I have a love/hate relationship with bad movies, courtesy my longtime MST3K fandom. One of my favorite quotes from the creators of MST3K is when Mary Jo Pehl talked about the “bold ineptitude” bad filmmakers, doggedly pursuing their questionable artistic visions all the way to a theatrical release.
It’s easy, though, to cut a lot of these wannabe-auteurs some slack. MST3K necessarily focused on low-budget films, either in the public domain or with rights purchasable for a pittance. For the most part the makers of those movies were working with limited staff and on shoestring budgets. No one really expected Plan 9 from Outer Space to be the next Citizen Kane.
With the rise off Rifftrax, though, things are a little different. Because they sell audio-only commentary tracks, they can riff the big Hollywood blockbusters. As a result, I’ve become all too aware of how many awful, awful films that are released every year by major production companies.
And I’m not talking about film-nerd-bad; I mean films that everyone agrees are bad. Like how-did-this-even-get-made bad. And it has gotten me wondering… how does this happen?
People in Hollywood aren’t stupid. Most of them are incredibly dedicated to their craft. And studios are famously risk averse. So how does this happen? Sure, there are high-concept films like Inception where it’s genuinely difficult to predict whether audiences will dig it. But it seems like with most movies there should be some obvious tell-tales of a coming train wreck. With hundreds or even thousands of people involved in a production, how does no one say “wait a second, this dialog is so dull the actors are falling asleep at table reads!”.
Is there a point in the production of a major feature film when everyone involved in the production realizes that they have an epic stinkeroo on their hands? Do they just hunker down and try and finish it because they’ve sunk too much time and money into it to stop?
Or do the makers of, say, an “Eragon”–or a “Hercules”, to pick a film currently at 4% on the Tomatometer–genuinely believe they have something great on their hands? Are they surprised when the studio tells them it didn’t perform at the box office? Do they really see no warning signs along the way?