Joining the prequel ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ could be a welcome homecoming.
Alan Taylor could be doing a lot better considering the watershed moments that make up much of his career. A prolific stint directing episodes for some of the best HBO shows should not have resulted in the relative non-events of his recent big-screen exploits. Yes, Thor: The Dark World and Terminator Genisys, I am in fact talking about you.
Returning to some familiar territory for his next feature-length production could then bode well for Taylor. The Wrap reports that he will get behind the camera to helm The Many Saints of Newark, the prequel to David Chase’s HBO series The Sopranos. This won’t mark Taylor’s first time in Sopranos territory, given that he directed a total of nine episodes throughout his tenure on the show and actually won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for “Kennedy and Heidi,” one of the series’ final episodes. Having also helmed the penultimate episode of The Sopranos (“The Blue Comet”), Taylor clearly left his mark on the show’s most crucial moments.
The Many Saints of Newark will be co-written by Chase and Lawrence Konner, who also contributed scripts to The Sopranos back in the day. This is shaping up to be like one big happy family reunion.
Even if you’ve not seen an episode of The Sopranos, you’d be hard-pressed not to know that it left an indelible mark on the small screen. The show essentially put HBO on the map as a gamechanger in long-form storytelling. Series such as Six Feet Under and Breaking Bad then followed in its footsteps with their focus on morally grey characters, ushering in the New Golden Age of Television.
The Sopranos follows the exploits of New Jersey-based mobsters. Over the course of six seasons, it was known for its large cast of rich characters. Tony Soprano may be the protagonist, but on the whole, the series focused on in-depth character development amidst portrayals of gangster stereotypes (whether these archetypal portrayals simply presented negative representations of Italian-Americans is constantly up for debate). The Sopranos is also known for its tantalizingly polarizing finale.
The Many Saints of Newark will reportedly take the Sopranos lore back to the 1960s. Set in the time of the Newark riots, the film tracks the heightened racial tensions between African-American and Italian-American communities, a merciless environment that culminates in extreme violence. These pressures and conflicts will occupy center stage after only being tangentially and inadequately explored in The Sopranos itself, but several characters from the original show can be expected to make reappearances as their younger selves. No casting announcements have yet been revealed.
Many will be familiar with Taylor’s work on several other memorable TV shows, with the most prominent of all being Game of Thrones. Taylor’s contributions to earlier seasons of the fantasy epic have been narratively ground-breaking, with “Baelor,” “Fire and Blood,” and “Valar Morghulis” being among his repertoire. He most recently returned to helm another series game-changer, the seventh season episode “Beyond the Wall.”
Taylor worked on shows such as Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Rome, and Big Love under the HBO umbrella, too. However, Taylor can make good TV wherever he goes if handed a worthy script. I’m particularly partial to his input on Lost, for which he effectively helmed one of the more character-driven episodes of the show and provided a necessary emotional anchor to the sprawling mythology unfolding alongside it.
On the big screen, Taylor’s earlier efforts have reaped mostly positive results. Palookaville starring William Forsythe and The Emperor’s New Clothes starring Ian Holm received a warm reception for their wit and emotional resonance. The David Krumholtz starrer Kill the Poor garnered more polarized reactions, but can still be celebrated for its merits as a character piece despite its lack of structural integrity.
So where did all that heart go for Taylor’s two big blockbusters? To be fair, The Dark World and Terminator Genisys weren’t a total mess financially speaking. The Thor sequel grossed $644.6 million worldwide against a $170-272 million gross budget. The might of Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to lure international audiences into cinema seats for Terminator Genisys after a lackluster level of domestic engagement. It grossed $440.6 million worldwide against a budget of $155 million.
However, critically, both these films didn’t do all that well. There’s nothing particularly bad about The Dark World in terms of its structural integrity, but it’s just one of the blander entries in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film executes all its arcs in a generally humdrum fashion. Thor and Jane Foster deserved better. The Infinity Stones deserved better. Oh, and the movie just about wasted Christopher Eccleston.
Meanwhile, Terminator Genisys attempts to take some risks with its franchise lore, but it ends up being unnecessarily convoluted by the end. The film is rather bloated for something that merely pays homage to the original Terminator series.
Taylor took a break from directing after his Terminator movie, returning a couple of years later to helm “Beyond the Wall.” The Game of Thrones episode put him back on everyone’s radar in a big way, and capitalizing on that renewed exposure by returning to a career (as well as cultural) milestone in the Sopranos prequel seems like a promising next step.