A good director’s career is often not that unlike a great movie franchise: It bursts out of the gate with sparks of creativity and inventiveness, stumbles on the second lap, picks up speed on the third, coasts for the next three laps, and then hobbles for another couple of miles until it comes up lame. It’s at that point in a director’s career that someone should either shoot him and put his audience out of their misery, or do what they do with flailing franchises. Reboot them!
Here are five directors who could use a reboot:
5. Peter Jackson: Whether you’re a fan of The Frighteners, Dead Alive and Heavenly Creatures-era Peter Jackson (like myself) or a fan of the Lord of the Rings-era Peter Jackson (not so like myself), we can all agree on one thing: Something has affected the man’s ability to make a decent film. King Kong was uninspired and self-indulgent, and The Lovely Bones was a complete mess. Jackson seems to have forgotten how to conjure up the magic. Maybe it was the massive weight loss, but the man has clearly stagnated.
How to Reboot His Career: The best thing you can do for a director like Peter Jackson, who has been working with $100 million-plus budgets the last decade, is to take that budget away from him. Budget limitations inspire creativity — look at what Neil Blompkamp was able to do with $30 million on District 9. Before he made it, The Lovely Bones was just the type of project I would’ve suggested to help break him out of his doldrums. Alas, that failed. So, maybe a foray back into Meet the Feebles might reignite the fires. Some nice low-budget puppet porn!
4. Tim Burton: Clearly, Tim Burton is in that coasting phase of his career — working with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter over and over and really bringing nothing new to his goth imprimatur. If early notices on Alice in Wonderland are any indication, he may soon come up lame. And he started out so strong, with movies like Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. Sweeney Todd and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were decent efforts, if not slightly underwhelming, while Planet of the Apes was a flat-out failure. Big Fish was a nice change of pace during the early half of the aughts, but he’s been on cruise control ever since.
How to Reboot His Career: Burton needs to quit remaking movies or putting his spin on old properties. Burton needs to return to what made him the director he is today: Inventive, original characters with engrossing stories. He’s currently working on a full-length animated version of Frankenweenie, the short movie that was his break-out effort. But he’d be best served in trying to create a new iconic character, and he might consider looking beyond Johnny Depp to fill the role.
3. Cameron Crowe: If I were asked with a gun to my head who my favorite living director is, I’d have to say Cameron Crowe, though even I’d acknowledge that his two post-Almost Famous efforts were not kind to his career. I’m one of the few who actually liked Vanilla Sky, but I recognized that the movie wasn’t in his wheelhouse. As for Elizabethtown? I have no explanation for it besides the fact that he must have used it solely as a vehicle for a great soundtrack. And yet: His first four movies — Singles, Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous are four of my favorites of all time.
How to Reboot His Career: He’s had a romantic comedy with Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon in development for a couple of years, but that appears to have fallen apart. He’s making a concert documentary on Pearl Jam, which may hopefully rekindle his magic. Crowe’s best movies were those that were personal to him, and it may simply be that his life hasn’t provided him with much inspiration of late. It’s possible that he could turn that to his advantage and become something of the John Updike or Phillip Roth of directors: exploring middle-aged lethargy or the tedium of marriage. Or, he could try and remake one of Billy Wilder’s (his mentor) movies. I wouldn’t object terribly to a modern The Apartment with George Clooney and Christina Hendricks.
2. Kevin Smith: Smith got what he wanted, I suppose, out of last weekend’s Cop Out: an opening of more than $15 million. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of his integrity. His movie opened bigger than any of his previous efforts, but ironically, I suspect he’ll lose more fans over it. And now he wants to do a studio hockey movie with Sean William Scott. Smith doesn’t want to a reboot; he wants to drive his credibility into the ground and, ultimately, become a studio hired hand, like Robert Luketic or Adam Shankman. More money. Less effort.
How to Reboot His Career: Smith is best when he writes what he knows. He doesn’t stand in front of a convenience store and smoke pot anymore. He’s not dating. He already tried a movie about child-rearing (sort of) with Jersey Girl. So what’s left? How about a an indie flick about a dope-smoking layabout who spends more time on Twitter than he does in gainful employment? Maybe the layabout is a washed-up director. Maybe he meets a kid one day whose late father was obsessed with the director’s films. Maybe that kid latches onto him and sees that washed-up director as a father figure. Maybe that kid inspires him to something better. Maybe that director puts down his bong and picks up a pen. Maybe that director digs deep, and finds that there is something left in the tank, after all. Maybe he could call it: Kevin Smith’s Reawakening.
1. The Wachowskis: The Wachowskis broke into Hollywood with Bound, a nifty little noir with a nice lesbian twist and followed that up with perhaps the most visually influential films of the last quarter century, The Matrix, which was a surprise hit that catapulted the Wachowskis onto the A-list. There, they subsequently frittered away most of their Hollywood capitol with a couple of lame sequels slash retreads and the commercial and critical failure Speed Racer. It’s been 11 years now since the original Matrix, and the only real solid success that the Wachowskis have had since was in writing and producing V for Vendetta.
How to Reboot Their Careers: The Wachowskis have nothing publicly in the works, but if they want to get back to where they once were, they might consider returning to the noir. Maybe adapt a James Ellroy novel, bring their visual flair to pulp detective stories, and essentially reinvent the noir for the 21st century. I wouldn’t object to another lesbian twist, either.