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Unleash the Bots!
(But only on Studio Execs)
Rolling Stone dropped a very amusing story earlier this week arguing that the percentage of bot-generated traffic around the so-called Snyder Cut of Justice League was marginally higher than for other topics (perhaps 13 percent bot-oriented as opposed to the standard figure of roughly five percent, meaning that a mere 87 percent of the torrent of traffic was genuine) and that Zack Snyder himself may have had some had in organizing this campaign.
I say it’s a very amusing story because it’s a transparent hit piece on Snyder planted by disgruntled WB execs that makes Snyder sound … pretty awesome every step of the way? Like, here’s a director who was forced out of a project by a studio and then deployed a combination of clever social media use and the loyalty of his actors to completely roll the studio. It’s a movie that reportedly lost nine figures on theatrical release that Snyder was able to then get another nine figures to complete and release on HBO Max in its full four-hour form.
For instance, here’s a thing we’re very clearly supposed to think is bad:
What the studio didn’t know at the time was that Snyder had already shot footage in his backyard at the height of the pandemic. Sources say the rogue shoot flouted Covid protocols and union guidelines. (Snyder acknowledges two shoots were done in his backyard during the pandemic, insisting that both adhered to Covid protocols, and noting that one shoot was authorized by Warner Bros.)
From the Covid scolding and the union handwringing to the fact that he supposedly went behind the studio’s back, we are definitely supposed to be tut-tutting this. But … it sounds kind of awesome? I mean, does this look like a fetid den of Covid transmission to you?
And, I’m sorry: since when do journalists and critics and fans take the side of the goddamn suits at the studio against the side of the artists? Who sits there thinking “You know what, RKO was right about that damnable Orson Welles and his vision for The Magnificent Ambersons!” Again, this is why the story is so funny: it’s a bunch of executives whining about how they got owned by Snyder over and over again … and they think they’re the heroes of this story!
Spoiler: they are not. The suits are never the hero of any story.
The easy counter to all this is “but the bots spurred harassment! Won’t someone please think of the mean people on Twitter!” But let me tell you: as a film critic who has written negative reviews of virtually every major franchise, Snyder Stans have no monopoly on being awful to people on Twitter. The MCU’s fanboys are just as happy wishing ugly violence upon those who denigrate their beloved IP as anyone else.
Rather than a cautionary tale, Snyder’s victory here should serve as a lesson to every filmmaker who hopes to get the purest form of their vision onto the big screen. I for one hope that Michael Mann sees what Snyder did and realizes that the surest path to getting his film Blackhat released in its preferred form is to unleash the bot hordes upon the studio that refuses to put resources into getting it released. Wouldn’t you love to see the three-and-a-half hour version of Gangs of New York? I know I would. I doubt David Fincher has any desire to revisit Alien 3, but it would at least a little funny if the remnants of 20th Century Fox were pressured into giving him $100 million for a do-over, right?
Look: bot networks paid by foreign enemy powers to mess with our democracy are bad. But bots messing with penny-pinching studio heads who cannot recognize artistic vision? That’s very good.
This week I reviewed Nope, the latest from Jordan Peele. I have to say, I’m surprised by the number of raves I’m seeing, as this feels clearly like the least of his movies. Still good, but a bit of a mess. (For the record: Us > Get Out >> Nope.) Nope nudges up to the line of “interesting failure,” but I’d rather watch an interesting failure than a successful mediocrity any day of the week.
I didn’t see NOPE in IMAX, but I want to because Peele brought Hoyte van Hoytema—probably best known as the cinematographer for Christopher Nolan on Dunkirk, Tenet, and Interstellar—on board to shoot in IMAX. There’s even an IMAX camera operated by an extremely focused DP in the movie! This is a mostly spoiler-free discussion of what was shot in the large format, so read without fear of having the movie ruined for you.
Since I mentioned successful mediocrities: The Gray Man hit Netflix today. I reviewed it last week. It’s a very solid example of a movie you can easily watch while folding socks.
If you want something a little more lady-oriented, on Across the Movie Aisle this week we reviewed Where the Crawdads Sing and … I think I liked it more than Alyssa or Peter? Though I do have a suggestion on how the twist ending could’ve been a bit more convincing.
Speaking of ATMA, make sure to check out our special bonus episode on southern storytelling and the charm of America’s gothic envrions.
On The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood this week, I talked to Mark Altman and Ed Gross about their new oral history of John Wick that also serves as a survey of action movie cinema since the start of the film industry. If you ever wanted to know how an oral history comes together, this is the podcast to listen to. And if you’re in San Diego for the Comic Con, make sure to check out their panel today!
Jack White’s an interesting dude and I wasn’t expecting him to address the various interpretations of “Carolina Drama”—the best song from his greatest project, The Raconteurs—in this interview, but here we are.
Speaking of interesting dudes giving interviews to Vulture Magazine, this chat with Steven Yeun is well worth your time.
Assigned Viewing: The Criterion Channel’s Christo and Jeanne-Claude Collection
In the sub-headline of my Nope review I mention the conceptual environmental artist Christo without really explaining why I mentioned him because, well, I live in fear of a band of terroristic anti-spoiler elements burning my home to the ground. But if you go see Nope and you want to understand the reference, check out the Criterion Channel’s documentary series on Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The documentaries put together by Albert and David Maysles are pretty quick and will make it abundantly clear why, exactly, I obliquely referenced the artist in my review.