Not that any film should be condemned on the basis of its creators’ trials and tribulations. Most of the problems listed above had nothing to do with the production itself; besides, reshoots and personnel changes are part of the Hollywood process. Eric Stoltz was swapped for Michael J Fox when shooting was underway on Back To The Future, and Harvey Keitel was swapped for Martin Sheen on Apocalypse Now, and neither of those films turned out too badly. In 1997, Titanic was a byword for illnesses, injuries, spiralling costs and missed deadlines, but once it became a record-breaking hit, winning 11 Oscars and grossing well over £1 billion, all the on-set battles were reassessed as signs of the director’s perfectionism. More recently, Bryan Singer was fired from the beleaguered Bohemian Rhapsody, and Dexter Fletcher stepped in, but the biopic was another multiple-Oscar-winning smash. There are even occasions when word of a film’s production woes can enhance its allure: for fans of Terry Gilliam, the director’s well-documented difficulties with Brazil and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote only added to the legend that a maverick auteur had fought against the odds to realise his vision.
The problem of bad omens
But these are the exceptions. More often, films struggle to regain their glamour once they have been branded “troubled”, “cursed” or, worst of all, “doomed”. Viewers are entitled to think that if they hear enough about revisions and repairs, hirings and firings, then they’re not going to see an artistic triumph but a committee-led compromise. And while Hollywood has always had gossip columns, films’ reputations are more fragile than ever now that social media sites can send every rumour and on-set photograph around the world in a nano-second. By the time audiences got to see Cats, they weren’t ready and raring to be transported into a musical wonderland. Their appetites were whetted for a banquet of cinematic tripe.
If nothing else, advance knowledge of a stressful production can be distracting when you’re watching the finished product. You’re supposed to be concentrating on the war between humans and robots in Terminator Salvation; instead, you’re trying to work out which scene they were shooting when Christian Bale was recorded shouting at the cinematographer. You’re supposed to be chortling at the talking animals in Dolittle; instead, you’re trying to guess which segments were there all along, and which were added during the 21 days of reshoots. This year’s Chaos Walking and 2017’s Justice League had muddled plots and clashing tones. If you watched them while knowing that the original directors were replaced in both cases, those flaws were all the more glaring.