What The Studios Miss About Christopher Nolan's Success
All the studios hiring this relative new blood take the basic idea of promise trumping evidence without really looking at what Nolan did after he got to that point. His movies aren't just indie sensibilities painted onto the blockbuster formula; he built his own, new machine. Watch a Nolan and you're seeing Nolan; he constructs the narrative and injects the themes that make him distinctive, all the while making sure he hits the required marketability. He's a workman director, marking every checkpoint off on the studio mandate without asking while adding his own flair. Finished product aside, his productions are a well-oiled, with minimal excess waste produced; there are few deleted scenes from his films usually because there aren't any. He plans, he executes, he delivers.
Further, when he's not making the requisite tentpoles - something he definitely seems to have evolved beyond by now - his idea of "one for me, one for you" is delightfully game-playing. His "passion projects" include such seismic hits as Inception and Interstellar; when Nolan's making personal movies, either through conscious balance or innate skill he makes them suitable for the studio system. Currently, he's in the process of releasing a war movie in the peak of summer that's 109 minutes long and rated PG-13. That's a bold move on the part of Warner Bros., but it's also a highlight of how well Nolan works in the system, becoming a next-level event filmmaker.
This approach should be obvious from the voice of his work. The Prestige, made just after that Batman rise, is a movie all about creative debate, with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman's magicians representing different sides of the performer coin; Bale believes in art for the artist and lives his greatest trick, while Jackman cares only about "the looks on their faces" and having the audience believe in the unbelievable through whatever means necessary. In the end, both characters end up having to sacrifice literal halves of themselves to achieve success, in the process losing that pure ideal. Nolan's point with the film isn't just commenting on the idea of duality or the extents we go to for our passions, but saying that true artistic brilliance comes from a balance of both sides, something his entire career represents.
Nobody has really shown comparable sense or ability. The big movies the directors we've discussed take on don't have the same assured production, whereas their personal projects are just that; James Gunn wrote the little seen (and messy) The Belko Experiment between Guardians of the Galaxy and Colin Trevorrow's breather between Jurassic and Star Wars 9 was the roundly reviled Book of Henry. Again, this isn't an inherent problem, but that studios are clearly so desperate to repeat the Nolan formula without understanding how he grew beyond making a tentpole only leads to lesser product all round. Look at the failure of Josh Trank, who was pushed to the big leagues on the back of one good movie and crashed and burned on Fant4stic under a snowstorm of studio reshoots, in turn impacting his Star Wars hopes.
The closest we may have to a proper new Nolan is Matt Reeves. From Cloverfield onwards, he's been someone with an astute understanding of the artistic-business balance of Hollywood, shown in his resplendent, subtle Planet of the Apes prequels. In Dawn and War, he's exemplified an ability to command big budgets and franchise expectations without faltering on unique vision, something we've not seen really since The Dark Knight Trilogy. But of course, he built himself up slowly, a talent-driven rise more like Spielberg. Indeed, while that he's going onto The Batman is a humorous parallel with Nolan, it only serves to highlight their differences.
It's important to remember Batman wasn't a primo series when Nolan took over. Yes, it had immense potential, but after the complete failure of Batman & Robin had been stuck in development purgatory for the better part of a decade. It was tainted goods, with the series closer to Adam West's camp than the brooding Dark Knight of the contemporary comics. A new tone was needed, which predicated a unique voice; getting someone from outside the usual rat race was essential. For a while this looked to be Darren Aronofsky - a director of similar prominence to Nolan at the time - who was eyeing up a straight Year One adaptation, but it obviously later shifted to Chris. He was fast-tracked in a very specific situation.
That's totally different to a new Jurassic Park or Godzilla, movies that have a high bar set from conception. There is some logic in going small and indie for, say, Marc Webb on The Amazing Spider-Man - the initial aim was a boutique, low-budget version to retain the rights - but the moment you start puffing randoms up to large scale, dependable films, the choice becomes questionable and really representative of a larger shift.
- Dunkirk (2017) release date: Jul 21, 2017