Omega 13 “In defense of…”- A weekly treatise in which we analyze publicly derided Box Office Failures using granular convection to piece out the good that might lie beneath.
With the internet taking great pleasure casting an askance view on even the minute of failures in all manner of creative endeavour I thought it might be nice to look at those famously bad films of the past and revealing all the moments where they made the right choice. All movies have them, and they are even easier to see in a bad movie than in a good movie (since good movies are brimming with goodness). Kind of a Devil’s Advocate, but with a Pollyanna attitude; This is Omega 13…
Episode 08- Catwoman (2004)
Release Date:July 23, 2004
1st Weekend Total:16.7 Million (Domestic)
Originally, Catwoman was going to be a vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer to reprise her Catwoman from Batman Returns. Tim Burton was to direct but bowed out for some reason or another, some claim is was because he had hoped to direct Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and when Pfieffer left you can imagine that the version in the alternate dimension that lives in could have been great. But, by that time the re-imagined Schumacher Batman Forever film was out and the ugly patch of sillier, more family friendly Batman films were filling seats with confused fans of the Burton films, Warner Bros had decided to go in another direction, as well.
Pitof was originally a Visual Effects Supervisor in Europe, his most notable films were connected with Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, & Alien: Resurrection. Most interesting was that Pitof’s first directed film was the 2001 gem, Vidocq, starring Gérard Depardieu. Watching that film one can see that Pitof had the chops to make a beautiful, interesting, action film. The marriage of VFX with the action and the story is definitely worth hunting down a copy- you can even come to my house, we can watch my own personal copy autographed by Depardieu, himself. Yeah, it’s that good.
And like most American films directed by foreign directors, who have shown they have their own visual style – the studio, generally run by a committee of people scared to take chances- reign in the collective auteurs until the once great filmmaker is doing nothing more than TV work, ie: forced to take stylistically wrong studio notes, and kowtowing to random mall theatre test screenings. We witnessed it with the aforementioned Jean-Pierre Jeunet with the film that all creative parties admit is a travesty, Aliens: Resurrection, and we watch the slow decay of poor poor John Woo, who luckily eked out Face/Off amidst the 9 fails before he ran back to China to give us the formidable Red Cliff. And that is just two, but we can also put David Lynch in there as he was happily making his own little quirky(?) films until Universal slowly took over because they didn’t want his version… they wanted their own… and even Lynch asked his name to be removed from the supposed Producer’s Cut.
I will digress for a moment, even more than I have already- I worked with one of the Art Directors on Catwoman and the stories they told about the gorgeous concept art that Pitof and the original Production Designer had planned made me wish someone would give us a documentary like Jodorowsky’s Dune, so the audience can understand exactly how a film can go from the most anticipated to the winner of 4 Golden Raspberries.
Another thing of note is how much the Director gets the grief for a perceived bad film, but when the Oscars give out a Best Picture Award it is the Producers who get the golden statue and NOT the Director. So, why would Pitof get all the bad press for a film that even the most tertiary inquiry would reveal how much outside influence and pressure trickled down to him in every aspect of the creation of the film from the Producers and the studio- that it is a wonder it was as palatable as it was. If anything there needs to be a letter writing campaign expressing our dislike for the film sent to Denise Di Novi- yes, the same Di Novi who brought us Heathers, Ed Wood, and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.
Catwoman the Warner Brothers/Di Novi/Pitof film was created to be it’s own cannon; not exactly a reboot but a sideways rejiggering, where Catwoman was a figure of history that was chosen by the Egyptian Goddess Bast through her messenger Mau. In a scene strikingly similar to Selina Kyle’s point of origin in Batman Returns, Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) is, too, killed by the antagonist and a glaring of cats descend upon her with minor exception: Midnight, the Egyptian Mau breathes the powers of Catwoman into Patience. Patience and Selina, both born from death, both awaken by feline, both reveal a schism in their personality that closely resembles schizophrenia.
If you have no identity, why keep it a secret?
Because you killed me.
Halle Berry does a fine job as Patience. Her weak, demure portrayal as someone who is easily walked on despite her beauty and talent is only too appreciated after her transformations to Catwoman. Barely able to look her would-be love interest, Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), in the eyes when he comes to her work to drop off her wallet. Or, perhaps, even more significant, watching her climb out on her window ledge to save the as-yet un-named Cat, Midnight. Berry’s fear of heights, her clumsiness, and her soon to be revealed, but hidden underneath the service, strength to save this cat regardless of her own potential demise.
Thus, when Catwoman takes to the street after breaking up a late-night party across the courtyard form her bedroom window, she is a strong, self-assured woman; her mild-mannered self now hidden deep somewhere. Replete in head-to-toe leather to signify the change she maneuvers the stolen motorbike through the city streets on her way to he first significant fight at a jewelry store. Berry’s ability to find the right level of either personality is a treat to watch and this reviewer argues that she was not deserved of the Worst Actress Razzie that she so humbly accepted in person. This is an Oscar winning actress working with the material in the best way she can, regardless of whether anyone was aware of how bad the film was going to turn out.
White Russian, no ice, no vodka… hold the Kahlua.
The interactions between Officer Lone and Patience are Romantic-Comedy worthy and a real shame they will be forever lost in a film that hardly anyone would give a second chance to… or a first chance, what with all the bad press. Their first meeting when he saves her life, as she is mistaken for attempting to commit suicide, and her obvious attraction to the man. And Lone slowly drawing to her in an almost hypnotic need to pursue her. The scene where Lone drops by her work is electric with nervous and sexuality that, yet still, these are real people and just because we the audience know they are supposed to be together Berry and Bratt play it coy, confused, dare I say, they are playing against the text. There is not implicit innuendo conveyed in their performances, these are regular folk feeling each other out; Does She? Does He? In the end the Catwoman story takes over and the love story falls to haphazard references but the connections were made early lending those thin later scenes have more weight.
You like bad girls?
Only if they like me back.
What is interesting about Catwoman, the film, is that they created an interesting Detective story that is surprising the Producers kept, as the film’s actual story about a woman coming in to her own while fighting an evil Cosmetics company is obviously the crux of the film, but Detective Lone is not played off as dumb. The clues are there, some quite convenient, but in another film they would have gone unnoticed somewhere, but Lone is quickly putting the pieces together as to whether Catwoman and Patience are one and the same. It was refreshing to have the police department in a superhero film be more than props, actually performing their job with intelligence and logic.
It is only too obvious with the inclusion of Alex Borstein that the filmmakers were leaning towards the lighthearted. Doing her best with the most basic of Rom-Com Clichéd lines, Alex plays the best friend fine, clearly having a blast with a character that could easily have been written out, but in some way, reminds the audience that this might be more of a comedy than the drama that Burton’s dark-drama was. And, in turn, when we see Patience sleep on bookshelves, or slurp up her Sushi, we see that this family film never wanted to be anything but a film that asked it’s Academy Award winning actress to purr her lines, and take on cat characteristics almost to the point of satire.
Guess what? It’s overtime!
All in all, Catwoman was not the movie audiences expected, and once Batman Begins came out a year later comic fans, and movie fans alike had come to the decision that too much silly was not welcome in our Comic movies… unless they are meant to be full on satire like the Adam West series. We will never know for sure if Catwoman the film was all Pitof’s fault or just another film broke by the out of touch muckity mucks in the suits reading projections, and nelson ratings, and banging out numbers in spreadsheets. Although, for my money I suspect it was about 70/30 in leaving on the Producers. A film that would be perfect to put on for anyone’s kids, 6 to 11, a perfect child’s birthday party movie; noting offensive to keep them up at night, but enough fights, and VFX to keep them entertained for 90 minutes.
End Episode 08
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Omega 13 where we dig through mire to find the appreciable inside 1959’s Plan 9 from Outer Space.