A few days after I first broke the exclusive story that Brett Ratner was the director of “Conan,” he called me at home. This was when I was still at AICN, towards the end of last year. The conversation was actually a pretty cordial one, since unlike some, I don’t write giant editorials demonizing the guy. I may not be a huge defender of what he does, either, but I think he gets lumped in with some other filmmakers whose work is much, much worse, and it’s a little bit unfair.
Brett Ratner is, more than anything, a talented mimic. When he made the “Rush Hour” films, he obviously looked at the Hong Kong films of star Jackie Chan and the way those action sequences were built, and he imitated them. Successfully, too. When he made “Red Dragon,” he drew equal inspiration from Michael Mann’s earlier film of the same book and Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning “Silence Of The Lambs.” A lot of people seem to like “Red Dragon,” so again… it seems to have worked for him. With “X-Men: The Last Stand,” he built off the already-established world that Bryan Singer spent two movies defining, and I think he made a film that’s about on par with the first “X-Men,” all things considered.
So if someone else sets up the template, Ratner’s a guy who can come in and make a slick, mainstream film that will fairly accurately reproduce that template. And that’s not a slam. That’s just an observation about what his strengths are. I don’t think he’s got much of a voice on his own as a filmmaker, but that’s not a huge sin. I don’t think Brett Ratner ever tried to sell anyone on the idea of himself as a starving indie artist.
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In fact, “starving” is the last word I’d use. Right now, Ratner’s involved in the same game as a number of filmmakers, where he lines up about ten movies as his “next project,” giving himself much better odds that at least one of the movies is going to make it to greenlight. Guillermo Del Toro, for example, is currently attached to direct 47,392 films. All of them are listed as his “next” movie after “The Hobbit.” Which means that 47,391 of those producers are going to be disappointed when he picks what really will be his first post-“Hobbit” movie. But Guillermo does that so that he never finds himself without something to film next. He learned his lesson during some real lean years after “Mimic.” You develop more than you can make. Always. Just in case.
Only… coming at this from a writer’s perspective, that’s a rotten game to play. Because I know when I enter into an agreement to develop something, I’m going to pour my entire attention into making that script work. I’m not going to be just writing to get paid… I’m going to write to hopefully see a finished film as a result. And you work on assignment in this town on films with “attached” directors knowing you’re a chess piece if their dance card has other names on it. You’re constantly playing the availability dates/greenlight tango, and if you lose, sometimes that means your film is just done. Things have a half-life in this town.
Right now, Brett Ratner’s attached to the Hugh Hefner biopic that could star Robert Downey Jr. for producer Brian Grazer. In January, Hefner told The LA Times that the film could start production “in the next few months.” Okay. So there’s one film that is supposed to be a priority. But I’ve also heard that Grazer wants Ratner to make this Eddie Murphy/Trump Heist movie next, and that he’s actually been paid a fairly hefty holding fee on this one.
And speaking of Eddie Murphy, once again this week, Ratner talked a bit about his potential “Beverly Hills Cop” movie. Nothing new there, really, except that he makes it sound like it’s verrrry close to happening.
There’s the Chris Tucker movie for New Line, about Frank Sinatra’s porter who worked for him for decades. That’s probably the least like to happen next, in my opinion.
Also this week, Rob Liefeld’s “Youngblood” was sold to Ratner to turn into a film as part of his new deal with Reliance Big Entertainment, the Indian superconglom with the insanely deep pockets that seems to be signing everyone in Hollywood to these big money development holding deals. And Liefeld’s been saying Ratner’s doing “Youngblood” next, and that the deal for “Conan” never even got signed.
Because Ratner was in Bulgaria this week. With Avi Lerner. I’m pretty damn sure about that.
And Bulgaria is where Avi Lerner is producing “Conan.” I’m pretty damn sure about that, too.
So one might assume that Brett Ratner was in Bulgaria with Avi Lerner this week because they’re doing “Conan” together. Right?
Of all of those projects, I honestly think Ratner would be best suited to make “Beverly Hills Cop.” He can watch the first two films, and he’ll end up making a hybrid of the two, which is probably exactly the version that people would end up wanting to see.
But Conan is this amazing character that Robert Howard created, and there is potential to do a number of these movies. But what we DO NOT NEED is a movie that imitates the John Milius film. Which I love. Because this new Conan can’t be anything like the Ah-nold version of the character. That wasn’t really a straight adaptation. There is so much room to define the character a different way physically and in terms of persona. And the movie’s going to need someone who can bring a voice in. Someone who can really stake their claim on the material. Based on the second half of “Brotherhood of the Wolf,” I nominate Christoph Gans. That’s not going to happen, of course, but let me dream for a moment.
Point being, when a director has this many films where he’s promising that it’s his next first project, and all of them depend on his attention, at some point, he’s going to pick one, and those others are going to fall away. And “Conan” deserves better. The Hugh Hefner story, a huge piece of our pop consciousness, deserves better. These are films that should be made by someone willing to make them the first choice. They are films that will require passion, and they won’t be difficult films to make.
Anyway… just a thought. I’m genuinely confused as to which movie Ratner’s going to make first, and I hope the potentially great films in his big giant hope chest don’t get suffocated as he makes his mind up.
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