Monday, October 19, 2015

Opinion Time: 'Tarzan' and the Negative View


Sorry it's taken this long to comment but I needed to put my thoughts together and take a step back to think about this.

For those just tuning in, last week the Hollywood Reporter posted a story that said in effect that David Yates' upcoming Tarzan was turning into a disaster, with a budget near $180 million, poor to middling test audience results, questions about star Alexander Skarsgard's appeal and the fact that Yates is now busy shooting the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, leaving Tarzan in limbo as the director is reportedly only looking at the film on weekends. All of this and the fact that distributor Warner Bros. is coming off a string of flops (including Jupiter Ascending and Pan) and the head of the studio is more invested in making sure that Batman V. Superman and their planned DC Universe film franchise goes off without a hitch, leaving other projects in the dust.

For fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs this was deja vu all over again. Just replace Tarzan with John Carter, Warners for Disney, Skarsgard for Taylor Kitsch and that 180 mil for 250 (even though latter it was discovered it was 306) and it's the same story. Heck even the same Reporter writer, Kim Masters, wrote both pieces (does Masters have some sort of dislike for Burroughs and feels the need to write pieces basically trashing movies based on ERB's work?). Even both studios' obsession with their comic book properties at the expense of everything else is present.

But the question is this: How much of this is true and if it is is there a way to change gears and fix this before Tarzan becomes another John Carter? Well let's look at some of the bits from this article and see:

--The Budget. Before this article came out the budget for the film wasn't reported but some sites reported at best a $90-120 million budget, pretty conservative for a blockbuster these days. There is no reason given for the increase outside of vague references to costly visual effects so for all we know the budget is still around the $90-120 million range or if it has gone up it could be due to other factors. Is this cause for alarm? Well it can be since it would mean that Tarzan at best would have to clear $360-400 million at the box office and that's not counting how much more it would need to make to clear the marketing and distribution costs.

--Poor test screenings. Again we don't know how the test screenings really went or for that matter who made up the audience for these films. In fact just because a film receives a negative test screening doesn't mean the film is a complete loss. In fact some films have the reverse, receiving glowing marks at test screenings and then flop when they come out (as some might remember John Carter's test scores were reportedly pretty high and the film still failed). If Yates and Warners are looking at the results they may be trying to fix the film and make it right. In some cases these fixes can save a movie and produce a hit. So let's put that the side for now.

--Skarsgard's box office appeal. This is a major hurdle that even before the film started production some-including ERB fans-were questioning. True neither Skarsgard nor co-star Margot Robbie have opened a film on their own but what's notably absent in the Masters article is any mention that Tarzan boasts Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz, both talented actors and whose presence would help generate interest from movie goers. Also let's compare Tarzan's lead pair to John Carter: Skarsgard has film credibility thanks to well received indie films like Melancholia and The Diary of a Teenage Girl as well as pop culture status thanks to his role on True Blood, a show that put him on talk shows, magazine covers and fan conventions such as Comic-Con. Robbie meanwhile has had leading roles opposite leading men like Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Will Smith (Focus) that has raised awareness, not to mention that after Tarzan she will be playing Harley Quinn in DC's Suicide Squad, so neither of them are complete unknowns. Compare that to Kitsch, who at best was coming off a highly acclaimed but low watched TV series and Lynn Collins, who prior to Carter at best was appearing in supporting roles in little seen indie films and TV guest spots.

--The director issue. OK this is a big one. If Yates is tied up with Fantastic Beasts and Tarzan needs major work that leaves the latter in a state of limbo since Warners has made it clear that FB has to go now and is one of their sacred tent pole films, leaving word that the studio may even delay Tarzan to allow more time for Yates to work on it. On the surface it sounds like issues with the studio, not the director and Yates has proven his worth with the box office and critical success of the last four Harry Potter films. The article also mentions that directors have in the past started new projects while finishing up previous ones, the most notable being Steven Spielberg starting Schindler's List while in the post-production phase on Jurassic Park. If Yates could balance both then this becomes a non-issue. If anything at least it isn't Andrew "They Fear Me" Stanton and his Pixar Method Madness causing issues for the film and the budget.

--The DC Factor. Or maybe it's the fact that the last reason isn't as worrying as this one. The Reporter article makes it clear that Warner Bros chief Kevin Tsujihara is more invested in making sure Ben Affleck battling Henry Cavill is THE blockbuster of 2016 and everything else doesn't matter. Of course this is a big deal for Warner Bros. They own DC and have for decades struggled-outside of Batman-to bring those characters to the big screen and they are determined to make it work, even if the last DC film (Man of Steel) failed to live up to their own predictions and split audiences. It's the proverbial "putting all your eggs in one basket" approach that studio chiefs seem to have and are blind to the fact that other films need as much attention (or in this case that trusting your most valued properties to Zack Snyder doesn't help). It would be a shame if Tarzan had to be sacrificed just to make way for Aquaman the Motion Picture. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

So what can be done to fix this? Warner Bros needs to start promotion soon, they need to stand by this film and not just dump it. They also need to realize that forcing their directors to start films when their previous ones need work isn't a good idea and that not everyone is excited for Batfleck and gloomy superheroes. Maybe the failure of Pan will wake them up and Tarzan will be ready and set to go and surprise everyone by being both a good film and a box office hit. There is always hope and despite what the naysayers, secret sources and Kim Masters thinks sometimes that helps. If you have any thoughts leave them below.

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