Allow me to introduce you to this new series of articles! Full disclosure, as well as a disclaimer, I don’t actually hate any of the directors in these articles. (HA! I just baited your click!) I speak in hyperbole merely because it’s funny. However, in my experience, it’s become apparent that simply declaring, “I’m not a big fan of (insert popular director),” causes people to infer that you actually “HATE THIS WRETCHED ABOMINATION OF CINEMATIC ARTISTRY!”
But, let me be perfectly clear here… not being a fan doesn’t equate to hate or disrespect for the artist. Just because I don’t like strawberry ice cream doesn’t mean I hate “happiness milk.” ‘Cause I love it, I’m just lactose intolerant (okay, maybe this example got away from me).
That’s why in this series I will attempt to explain myself, a filmmaker, and the hills I will DIE on when it comes to certain directors and the types of film choices they make. I will also do my best to include contextual examples and even offer feedback on what I think would improve their style in a hopefully objective manner. This is not crapping on these directors, this is merely an attempt to voice my opinion and see what you all think about these incredible artists and create a dialogue.
Without further ado, let’s do this (oh shit)…
First up: Quentin Tarantino. I know. How taboo, right?
I’m going to start with someone who is possibly the most jarring example of a great director that I have issues with. Saying you don’t like Tarantino to a film lover or filmmaker is akin to saying, “The Beatles suck!” to anyone with ears and a soul.
Again, I do not hate Tarantino’s films. On the contrary, I find him as one of the most important directors in modern cinema. His method of storytelling and nearly flawless ability to capture genuine human interactions is something to be admired by anyone looking into script writing. Hell, his writing style is the central focus of many writing courses in college. The only people I can think of capable of rivaling his style are the Cohen brothers.
It is his directing style, however, where I take umbrage.
For however consummate Tarantino truly is in writing organic human interaction, he has a tendency of leaning into this form of realism far too much for what was initially promised as the focused genre. That’s especially true when he promises the most bombastically violent and action-packed film since the last most bombastically violent and action-packed film he made. And, oh brother, does he deliver on that promise… eventually.
BUT, dear God it takes so long to get there.
Tarantino focuses on the realistic aspect of the characters and their conversations, and more recently has leaned into the action like he originally promised: bombastic and action-packed. The problem being that this form of hyper realistic narrative is extremely difficult to inject in such a cinematically action-driven story. And if you go in thinking it’s just an action movie and get a strong character study, which is easy to do, this can take you out of the brilliance of his films. Additionally, part of his realism is to include over-saturated storytelling. He tends to give far more information than is needed. I don’t care what Kurt Russell thinks about coffee! Just please get to the point.
Imagine if Tarantino were given a Batman film. Here’s how I believe it would go:
Tarantino knows that you are already painfully aware of Bruce Wayne’s past and, correctly, assumes you don’t need a recap. So, he won’t go through the dead parents or training montage and instead we’ll get a Batman movie where he’s already Batmanning as Batman. The opening scene is two criminals having a long-winded conversation about sandwiches or something only to reveal after 5 minutes that they’re torturing a family for money.
Then Batman shows up.
But it’s more like a stalking serial killer from a horror movie. We don’t see him, but he takes out one of the guys surgically. The other finds his partner, we see Batman’s silhouette ominously emerging from the shadows behind him, then the title screen: Batman: Rogues Gallery. Strong 30-minute opening! A different take on a famous franchise. VERY Tarantino.
Then we get about an hour’s worth of Edward Nigma and Victor Zsasz collecting various villains and cryptically speaking about a “plan” they have. This is the over-saturated part I was talking about: lots of conversations that don’t go anywhere, characters that we begin to relate to that die offscreen immediately after being developed so the time we spent with them didn’t matter, and all the while Bruce Wayne isn’t even in the picture anymore.
Now the good stuff. The villains—Riddler, Zsasz, Black Mask, Penguin, Two-Face—all storm Wayne manor, take Alfred hostage, and keep him in the master bedroom, torturing him. Again, Batman is nowhere to be seen. Now we get a character study of all the villains as Alfred questions them, picking their brains and learning about them and their motives. Brilliant acting and some of the best lines put to paper.
Finally, Batman shows himself. He uses their vulnerability to dismantle all 5 villains in a BRILLIANT 5-minute action scene. Some of the best fight choreography and stunt work in any film. The film ends with the villains subdued, Alfred dying from his injuries, and Batman contemplating whether he will take their lives or not as he holds a since-passed Alfred in his arms.
Who am I kidding, I’d KILL to see this Tarantino-style movie that I just made up!
All this, however, is in a 2 1/2 hour BATMAN movie, where he’s maybe a side character at best. There’s 10 minutes total of great action, but it ultimately flatlines for a casual viewer who isn’t a Tarantino fan.
There isn’t anything wrong with creating a character-driven action drama, but you can’t forget the action part.
And you know the media attached to this will be showing nothing but Batman and how dark and twisted the movie would be, forcing you to go in expecting a comic-book Batman film with a Tarantino twist instead of the other way around. And we know the other way around works! Just look at Joker, for crying out loud. Not to mention, that big hour-long part where nothing happens could be cut entirely, like some pretty big spots in most Tarantino films. That extra hour could make this unwatchable to some audiences.
You’re reading this on paper (internet screen?), which is much easier to digest. Imagine going to see a Batman movie where there’s only 5 minutes of actual Batman, or even Bruce Wayne, and, instead of ANY action, there’s far more character study with an emphasis on the study part. There isn’t anything wrong with creating a character-driven action drama. However, you can’t forget the action part.
I created this example rather than using one of his existing films because many of us already have an opinion on Tarantino’s existing films. His legacy is sound. Regardless of whether or not you like his work, that opinion is already formulated. With this hypothetical example, we can view Tarantino’s formula more objectively. Even if this movie that doesn’t exist (yet) sounds super badass (man!), you know there will be people that hate the concept.
So let’s fix that right now, and easily: The title.
Name the movie The Rogues Gallery. That’s it. In any and all press, exclude Batman. Promise that this will be a movie about the villains and what makes them tick. Offer nothing else. People will only expect to go in getting to know the villains, not see Batman Batmanning with batarangs and a bat-bat (that’s a baseball bat in the shape of a bat symbol). Give me what you promised, damn it!
Tarantino does this a LOT! Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was awesome and tons of violent action, then its sequel, Vol. 2, took a weird turn that I couldn’t appreciate as a viewer until I wasn’t a stupid high schooler. Inglourious Basterds (still the movie I HATE most in his catalog) barely featured any of the “Basterds” we actually went to see and, instead, had 10-hour-long conversations about nothing and everyone died anyway (but Christoph Waltz is the F’n GOAT). The Hateful Eight had a bunch of characters (9, I think?) with background information we didn’t need to appreciate the whole story, and it only got really good after everyone started dying (which is why there’s a 4-hour version). And Death Proof… I won’t even get into that mess… though the last 20 minutes were awesome.
What I would suggest to Tarantino, or any filmmaker, is to know your own themes. If you’re making a character drama with action, tell me that’s what it is. Don’t tell me to expect TONS of action when I’m only getting one (albeit very impressive) fist or gun fight while the actual point of the film is to understand what the characters truly embrace out of life. Tarantino is very capable of great action and action-driven plots, but I love his character study and would appreciate knowing which film I’m getting when going to see it. Creating an audience expectation for a film that is heavily objective can really create dissonance in the community and generate animosity with your audience. Know what you’re writing, know your themes and genres, and most importantly, know what you are promising.
What are your thoughts on Tarantino as a director? What directors do you feel have a similar problem with setting the wrong expectations? Drop your thoughts in the comments. #ComeAtMeBro #ThisWasABadIdea