In an earlier post about CGI fail, I mentioned in passing a weird commonality of movies that poorly implement CGI — movies insisting on a generalized tinting of sequences or the entire movie in a particular colored shade, for no discernible reason whatsoever. Why is this?
This practice originated in The Matrix (1999). However, unlike the vast majority of movies that followed, it did this for good reasons. First, the colorization served the practical purpose of signaling to the audience where a given scene was taking place. Green meant inside the Matrix; blue meant in the “real world.”
Secondly, the whole theme of the movie was about questioning what “reality” is, and the otherworldly feel that tinting gave reinforced the notion that something was very off. This was just about the only movie that used this technique well, and stands in testament to the remarkable fact that mediocre filmmakers can sometimes produce unexpectedly good works at unexpected times.
Because the Wachowski siblings truly are mediocre filmmakers. Look at their IMBD credits before and after the original Matrix, and there is absolutely nothing that would lead one to believe that these are talented artists by any stretch of the imagination. The recent Jupiter Rising is all the evidence you need. But one of the most astonishing facts about any creative field is that product does not always equate with talent — and they would not be the first lackluster artists to shit gold. Which brings us, once again, to George Lucas.
The original Star Wars also was an aberration, from a mid-level hack who had no right to be associated with a movie of that caliber. Any story of the production of that movie shows what a chaotic and random mess it was, and it was nothing but sheer, simon-pure luck that allowed Lucas to walk away with one of the most defining movies of sci-fi as well as American culture ever made.
The same can be said of the original Matrix, actually. And here we come to where the two franchises divide: Why did one become a multi-billion-dollar franchise while the other became an afterthought?
Lucas is known mainly for his incompetence and his ego at this late date, but it actually wasn’t always so. You see, the man actually realized that he had punched far above his weight with the original Star Wars. He knew he couldn’t direct a credible follow-up, and — this is key — he handed the reins to better talent. The result was an even better movie that cemented Star Wars as an institution, as opposed to a flash in the pan.
But for that to happen, Lucas obviously had to make the incredibly painful and personal observation that he was not up to the task as a director of The Empire Strikes Back. His talents as a producer are unquestioned, mind. But as a director, his best work pre-Star Wars was a mildly decent movie that was largely autobiographical and that did not exactly stretch the bounds of creativity. His name would not have even been remembered today if he had not won the filmmaker lottery with Star Wars.
And he realized it.
So he handed the following two sequels to other, better talent. And made himself very, very rich in the process.
The Wachowskis found themselves in an identical situation in 1999. Before The Matrix, their best movie was Bound, a forgettable caper that made American Graffiti look like Citizen Kane. And like Lucas, they miraculously punched far above their weight to produce an instant sci-fi and action classic.
They could not handle this. Their breakdowns are stuff of legends. But more importantly — they could not acknowledge that the work was better than the artist. And so they insisted on full creative control of the sequels.
Which worked out about as well as when their fellow artist of their level of talent insisted on full control of his prequels.
But before that, way back in the late ’70s, Lucas demonstrated that most painful ability we can have. To recognize when we simply aren’t talented enough for the task, and to then call for backup. To have some outsider take control of Empire Strikes Back. Because we know that this person simply has more talent.
It sucks. No question. But it is also one of the most useful abilities we can have.
If Lucas had been like the Wachowskis, and had demanded full control of the original Star Wars sequels, we would not even be talking about them today. The sequels would have been laughable jokes; the original would have been considered a one-off of minor importance; and we would not be looking forward to an Episode 7 later this year, let alone all the books and cartoons and video games and whatnot associated with the franchise.
On the other hand, if the Wachowskis had been like the Lucas of that era (as opposed to the era of the prequels) and had had the humility to recognize their own mediocrity, and had then handed the director’s chair to someone more competent for their sequels… I have no doubt that the Matrix would have been one of the most important sci-fi/fantasy franchises of 2015 and one of the most profitable movie franchises in the world not involving Marvel heroes.
Recognizing when we suck. Is there anything worse than that? But it makes us not only better professionals, but better humans.