June 20, 2010

Jonah Hex shows Hollywood's "thinking"

A critic discusses how the Jonah Hex movie went wrong. In part, by using mystical Indians to give Hex supernatural powers.

Hexed Weekend

By Greg Hatcher"When you're looking at making a wide release feature film, you have to appeal to as many people as possible and as I've said many times before a western is a hard sell regardless of the medium. With the monthly book we write, [readers get] a mash-up of straight western with spaghetti and grindhouse, stories that have a pulp nature, but are firmly rooted in the realism of the old west. I really think the way the film is shot and the differences will appeal to a young audience, and that's what makes sense in terms of marketing."

In other words, the movie people clearly decided, Jonah Hex as a straight western isn't going to be big enough and loud enough for a summer comic book movie. We better tweak it to be bigger and louder. Because we can't sell a western.

Speaking as someone who loves Westerns in general and Jonah Hex in particular, this notion is maddening. Because it seems obvious to me that the core film of Jonah Hex started as something good, the filmmakers clearly meant to do right by the character...but it slowly got tweaked and edited to death in an atmosphere of increasing panic over how to market the thing. And all because "we can't sell a western."

Hollywood can't sell a western? Are you kidding me? Westerns have been successful in movies and television for the better part of a century. Stagecoach. Gunsmoke. The Searchers. Bonanza. True Grit. Rio Bravo. Ride the High Country. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild Bunch. The Magnificent Seven and the three sequels and TV series that spun out of it. A Fistful of Dollars. High Plains Drifter. And so on.

Oh, sure, those are classics. But they mean you can't market a Western movie to modern audiences.

Uh-huh. So I guess we just won't count Silverado, Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, Unforgiven, Broken Trail, The Quick and the Dead, Young Guns, Lonesome Dove, Deadwood, 3:10 to Yuma, Pale Rider, Dances With Wolves, or any of a dozen others I could name. I didn't even mention the successful series of Louis L'Amour adaptations done for TNT starring Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott, or the Hallmark Channel's equally-successful series of made-for-TV westerns starring Kevin Sorbo, Luke Perry, and Lou Diamond Phillips.
Hatcher sums it up:This "westerns are dead" business is one of those things where I can't figure out how the idiot idea ever took hold in the first place, there's a mountain of evidence to contradict it, but it did. The moviemakers got it lodged in their heads that Westerns are a hard sell and so they decreed that Jonah Hex can't look like a Western. Instead, they front-loaded it with Megan Fox and a heavy-metal soundtrack and a lot of CGI and prayed something would stick.Comment:  This Hollywood mentality also explains why studios won't make movies featuring normal or modern Indians. Because the racists people in charge don't think Indians are interesting or "sexy" enough to move audiences. Indians are good only if they're savage warriors or mystical shamans.

Jonah Hex is already tanking at the box office. Once again, we see that Hollywood doesn't know anything. Hundreds of Native filmmakers could take the same actors, equipment, and money and make a better and more profitable movie.

For more on the subject, see Hollywood's Cultural Conservatism and Indians Hold Steady at 0.3%.

Below:  Big explosions always make a movie more exciting.

1 comment:

John Lees said...

Greg Hatcher has it right when he talks about how "Jonah Hex" seemed like it was at its core a good movie before the studios tweaked with it and edited it to death.

I read the first draft of the script, by the people who did "Crank" and "Gamer". It was totally nuts, very much a hard R, gritty, grindhouse-tinged Western. And there were no mystical Indians with supernatural powers giving Hex the power to raise the dead.

But then the Neveldine brothers got fired and replaced by the "Horton Hears a Who" director, the movie went from R to PG 13, and all these baffling changes were added. I've not seen the movie, maybe it's not as bad as a I fear. But from the looks of it, it's a real shame, and a wasted opportunity.