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Children of Men: Brilliant But Expensive

Clive_owen_m1311286_1 At the Children of Men after party [see Borys's chat with Cuaron below] in Westwood last week it struck me that the Universal executives had already written off the movie, which opens on Christmas Day, as a failure. While many critics were impressed by the film's virtuosity and bravado, the industry types were seeing a downer film that was going to lose money. The movie is a brilliant exercise in style, but it's another grim dystopian look at our future--like Blade Runner or Fahrenheit 451---that simply cost too much money (between $72 and as much as $90 million, I've heard) to make a profit. (I'm reading the 1993 P.D. James novel with pleasure.)

So what if it makes money or not? It matters because we want smart, risky movies to return some cash so that the studios are encouraged to make more of them. One could look at this as the passion project that Alfonso Cuaron finally got to make after delivering a blockbuster like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. That's how things work. He can afford a noble failure. The studios all want to be in business with him.

But what made the movie so frigging expensive? Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine don't cost so much. It's shot with amazing hand-held cameras and boasts some astonishing long action takes that took days to set up. The filmmakers shut down sections of London to shoot some of the street scenes. There are extras and tanks and pyrotechnics and enormous sets. It's still hard to imagine how the studio could justify spending so much on this movie. But in the long run, they could eke out some coin if this movie lasts in the culture the way Blade Runner or The Road Warrior did.

Here's the trailer:

UPDATE: Here's Borys's interview with Cuaron:

At Thursday night’s Children of Men post-LA premiere/private screening/tastemaker screening afterparty, Cuaron said that he wanted to create a future that was very much rooted in today’s society, which seemed to go against the instinct of many a production designer.

“When I arrived to work on the film, the art department dusted off all these amazing designs they had from all these futuristic films that they had done. Really beautiful things like supersonic cars and cool buildings. And I said, ‘Guys, this is absolutely beautiful but this is not this film. The film is this:’ and I brought my file of photographs of the Middle East, Baghdad, Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Balkans, Palestine. This is the film we are going to do. I told them everything you present to me must have a reference to today.”

His point is that, despite all this talk of a dystopian future, the dystopia is here already: and he wanted his filmmaking style to put you into that world.

“Character has the same weight as social environment. So you don’t do close ups, because then you are putting more weight to character, so you keep everything loose, so your characters blends with environment. We didn’t want to have many cuts or any montages. We said, ‘Let’s try to create a moment of truthfulness, and have a camera that is just registering from an objective distance.”
His filmmaking amigos - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro – were on hand for the event, their bottomless well of support for each other never drying up. Cuaron said del Toro was to have left for a film festival in Europe that very day but changed his plans so he could be there that night. “We are always sticking our forks into each other’s salads,” he commented on the friendship, revealing that Inarritu went into the cutting room with del Toro to cut 7 minutes (of “Pan’s Labyrinth”), and del Toro went to Inarritu’s cutting room to cut 12 of his movie (”Babel”).

“I consider ‘Babel,’ ‘Children of Men,’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ sister films. The three of them are so different because we are such different minds, but at the same time, I think it deals with similar subject matter. The themes of the three films is how ideology gets in the way of communication between people… The films are connected, even though we never intended them to.”

UPDATE: Jeffrey Wells interviews Cuaron.


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  • Risky Biz blog takes a deep, daily look at the film industry's ups, downs and deals from around the world and the heart of Hollywood. It is edited by media and entertainment journalist Steven Zeitchik, with contributions from The Hollywood Reporter's worldwide team of film editors and reporters. Zeitchik is a Los Angeles-based writer for THR and also has written for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

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