An Essay about the Benefit of Good Direction in the Movies

Behind the Camera Lens: Exploring the Art of Directing in Movies

It’s difficult to say what makes a great movie. I’m often turned off by the script, if the dialogue is poor then I have a hard time getting into a movie, if the dialogue is well-written and executed then I may be able to overlook poor acting, timing, story, editing, or directing. I think M. Night Shyamalan is a good example of a filmmaker whose movies are often preserved, at least for me, by a well-written script or a good story line and arc nevertheless it's remarkable to me that the creator of The Sixth Sense and The Village is also responsible for The Happening and Devil. So, what is it, exactly that sets some movies apart from others? When you consider everything that goes into making a film and how that translates to the audience, is it just dumb luck that some movies work when others don’t, or are some things (script, story, editing, directing, acting, timing, chemistry, etc.) more important than others?


Some directors consistently make great movies, assuming, of course, you can appreciate and understand their style, Wes Anderson, for example, has discovered a formula that general works—like the Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant, and Shawn Levy—if you appreciate their directing style, still each one of them focuses on dialogue, timing, and meditated directing far greater than relying on acting and story, and it consistently works. They each employ great actors and actresses, but they never rely on the talent of the actors to progress the story and engage the audience. I think Owen Wilson is a good example, both Wes Anderson and Shawn Levy have worked with Owen Wilson a lot and they know how to bring the best performances out of him, but when you pair Owen Wilson with Woody Allen, for example, it’s a mess. Not that I didn’t like Midnight in Paris, I did, but the acting in it was trash, because Woody Allen can tell a story, but he hasn’t got a clue how to manage his actors.

Once in a while, you come across a movie that’s perfect, it couldn’t possibly have been any better, and I’ve often wondered what it is that allows for everything to come together that well, and then to also translate to the screen in such a way that whomever might be watching can get lost, completely in the movie. Only a perfect movie can allow for that from start to finish. It’s like when you’re reading a really well-written book, and, as you’re reading it, you follow along as if you’re watching unfold in your head, without interruption. Pirates of the Caribbean, Good Will Hunting, Wedding Crashers, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Internship, Top Gun: Maverick to name a few are perfect, but what had to come together to make that happen?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is my favorite of the Indian Jones films; the iconic first scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, was incredible, still the Last Crusade is a better movie from start to finish, and all of the Indiana Jones movies were directed by Steven Spielberg, who is widely considered to be one of, if not the greatest director of all time, because he’s made films such as, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, E.T., Hook, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan, all of which are incredible movies, and, I think, of the 60 some-odd movies that Spielberg has directed those mentioned above are the most notable, however, most of Spielberg’s movies were not well directed, and I have a difficult time understanding how one can create Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Some of the dialogue in the Crystal Skull was good, but it translates to the screen as if it was studio filmed in a single take with a store-bought camera. Back to the point, Spielberg makes rookies directing mistakes, a character might be wearing a hat in a take of one scene, but he won’t be wearing it in a different take of the same scene, and yet the two takes are often edited together, it’s like when Mel Gibson left a white car in the footage of Braveheart. Steven Spielberg made those mistakes in practically every movie, I’m guessing because he believed that the story and possibly the acting, would carry the film, and that really shouldn’t be the case.

I want to know, why? Not necessarily why would blockbuster directors half-ass their jobs with unnecessary mistakes, but why wasn’t Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull nearly as good as the previous three, and especially the Last Crusade, when it absolutely could have been (ignoring that last scene when the interdimensional beings consume the tomb and then disappear into nothingness), the story arc for the Crystal Skull was actually quite good, especially since the Indiana Jones movies are essentially folk tales that indulge in the fantasies of a particular era (remember when the ARK f$&ked up those Nazis? That wasn’t exactly inspired by true events).

How, and why do studios let that happen? The money is more important to them than the aesthetic of the film, still directors, editors, writers, actors, producers—well, maybe not producers, or perhaps even more than the above mentioned—but just about everyone else involved in the making of a film is doing it because they love filmmaking. How do movies like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Game Over, Man! Or anything at all by John Hamburg, gets made? I think that this is part of the reason why I could never legitimately review movies or music (I’ve worked writing book reviews before, and I found that difficult enough) because chance is such a heavy part of how well a movie will translate to the screen, especially in today’s world, and how studios are expecting movies to be made seems now to have too much an influence on whether a director will craft a movie or simply direct it.

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