If you’re a long time reader of this column (be honest, you can’t start your week without it) you may recall me blasting off against films that are “presented by (big name)” or those that otherwise try to capitalize on a big name that, in reality, has little to do with what you’re about to watch.
Like “from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg” or “Quentin Tarantino presents.” Nothing against these gentlemen, but hell, more than 99% of the time they’ve had absolutely zero to do with what you’re watching.
I think the last time I went down a similar road was when JJ Abrams was getting all the credit for Cloverfield and less than 10% (made up statistic!) of people knew who Matt Reeves was, despite the fact that he directed a smart and enjoyable film. The recently released Devil faced a similar situation, though one in a much more negative way. Virtually all critics and a relatively wide swath of audiences dismissed Devil once the name M. Night Shyamalan appeared on the screen. After all, the guy’s said some ridiculous stuff about his own career, has made a handful of junk movies, and recently stunk up screens with The Last Airbender. So maybe Devil does deserve a lukewarm reception.
Except that M. Night didn’t write or direct it so it’s not really fair to judge the film on his name.
If you can find me a review that didn’t drop Shyamalan’s name in it, I’m more than happy to e-mail you a No-Prize. Which doesn’t include an actual e-mail. But the vast majority of people who’ve seen the film, and enjoyed it, express surprise at it. A few even mention that Shyamalan has redeemed himself. Say what? M. Night produced Devil, and yes, producers do hold some sway over projects. He’s also credited for the “story” though, to be honest, getting a story credit when you’re a producer can be as simple as saying “Hey what if the Devil rode in an elevator?”
Devil is the hard work of director John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) and writer Brian Nelson (Hard Candy). Yeah, see, you know those titles. Pretty good stuff. Neither one of them is credited on The Last Airbender. Or The Village. Or Lady in the Water. Shyamalan dirtied his own name not by producing films, but by helming them straight into walls of mediocrity.
Think back to all the reviews you’ve read of movies. Ever. How many times has someone mentioned a producer? Who credits David Brown for his work on Jaws or Gary Kurtz for his work on producing the Star Wars films? Very few people. Only nerds who namedrop and IMDb their credits before putting them in a review like I just did.
So why the shit flinging at Devil over Shyamalan? I mean, the reason why I hated Crank 2 was because of the Caterer they used, because that’s about as relevant in this situation. I think here what we saw is an example of was audiences outsmarting the critics. Critics heard about audiences booing Shyamalan’s name and figured, “Hey, let’s trounce this film.” Maybe, I don’t know, maybe there is just a lot of stupidity going around.
All I’m saying is it doesn’t matter what names are shouted out, who did the catering, who ran the payroll company, or, in this case, who was the producer. Sure, sometimes we hear horror studios about producers messing films up with their meddling, but if 99 times out 100 we don’t give a damn about a producer, why give one now? The real creative power behind films are writers and directors and actors. Not businessmen or people spitting out ideas. Whether for good or bad, any time I see some name on a poster getting more attention than those who actually bled and poured their sweat into it, I take the express elevator to my boiling point.