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Point Counter Point: Is Disney Homogenizing 'Rogue One' or Making a Better Movie?

By Kristy Puchko and Brian Byrd | Star Wars | June 2, 2016 |

By Kristy Puchko and Brian Byrd | Star Wars | June 2, 2016 |

Earlier this week, it was reported that Disney would be doing four weeks of reshoots on Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One, the first of the Star Wars’ anthology films. Some suggested the extensive reshoots were because the film needed a shift in tone. Was it really because Disney feared that Edwards’ vision for the film was too dark and gloomy? Or was it because Rogue One did not meet the level of achievement J.J. Abrams accomplished in The Force Awakens and Marvel accomplishes in its slate of films?

Kristy Puchko and Brian Byrd debate the issue.

Kristy Puchko: Eh. I’m not surprised. But this isn’t necessarily bad news. World War Z had extensive reshoots, and it turned out to be a solid movie.

Brian Byrd: To me it depends on why they ordered the reshoots. One of the most exciting things about Rogue One, to me, was that it didn’t feel like just another Star Wars movie; it felt like a war movie set in the Star Wars universe. Rather it not be Disneyfied.

Kristy: But Disney has been killing it lately! (Alice Through the Looking Glass aside). Their live-action movies (Cinderella, The Jungle Book), their animated originals (Zootopia), and Force Awakens, AND Marvel. They know their brand and what makes it great. So maybe this first cut feels off, or isn’t eliciting the kind of excitement Force Awakens did. Then they should course correct. I want this movie to be thrilling, whatever the cost.

Brian: Sure, but the no-risk approach is getting stale. The Marvel stuff and TFA were very good movies, but they’re also straightforward and formulaic. I’d like to see their new Star Wars universe vary in tone, especially for the spinoffs. What’s the point of hiring directors with unique styles and forcing them to color between the lines?

I’ll fully admit this is a “me” thing, and the reshoots may be because the movie wasn’t that good. Who knows. Hell, if I were Disney I’m not sure I’d want to take the risk on a darker, grimy Star Wars movie that’s more Zero Dark Thirty than TFA, either. As a fan, though, I’d really like to see some variety.

Kristy: TFA took risks in casting and in killing one of the most beloved characters — not just in the franchise — but in modern cinema. I don’t agree that “reshoots” inherently means “watering down a director’s vision.” And sometimes, a director’s vision is just wrong for the story. Like Ratatouille went through major overhauls, even switching directors. Basically, I’m saying that reshoots get a bad rap.

As writers, we write and then read, and then rewrite. So why does a reshoot so often equate a “failure” instead of a “fine-tune?” If this report is right, and they’re reshooting to shift the tone, I’m all for it. I too am sick to death of filmmakers who mistake “dour” or “gritty” for “fresh” and “challenging.” You can give me a movie that’s fun with dark moments. I find that kind of complexity more satisfying and emotionally engaging. Plus, according to this piece, reshoots were always part of the plan. I’m not saying “reshoots” are good news. I’m saying, they aren’t inherently bad news.

Brian: I mean, of course Disney is going to say reshoots were part of the plan. I can’t imagine a month of expensive filming six months before the premiere is par for the course, though. And I always get wary when executives demand things. Executives need to sell toys and ensure the stock price goes up a penny. They shouldn’t be making narrative decisions (although this is how the world works). I hope you’re right. But this reeks of homogenization to me.

I wonder if we’ll ever see a major Marvel/Star Wars/Whatever Profitable Property truly take a risk given who controls their rights and how much is at stake with shared universes and other nonsense.

Kristy: I don’t follow. So you don’t think putting an unknown actress, and two actors of color in the leads of Force Awakens was a risk? You don’t think tackling race relations in an original animated movie was a risk? Marvel is their “safest” franchise, and even that is taking risks by presenting characters we love going to war and using modern political rhetoric (about choice and personal responsibility) to do so. Disney makes massively budgeted movies, and brings in exciting filmmakers (Rian Johnson, Gareth Edwards, Taika Waititi) to give them character. They do take risks. But when they pay off, I think we too often embrace the movies and forget the risks that were taken to make them special.

Brian: I don’t think there was any risk involved with TFA. A proportionally few people on the internet might complain about a female lead or a black stormtrooper, but we often overestimate how many people really give a shit about any of that outside the entertainment bubble. Most people just want to go see a good Star Wars movie with the original cast. Diverse casting is always a positive and Disney should be applauded for their choices, but I don’t think it was remotely risky.

Kristy: Brian, you’re ignoring that Hollywood regularly behaves as if women and POC can’t open a movie overseas. The casting was a risk. As much as I’d like to pretend we as a society are beyond accepting White-Straight-Male as a default protagonist, everything from Gamergate to the Ghostbusters backlash proves that’s not true. It was a risk to make The Force Awakens about heroes who aren’t all white dudes.

Taking on Civil War was a risk because of how different it’s set up in the comics, leaning hard on Tony becoming more-or-less a monster. But I agree that Marvel does duck major risks like killing off their characters (which again TFA KILLED HAN!)

And as to taking new approaches in tone, I thought the new Cinderella took a lot of unexpected aspects on. It didn’t make its princess some sort of battle-hungry trope (like Snow White and the Huntsman did), but instead created a more complicated emotional story about strength through non-violent choices. Cinderella chose to stay at her parents’ home and care for her shitty step-family out of love for the home her parents made. It wasn’t being a doormat, it was being brave just as it was brave to not expose her identity to the prince so she could keep her evil stepmother out of a position of power.

Brian: They do behave that way when it comes to untested properties. Star Wars is the most bankable IP ever. The original actors were coming back. It didn’t matter if the new characters were black or female. People were going to see Force Awakens in record numbers regardless. GG and Ghostbusters may seem like massive deals in our circles, but your average person just doesn’t care about these things or ever know what they are. “Oh, a new Ghostbusters with those funny people from SNL. I could take the kids to that.”

I could be convinced that killing Han was a risk even though you, me, and everyone else knew the 77-year-old wasn’t signing on for three more movies.

Kristy: As to the directors, I’ll allow that Marvel/Disney is established as a more of a “machine” (even Shane Black said so, though he liked that aspect of making Iron Man 3). But even within the brand of the MCU, there’s been some major tonal shifts. The zany space-adventure of Guardians of the Galaxy to the political thriller of Captain America: The Winter Soldier to the Shakespearean comedy of Thor.

I’m not saying GG or Ghostbusters backlash is the majority. It’s more the bogeyman that Hollywood has long-feared would topple any non-white/non-male led movie. I really think you’re seeing the successes and forgetting the tradition-rejecting decisions that got them there. Choosing not to go “gloomy” or “gritty” is another, and a smart one considering how poorly BvS was received. The “gritty” reboot is over. Thank Godtopus!

Brian: Oh, I don’t mean to single out Marvel/Disney here. DC has the same problem to a large extent. Batman v Superman wasn’t a risk; it was a dumb take. Guardians and Winter Solider and Thor all felt like Marvel movies to me. Different settings and goals, sure. But they were Marvel movies through and through.

Kristy: “They were Marvel movies through and through.” Is that a bad thing?

Brian: I think Disney gets to pat itself on the back for “risky” Star Wars casting when they knew full well the movie would be a blockbuster regardless. File this under “what if,” but I wonder if Boyega and Ridley get the roles if the original cast isn’t returning. Again, give Disney credit for casting two very good actors regardless of their race/gender, but I think Star Wars was box office proof.

BvS didn’t fail because it was gloomy. It failed because it was a poorly written, cliche-filled disaster. Nolan’s Batman films were gloomy. So were Burton’s. Gloomy and serious aren’t necessarily bad things. Neither are homogenized, brightly-lit Marvel movies. After 10 years of the same thing, though, I’d like to see something different. Something challenging.

Kristy: A calculated risk is still a risk, and as I pointed out in the “Give Elsa a girlfriend” piece, these are risks Disney can afford to make. Still, I think they deserve credit for making them. They still matter. ESPECIALLY because they are paying off. Little boys love Frozen. Girls feel newly excited about Star Wars, a franchise that has long ignored they existed (in merchandising mostly). BvS showed that “gritty” isn’t enough to make a reboot feel dramatic. It was also a shitshow on storytelling. But its devotion to being joyless was a major point of criticism. And no. I will never agree that Burton’s Batman movies were gloomy. They were gothic, but full of life and lunacy.