Last week, news broke that Marvel Studios had split with Director Edgar Wright, and the director was removed from the Ant-Man project over creative differences (ahembullshitahem). It has been speculated that Marvel (read Disney), tyrannical and hungry for more power and money, wanted Wright’s name and not his vision. We’ll never know for sure what movie we missed out on because of the auteur’s departure. It hurts already to think about. But it is not an incident without precedent. With that said I have decided to explore other examples of combatant directorial changes over the years to determine how, historically, this sort of break up pans out.
Superman II – Richard Donner Vs. Ilya Salkinds
The Story: On the backs of the Salkind’s and Warner Bros. Production in 1977, Richard Donner began shooting two films at one time, Superman and Superman II (now more commonly known as “The Peter Jackson”). This proved to be too much to balance and production was halted on the second film. Well, after the first film was finished, Salkind, like a regular swindling villain, decided that, even though 85% of Superman II had already been shot, he would hand the reigns (and directing credit) over to Richard Lester. Lester then re-shot portions of the film to weight his credit. Salkind desired a film that was “more campy” and I guess Donner was spending cash like he just hit the lottery. Also, in a very cheap move, Salkind and Lester cut all of Marlon Brando’s scenes as Jor-El to save some money.
The Winner: Donner eventually managed a counter-punch with Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Both share the admiration of fans but Donner missed out on the initial buzz of the film. The studio pulls out a narrow victory here.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Peter Jackson or Guillermo del Toro
The Story: A Peter Jackson produced/Guillermo del Toro directed Hobbit movie. This was a reality once. But ultimately, all that’s left to show for it are the awkward stains on the sheets of fanboys nationwide. Jackson presumably couldn’t budge on his own vision. And really that shouldn’t be a bad thing, he handled all of the Lord of the Rings movies, right? Well… To be honest, after the first LOTR movie Jackson started to fall off and lose charm. The initial Hobbit movie lead him right over the cliff. But enough of my (correct) opinion. Del Toro parted ways because Jackson’s studio was virtually bankrupt. After some time, del Toro decided to walk away.
The Winner: We have a toss up here because the film was financially successful, but many viewers found it boring and overdone. The CGI looked fantastic, but imagine how good it would have been with del Toro at the helm. I chalk this up as an L for the production company. Go Toro! Go!
Moneyball – 3 Strikes You’re… Safe?
The Story: A really long time ago back in 2008 (remember Razr phones?) David Frankel was set to direct the story of the Oakland Athletics miraculous turnaround, but for some untold reason, the director, known mostly for The Devil Wears Prada (Ha), dropped out. Set to replace him? A glorious man by the name of Steven Soderbergh. Baseball angels sing! But, this relationship did not last long either, as Steven Soderbergh had a vision for the film that was not shared among the producers. Soderbergh was pressing for a docudrama wherein the old players talk about the Moneyball system and their experiences. Not gonna lie: This does not sound nearly as good as the product we ended up with, which was brought to us by Bennett Miller the visionary who ended up directing this massively successful sports drama after Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing, other things you love) provided third revision of the script.
The Winner: Man this is a tough call. As much as I want to believe that Soderbergh would have delivered something fantastic, I believe Bennett Miller ended up hitting a homer. So after calling on two relief pitchers we struck out the side in the 9th with Miller. The production company is back on the winning side with this one.
The crazy life of Victor Fleming and the mess of 1939
The Wizard of Oz – The Tin Man Problem
The Story: After actor Buddy Ebsen left production because the paint that colored his character coated his lungs and left him in critical condition, Director Richard Thorpe was let go from the film. The studio believed Thorpe was hurrying the shooting. Thorpe would go on to be known for his work with Dean Martin in the 50’s and Elvis Presley in the 60’s. His temporary replacement for The Wizard of Oz’s directorial chair was George Cukor who was also slated to direct Gone with the Wind in the same year (more to come on this). Cukor served as an overseer to make sure production moved along until a replacement was found. Bring in Victor Fleming, the man who would be the final director on this film. Surprisingly enough, Fleming refused to stray away from Cukor’s vision after one of the producers stated he liked the direction of the film.
The Winner: In the end we see a new director come and stick with the vision that the production company had, so … We have a draw on a film that turned out to be one of the most lovable in history.
Gone with the Wind – This Could Get Confusing
The Story: Remember George Cukor and Victor Fleming? Those guys we just talked about? Dear Lord, reading comprehension. Both directors were also chosen at one point to direct Gone With the Wind and again we see Fleming pull away from the driver’s seat. Cukor was let go from the film after the star, Clark Gable, said he was not comfortable working with him. Fleming took over in the late 30’s and didn’t look back. Trivia Sidebar: for a short time Fleming did have to take a break from exhaustion and director Sam Wood took over in his absence.
The Winner: The winner here yet again is the production company. Though they hired two highly known (and apparently competitive) directors, the decision was win/win. The film would have succeeded either way, but Fleming ended up taking home not just the trophy, but perhaps the most celebrated year of any director in film history.
After this little trip down Hollywood’s memory lane, maybe I’m not as mad as I thought I was. We will more than likely see Ant-Man perform well in the box office as much as the bitter fan boy does not want it to. Respect is due the many directors that have lost their creative direction to big budget companies bullying them into an unshared vision. But, directorial changes, forced or otherwise, are not necessarily the end of the world. Odds are Ant-Man will make boatloads of cash no matter who lands in the director’s chair. Damn big budget companies.