Thursday, July 10, 2008

Will Smith and the Third Act Problem

An unfortunate trend seems to be present in the recent movies of box office king Will Smith: in I, Robot, I Am Legend, and now Hancock, a deliberately paced, character driven, and altogether fascinating hour of storytelling is followed by a relentlessly action-packed twenty-odd minute third act, leaving the audience to wonder what happened to the movie they were watching.  

All three of these films use a large canvas, with massive worlds and complex characters to set up, and interestingly all three also feature Smith as a more dour and less charismatic version of himself than we otherwise see.  And all three start out just great.  But by the end, I'm left feeling that twenty or thirty minutes are missing, and that a more satisfying ending most have existed at some time in the process, replaced for wider audience appeal one can only assume.  All three feel somehow compromised.

Now these three films also faced rumours of being 'troubled' productions, with last minute reshoots in response to test screenings and possibly studio interference.  But reshoots are not at all uncommon, and are certainly not always a harbinger of doom (some directors, like Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh [Traffic, Ocean's Eleven-Twelve-Thirteen] schedule reshoots into their production schedule from the start).  Further, this is one of the most bankable actors on the planet, a man whose eight previous films have all grossed more than $100 M (with the film before these, Ali, a major artistic success that garnered him an Oscar nomination), and who often is a producer on the films in which he stars - I have trouble believing that anyone would discount his opinion if he didn't want these films released as they were.

So, one must assume that this is, at least partially, Smith's doing.  And it's a shame.  I very much enjoyed I, Robot, I Am Legend, and Hancock, but I also have my fingers crossed for longer 'director's cuts' that will restore a more consistent tone and vision to these stories.  None should've been less than two hours long, yet they all clock in at around 90 minutes.  I want to see that half hour.