One Hit Wonder: Gore Verbinski
Welcome back to the One Hit Wonder series, where we look at directors who are best known for one big hit and ask whether or not they are deserving of the title. For this series we don’t judge success by box office alone, but also critical success and the legacy of the film maker.
So far in our new series we’ve looked at Morgan Spurlock, Kevin Smith and M. Night Shyamalan. But it’s time to stop shooting fish in the barrel and aim for the larger ocean. This weeks target: Gore Verbinski.
Who Is He?
Whilst he does have a Polish name, Verbinski hails from Tennassee where he started out his career as a teenager. Gore Verbinksi divided his time between shooting 16mm short films and playing in a number of bands around L.A.. Eventually he sold his guitar to buy a Super 8 camera and focused his attention on film making. He made a name for himself in the fields of advertising and music videos, being responsible for creating the iconic Budweiser Frogs. He made the leap in the film biz with family flick Mouse Hunt. The success of that film lead him further up the chain with The Mexican and The Ring until he took the wheel on a certain Disney flick…
When Disney greenlit the film version of their theme park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, they intended for it to be a very straight and sensible pirate movie. When script-writers decided to add a supernatural spin on the script things became more interesting. Verbinski was attracted to the project by the idea of using modern computer effects to resurrect a dead genre. With his brightly coloured and slightly gothic style, and Johnny Depp’s manic performance, the movie was a blockbuster success, breaking the bank across the globe and spawning a multi-million dollar franchise. With a solid record the course was set for an awesome career.
The Follow Up
Straight out of the gate came the dark comedy starring Nicolas Cage The Weather Man. The film featured a depressed and disrespected TV weather man trying to live up to his father’s expectations. Reviews for the film were mixed, and it did not fare especially well at the box office. At the time this looked to be a blip on the road to success, as Verbinski was tied to the Pirates franchise.
The follow up adventures of Capt. Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End continued to draw in the crowds at the multiplexes, but to dwindling quality reviews. Critics and movie goers were less and less impressed with the direction that the movies had taken. Although quite well directed the padded stories and ever expanding cast of directionless characters left the series on a down note.
Over the next few years Verbinski tried to obtain funding for a film adaptation of the video game hit BioShock. The game was a best seller, and had been praised for its dark art deco style and powerful story telling. unable to find a studio willing to invest in the project Verbinski turned his attention to the animated film Rango. Unlike the Pirates sequels, which saw box office success but a critical slamming, Rango was heavily praised by critics and awarded many titles, but did not reach an especially wide audience. Far from being a failure, it wasn’t a blockbuster.
Most recently he was behind a new franchise resurrection for Disney, again starring Johnny Depp. The Lone Ranger was designed to follow the same formula as Pirates of the Caribbean, casting an up and coming young star along with a wacky Depp and trading of an established brand name. The movie faced many setbacks during production, resulting in many release date delays and the director and actors taking a 20% cut in fees. In a disastrous year for blockbusters The Lone Ranger may have fared the worst, losing the House of the Mouse something in the region of $200million.
Is He A One Hit Wonder?
Absolutely not, now way, no how. Although Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl set an extremely high bar for Verbinski very early on in his career, followed by a notable drop in quality, the man was created some bloody good movies before then. Mouse Hunt was a unique and fun family caper even if it didn’t set the world on fire. His follow up, the American remake of Japanese horror movie Ringu, titled The Ring, stands as one of the few examples of a remake that surpasses the original, with powerful imagery and a gripping story. The international success of The Ring ushered in a decade of fascination with Eastern Asian horror films and studios clambered to claim the rights to adapt as many as possible.
The Weather Man didn’t set the world on fire, but Verbinski kept his name in lights with the Pirates sequels, that were huge blockbusters even with the critical beat up, and remain visual treats even if the story is lacking. Although it did not sit well with the younger crowd Rango is destined to become a cult classic for it’s clever riffing on the Western genre. The Lone Ranger means that Verbinski is unlikely to work with Disney ever again, but perhaps this is a chance for him to get onto a smaller budget and create something imaginative, like The Ring, and we’ll see a welcome comeback in the future. I don’t blame him for Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End – those movies stunk for studio control – so we’re willing to give Verbinski the benefit of the doubt and declare that he is not a one hit wonder.