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Purists

By Alyssa Rosenberg on January 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm

"Purists"

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So, I’ve been reading through Hero Complex’s awesome, three part interview with Neill Blomkamp over the past few days.  And while the guy definitely has a lot of ideas about movies I agree with (original stories are a neat idea! Sci-fi and social messaging can work really well together!  An intimate association with place can only make movies stronger!), I feel like there’s something a bit…precious in his resistance to Hollywood, especially for a guy who made a blockbuster, and whose mentor is Peter Jackson.  Take this:

GB: It’s an admirable goal but other filmmakers have found that, if they want to make well-budgeted special-effects movies, they have to bend to studio pressure to make films that are remakes, adaptations, sequels, etc. Studios feel far more comfortable with “known quantity” properties when the budgets go north of $100 million.

NB: That’s exactly right and that’s precisely the reason I don’t want to do high-budget films. I’ve said no already to doing the Hollywood movie thing with big budgets. And that is the exact reason.

Now, District 9 wasn’t made for Avatar money, but $30 million isn’t pocket change to anyone, not even a movie studio.  The truth is, no matter how often Blomkamp says things like this:

GB: It’s interesting – most directors in your position would have sought a bigger budget at this point, especially if they wanted their next film to be an action or special-effects film. You have a different plan. Could you talk more about that?

NB: I’ve been offered films – a lot of films, in fact – with seriously high budgets, and I’ve turned them all down. The reason is exactly what you said earlier: Once the budgets get bigger, you can’t do what you want as a director, unless you’re Peter Jackson or James Cameron. And even then, the pressure is still on the filmmaker. Even if the studio isn’t clamping down on you, all the pressure is on the director. And if you screw that up, the jeopardy situation is even worse. The way you don’t get yourself in that jeopardy situation is by making films that aren’t as risky financially. I just want to make films that have enough of a budget to pull off high-level imagery but also have a budget that is low enough that I can do what I want.

I just don’t really believe he wants to make a true, tiny-budget indie.  There’s this very weird moment when he says movies based on video games don’t work, and the interviewer asks why he was going to make the Halo movie, and his response is essentially “moving on.”  And then there’s the standard Hollywood-bashing:

GB: So it’s not the familiarity of the face that bothers you, it’s the physics of stardom and Hollywood.

NB: Yeah exactly. That’s it. I don’t want egos and personalities on the set that make it more difficult to make the film. I don’t want people who take the focus away from the movie and the ideas behind the movie.

GB: Considering that stance and what you’ve said about the Hollywood machine, is it uncomfortable for you to promote your movie with an eye toward it as an awards season contender?

NB: A little bit. Sony has kind of pushed for awards and, really, if I feel like people are watching the film because they are interested in the film, then it’s fine. I’m fine with that. But if I feel even remotely like I’m being asked to be a salesman, I have a problem.

This seems really dopey to me.  Look, you can’t want to make movies with significant budgets, and want them to be seen by a lot of people, and have Peter Jackson as your mentor even as you insist he’s not responsible for your success because he’s just so busy, and also be totally pure.  I’m a big believer in and defender of the popcorn movie as an artistic concept.  I don’t see what’s wrong with making something awesome and gorgeous and original and heartrending that also happens to make hundreds of millions of dollars–in fact, doing that, as Blomkamp did this summer, seems like the ultimate purist’s trick on the capitalists and the studios.  But all this pretending strikes me as a little…silly.  If what Blomkamp wants is to make totally pure art, he can always shoot movies of South Africa and get ‘em exhibited somewhere.  If he wants to be an ambassador for the country, he can make documentaries, or work in a trade bureau or a human rights organization.  He chose to do something else, and I’m glad he did, because he clearly has a lot of talent for it.  But he shouldn’t pretend he chose to do anything other than what he did, which is to make outrageously original and moving entertainment.  That’s worth a lot in my book.  Blomkamp shouldn’t be afraid of the profits.

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