental store, which has a poster of the movie, Hook, which was also directed by Spielberg. Jurassic Park III, a Jurassic Park (1993) pinball machine can be seen in the background as the paleontologists enter the bar for dinner with the Kirbys. A perfect example of product placement if you can consider it as one, that is.
Jurassic world, the great white shark being eaten in Jurassic World is another homage to Jaws.
Michael Crichton was of the opinion that his views on science and genetic engineering have been largely expressed by Ian Malcolm while Steven Spielberg saw his own character resonating with the one played by John Hammond.
Fittingly, Spielberg cast a fellow filmmaker in the role of Hammond who begins his tour of the park by showing a movie in which he also acts. While Malcolm is dressed entirely in black, John Hammond, the entrepreneur wears an all-white attire which was played by Richard Attenborough, one of his peers and the director of
Gandhi whom Spielberg lost the Oscar to.
Moving on, the protagonists for pulling out full page visuals on magazines changed, when
The Force Awakens overtook Jurassic World and producer Frank Marshall had the T-Rex pass on the baton to a grateful BB-8 in his congratulatory message.
The Force Awakens overtakes Jurassic World.
In keeping with the storied tradition which spans more than 4 decades, LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy recently sent out a heartwarming message to Marvel Studios through their official Star Wars Twitter handle. The message depicted the passing on of a light saber to Iron Man. Gracious acknowledgement from one mega franchise to another.
The latest figures from the official box office confirmed that
Avengers: Infinity War had set a new opening weekend record with a haul of $257.6 million, surpassing the $247.9 million record set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens in December 2015.
What these filmmakers have been able to achieve is not just blockbusters that raked in millions of dollars but also a connection with the audience on a deeper level. To elaborate, one such defining moment came about in
E.T, when Hannah and Negan seems to have lost all hope.
“Negan: They're gonna have to take him away now.
Hannah: They're just gonna cut him all up.
Negan: Would you like to spend some time alone with him?
[Hannah is left alone with E.T.]
Hannah: Look at what they've done to you. I'm so sorry. You must be dead, 'cause I don't know how to feel. I can't feel anything anymore. You've gone someplace else now. I'll believe in you all my life, every day. E.T., I love you.
[E.T.'s heart light glows and he is revived]
E.T.: E.T. phone home. Phone home, phone home.”
We can only wait and see who betters the
Avengers Endgame record and receives the gauntlet from Ironman, but that is for another day.
Till then, let us just say, “We love the bonhomie 3000!”
Avinash Mudaliar is the chief product officer of Network 18 Digital.