Friday Question: Movies with Great Ideas, Poor Execution?

TGIF everyone! Certainly glad the weekend is approaching. Well, another week of blah at the cinema, nothing opens this weekend that I really want to see. Seems like aging Hollywood actors dominate the big screen with Stallone starring in Bullet to the Head, and Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Christopher Walken makes up a trio of aging con-men in Stand Up Guys. They all face off against a bunch of young’un zombies in Warm Bodies.

For today’s post, I thought I’d open things up for discussion on a topic that certainly every moviegoer has an opinion on. It’s a subject matter that’s been covered frequently by movie editors and bloggers alike, but it’s always fun to revisit again as there are perhaps as many movies that fit into this ‘great concepts, poor execution’ category than those we consider great or rubbish. I think science fiction films ‘suffer’ the most, though of course it’s not limited to that genre.

InTimePosterA perfect example is In Time. This movie actually came up in a discussion at a happy hour after work the other day. Someone mentioned how fascinating it was to imagine living in a world where time is a currency. The rich can live forever but the rest of the population wish they could “…wake up with more time on my hand than hours in the day.” That’s what Justin Timberlake’s character said in the beginning in the movie.

I really like this concept but the direction just lack a certain finesse that prevent this from becoming a sci-fi classic like say, Minority Report. In my review I said that a capable director like Christopher Nolan or Ridley Scott could’ve taken this intriguing oncept to new heights.

I had issues with Timberlake’s casting and I’m convinced that another, more skilled actor would’ve been far more compelling to watch, but I think Andew Niccol’s direction is an even bigger issue. Somehow the whole thing felt like a frivolous action movies where a bunch of good looking young stars simply look cool running around, getting involved in shootouts and car chases without any real sense of danger. It’s a shame as the store could’ve been explored more in-depth and the film could’ve been more thought-provoking.

My pal Ted offered up three more examples:

AugustPosterAugust (2008) – This little seen film about the downfall of dot com boom in late 90s/early 2000s starred Josh Hartnett as the Founder/CEO of a hot tech start-up dot-com company. The film showed how he ran his company to the ground and went from being worth $200mil to basically being broke.

Since I’ve been involved in many tech start-ups, I was excited to see this film. Unfortunately it was poorly-written and directed. Instead of focusing on how he ran his company to the ground, the film only focuses on how big a big of jerk Hartnett’s character was to his friends and family. By the end of the film, I wanted to punch his character in the face. With a concept like this, they should’ve hired a more experienced and talented director/writer instead of some no name director and writer. What this film got wrong, Fincher and Sorkin got right when they made the excellent The Social Network a couple of years later.

EscapeNY_PosterEscape from New York (1981) – I actually thought this was a very good film but I wish it has bigger budget because it’s such a high concept idea that I didn’t think it got executed properly. It’s not the filmmakers’ fault, I mean Carpenter and his crew did their best of what was available to them. There’s been talk about the remake the last few years and I’m actually looking forward to seeing it. With today’s technology and bigger budget, it could be an epic action film that the original wanted to be.

FirefoxPosterFirefox (1982) – This was a rare espionage thriller that Clint Eastwood had made. It’s about a pilot (Eastwood) who was sent to Russia by the CIA to steal an advance jet fighter that the Russian had created. I really like the script; it has everything you want for a spy film, unfortunately I thought Eastwood’s direction was very clunky. It’s probably because he hasn’t done this kind high concept film before and I felt like he’s in over his head. It’s quite a big budget production for its time but the special effects looked awful, again the technology just wasn’t advanced enough for this kind of high concept idea.

I think John Carter is another one that came to mind, though I still think the film isn’t nearly as bad as what the critics made it out to be. But given the significance of the source material that actually inspired such a lucrative franchise like Star Wars, it could’ve been far more memorable. To a smaller extent, the film I saw recently, Puncture, also comes to mind. I mentioned in my review the similarity between that and Michael Mann’s The Insider, both based on a true David vs Goliath story involved in a legal battle. Whilst Mann’s direction was riveting from start to finish, this one just wasn’t nearly as engrossing. Sure you could say that Chris Evans just isn’t Russell Crowe, but while that’s certainly true, the main problem I have is with the style and direction of the Kassen brothers. It happens to be their film debut, so I guess that explains it.

Well, there’s no shortage of such movies and Hollywood keep churning them up, too! In fact, a lot of great concepts from a variety of sources, be that books, graphic novels, what have you, get butchered by poor execution in film adaptations.

So what movies you think have great potential but the intriguing concept is botched by poor execution?

61 thoughts on “Friday Question: Movies with Great Ideas, Poor Execution?

    1. Ted S.

      I think it’s Fox and Scott’s fault for hyping the film to be something more than it was. It’s a prequel to his original Alien film and that’s it. But because of the huge marketing push that promised to be something special, it didn’t deliver. It followed all of the previous Alien films structure, nothing special about it at all. I agree though that it could’ve been a great prequel had they explore their concept deeper but unfortunately it’s just another Alien thriller.

  1. 30 Days of Night. It’s a fantastic idea for a vampire film, but the film is silly and could have just as easily been called “Four Days of Night” or “A Hard Day of Night.” It’s internally inconsistent throughout–what a wasted premise.

    1. Oh I haven’t seen that one, thankfully. Have you seen Daybreaker? I quite like that one, one of the most intriguing concept of a vampire film IMO.

  2. I had more of a problem with the direction than Justin in In Time too(And i agree with your complaint about the direction in Puncture). I think in better hands Timberlake would have done fine

    As for me, a recent example would be God Bless America.I believe it could have ended up the American Psycho for the current generation…but the execution just wasn’t there. The first 30 minutes seemed promising enough, but its reliance on preachy speeches just annoyed me. A little subtlety would have gone a long way. Another flaw was that it wasn’t sure whether it wanted you to care about the central characters. Like in American psycho it was obvious Bateman was more of symbol than a character so you don’t really think about what he’s doing(or at least that is how i felt). But in god Bless America certain scenes seemed like it was trying to make you are for its characters,which is kind of difficult to pull off when said characters are going on a murder spree. Also its insistence on using intrusive music almost every scene got rather annoying.

    I also think Red Riding Hood had potential, but was executed badly. My main issue with it was that it seemed to want to be this dark story without actually really delving into the darker aspects(Id argue Snow White & the Huntsmen also fell into that trap, although to a far lesser extent). For example, the characters kept talking about the wolf as a vicious creature that tears its victims apart, but its victims looked barely injured. It looked like they were stabbed with a pencil rather than attacked by a ferocious creature. I am not saying a movie needs to be uber violent to be good, but if you are going to have characters talk about ow a character tears its victims apart there needs to be some visual confirmation of that.

    1. Ted S.

      I’m trying to remember God Bless America, is that the one directed by Bobcat Goldwaith? I avoided anything that has Bobcat’s name attached to it. He’s just annoying as an actor and apparently he’s a filmmaker now.

      Have no desire to see Red Riding Hood so no opinion from me.

        1. She’s supposedly good in Les Miz? I haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know. She was all right in Letters To Juliet but I’m not a big fan of hers generally.

  3. OMG Ruth, I saw the title of your post in my email inbox and I immediately thought of In Time. I actually like Timberlake as an actor, as well as Seyfried, but this one demanded people with more range. The film is not that bad but, like you say, a gifted director like Nolan could’ve worked wonders. Agree with John Carter as well.

    1. We’re kindred spirits Fernando! “…this one demanded people with more range” You are spot on there, and it didn’t help that the material wasn’t explored very well either.

    1. Ted S.

      Actually T., it’s Ruth who enjoyed John Carter, I turned the film off about 45 minutes into it. Can not stand Taylor K. as the leading man.

      1. Ahah yeah it’s me who likes John Carter more than Ted. I thought Kitsch was better than what I had thought, but my expectation was already quite low. I do think with a different actor it could’ve been a much more compelling role.

  4. So many movies where I expected more, but which disappointed. The remake of Total Recall, any Terminator movie after 2 are the ones that immediately jump to mind.

    Ruth, don’t know if you’ve seen my post yet, but I’ll be interviewing Paul Verhoeven on Monday, if you have any questions for him please let me know and I’ll try to ask them 🙂

    1. Oh yeah the Total Recall remake was crap indeed. WOW, you’re interviewing Paul Verhoeven??? How in the world did you manage that? Very cool indeed. Yeah I’ll think of a question and shoot it off your way, thanks for the heads up.

      1. Well, I got an invite for the press screening of his new movie and it said you could request an interview in the invite. Who am I not to apply for it then 😉 I saw the question you posted, I hope I will get the time to ask it (have been alotted 5 minutes)

    1. I like it better than the critics did, which unfairly lambasted the film (not just Taylor Kitsch). I thought it was entertaining enough, but it certainly could’ve been a classic.

  5. Hi, Ruth, Ted and company:

    ‘In Time’ kind of burned me out on the “Have and Have Not” genre. The film looks like someone dumped a list of second stringers from GQ and Vogue. Gave them lines and told them where to stand and what to say.

    ‘Escape from New York’ makes me smile, because Carpenter took a penny pinching page from Roger Corman and used a storm ravaged city outside St. Louis to fill in for the film’s New York night scenes. Also great to see Lee Van Cleef in anything. So much better than Stacy Keach in his later, ‘Escape from L.A.’.

    ‘Firefox’ suffered from an overdose of Alistair MacLean’s special caches of equipment and spies inside Russia to effect the theft of the ‘Firefox’ fighter. Way too much like his earlier ‘Where Eagles Dare’ for my tastes.

    All the Russian guards had to do to stop Clint. Was shoot out the fighter’s tires or park a vehicle in front as it taxied out of its hangar.

    1. Ted S.

      “All the Russian guards had to do to stop Clint. Was shoot out the fighter’s tires or park a vehicle in front as it taxied out of its hangar.”

      Ha ha, that’s so true, that’s why I said Eastwood’s direction was so clunky, I laughed so hard whenever that scene came on.

      As for Escape From NY, yeah it’s great seeing Van Cleef as the tough as nail police chief. Oh my god, I tried to erase my memory of ever seeing Escape from LA many times, what was Carpenter thinking when he made that stinker of a sequel? They spent like $60mil on it, yet the special effects looked worst than the original film!

  6. “Sunshine.” Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine.” It’s a great idea that is PERFECTLY executed for about 70 minutes and then…… I think the idea, the DNA of it, with Mark Strong’s character going nuts is actually quite brilliant. Because I love that notion of whether or not their mission is defying God. That really is fantastic idea and could have sent the whole film hurtling to this epic conclusion but instead they turned it into a haunted house.

    Ugh. It still guts me. That movie is still really special in spite of that bad turn but……what if? WHAT IF? It could have been something just off the charts.

    1. Ted S.

      You know what Nick, I agree with you 100% about Sunshine, I almost included it in this article. I didn’t care when the film turned into another slasher thriller/horror. Boyle could’ve really reinvented the space thriller with this one like he did for the zombie genre with 28 Days Later. But like you said when he turned it into a haunted house in the last 20 minutes or so, the film totally failed.

  7. I think the Spirit is one of the biggest offenders in the movies I’ve watched for my site. It seems like a great combination, a noir superhero movie, the same kind of style that worked so well for Sin City, a great cast, and yet it all fell pretty flat in the end.

    Evan Almighty is another good example. They took a fun concept with Bruce Almighty, a funny character played by Steve Carrell, and ruined it by going with the story of Noah and went way too heavy on the Christian overtones. Could have been better.

    1. Hi Bubba! Havent seen those two but seems like both were a disappointment compared to the movies that inspired ’em. I love Evan character in Bruce Almighty but they shouldnt have done a spin off if him.

    2. Hi, Bubbawheat:

      I’m with you on ‘The Spirit’. Great Wil Eisner look and feel to the city. And Gabriel Macht (‘Siuts’) made a decent Denny Colt. The femme fatales were very easy on the eyes. But it all fell apart with Samuel Jackson as “The Octopus”. A character whose face was never revealed in countless stories and strips.

      Also feeling that the PC police wrote Ebony White out of story altogether. And more is the pity.
      No complaints with Dan Lauria, Stana Katic and the others in attendance. Just a story torn apart by those who really should have known better!

  8. Hitchcock is a recent example that comes to mind. Intriguing idea and great cast was wasted with a lazy script. The light tone of the film isn’t necessarily an issue, but it definitely suffered from poor execution.

  9. OMG, I always look at films and think: how did it all go wrong? In Time was an example of that. *Such* a good idea. Not even Cillian Murphy could save it. Plus, Justin Timberlake crying…yeah, no.

    One recent example I saw was 360. I love those kinds of multi faceted dramas, and it seemed to have a good enough message, but the script didn’t really hold it up enough. While I liked Fernando Merielles’ style, he seemed to be getting a bit too stylish and jazzy for no reason. He thought it was more classy than it actually was. Same with Cosmopolis…just too much damn talking. And W.E., which was a nice enough idea but Madonna overdid it.

    Basically, I could go on all day about this, but I won’t. What a great idea for a post you have here!

    1. Hi Stevee, glad u agree about In Time, would love to see that get remade w/ a stellar director n cast.

      Oh i saw the poster of 360, the cast is amazing, bummer it wasnt done well.
      Is Fernando Merielles a relatively new director? Sometimes they tend to overdo it w/ excessive style.

      As for Madonna, well i think she should stick to singing ahah. Too bad as i quite like James D’Arcy.

  10. These films had so much potential: Reign of Fire (2002), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) and Van Helsing (2004). Each had an interesting premise, but the way they were developed left a lot to be desired.

    1. Havent seen Van Helsing but yes on the other two! Both have excellent n talented cast, which made it even more a pity that the script/director were subpar. I think both should get remade, i quite like the premise of both.

  11. This is an interesting post.
    Everyone here can hate me as they pleased because for me The Dark Knight Rises is one of those kind of movies. Great idea but too many plot holes that make me go ‘meh’

    1. Ahah well u wont get a protest from me Nov, i thought the movie was riddled e/ plotholes too, but Nolan managed to make it entertaining enough that i didnt mention it here.

  12. Hmm, great question. I guess the first film to come to mind is Crash. The intertwining storylines concept can work quite often — Babel and Traffic are both great films — but this one was just awful. I still can’t believe that won Best Picture, let alone even received a nomination.

    1. Oh I think Ted would be happy you mentioned Crash, he abhorred that film. I agree that Babel and Traffic are far superior, disturbing though but that’s the idea I guess.

    2. Ted S.

      Yeah I hated Crash too and it’s such a shame because it should’ve been a great film about a sensitive subject Hollywood hardly touches. But the film went so wrong in so many ways, Sandra Bullocks’ character fell on her ass and suddenly she realizes that she’s a bad person because of her racist thoughts?! Seriously, that was stupid!

  13. Heh. Like a lot of people already said, from the moment I saw the question I immediately thought of In Time. Wonderful concept, lame execution. Timberlake shouldn’t be allowed to be in films. Everything I’ve seen him in, he’s terrible. Of course, the writing wasn’t any good on that one either.

    The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is another one. Big budget behind it, pretty good premise. But they didn’t get Cage to be quite crazy enough for his role, Jay Baruchel didn’t work well, and the humor was both over-emphasized and overly fixated on urination and groin attacks.

    Another, that’s considerably more obscure, is Sol from last year. An indie film, and sadly it’s one of those cases where it desperately needed to not be an indie film. A group of kids competing in an interstellar orienteering contest get stranded on a harsh planet. Great idea. Comically bad execution. Poor acting, weak writing, rookie directing mistakes.

    Also, pretty much any of the Transformers films, even the ones I liked. They could have done so much better.

    1. Hi Morgan! Ahah yeah, I didn’t care for Timberlake in a leading role, I thought he was ok in Social Network in a supporting role. He’s perhaps more well-suited for comedies.

      Haven’t seen The Sorcerer’s Apprentice nor Sol. I think Sol has an interesting premise but too bad the execution was terrible. As for Transformers, well I think most Michael Bay films suffer from this. I thought The Island has an intriguing premise but I loathed that film!

  14. In Time is a great example, it was such a great idea and the movie was really bad :/ Another one that comes to my mind is Equilibrium – it was a fun movie but the idea was so much better than the execution.

    1. Oooh, interesting you mentioned Equilibrium! It’s one of my guilty pleasures as I LOVE Bale and Emily Watson in that, plus it’s got Sean Bean in it. But the Gun Kata martial arts thing pretty much took over and it became such a lame action flick!

    2. Ted S.

      Sati, Equilibrium was written and directed by the great Kurt Wimmer, probably the biggest hack working in Hollywood today. I don’t know how he keeps getting work on high concept projects, he’s responsible for writing the awful remake of Total Recall. But yeah I think had a talented writer/director made that film, it could’ve been very good.

  15. I’ve just been looking at the 80s and 90s for some lists I’m working on, and definitely a few screen adaptations that are not as good as they should have been: Less Than Zero, The Handmaids Tale, The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Three Musketeers (1993), The Shadow, Congo..

    Another older film that comes to mind, since you are interested in Bond movies, is Casino Royale (1967). It had about 5 different directors and for me is a mess. Never heard of anyone who is a fan of that one.

    1. Less Than Zero is sooo heartbreaking, it’s been ages since I saw it but I still remember Downey’s character’s down-head spiral.

      I haven’t seen the 1967 Casino Royale but I don’t know if I want to. I do love the later one w/ Daniel Craig, that’s superb.

  16. ilovethatfilm

    Well my favourite book ever The Beach was botched up by one of my favourite directors Danny Boyle. Would love to see someone else have a go at adapting it. Good call on In Time. I can’t help wanting to see it even though everyone says its bad.

    1. I think at some point Ewan McGregor was gonna be cast in The Beach but it ended up going to Leo, but I’m not too fond of that movie either. In Time is worth renting to see the concept, but it really could’ve been sooo much better!

  17. Pingback: Everybody’s Talkin’ 2 – 1 (Chatter from Other Bloggers) | The Matinee | Cinematic Passion & Perspective

  18. Great question and some interesting answers. I would say Escape From New York doesn’t need a bigger budget to improve it. Let’s not forget the sequel – that was essentially Escape From New York with a bigger budget and it was rubbish! 🙂

    1. Ted S.

      I disagree on that Dan, yes it’s still a good movie but it could’ve been a lot better if Carpenter had a bigger budget. I remember Carpenter said in an interview that he had to cut out a lot of what was written in the script because they didn’t have the money and technology to make some of those scenes come alive.

      I do agree that the sequel/remake was trash. But by then Carpenter has lost his mojo, he hasn’t done a good film in a very long time.

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