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What We Can Learn from the Production of ‘Men in Black 3’May 31, 2012
I'm not a Will Smith fan. Ever since I realized Independence Day is just about the most illogical movie ever made I haven't been able to take his movies seriously. I guess we all have those actors who we just don't get into for whatever reason. And while I've never been an out-and-out sequel hater, I have to admit I really have been rooting against Men in Black 3. Not because I don't like Smith's acting -- I know millions do -- but because it’s a sequel that is being made for all the wrong reasons.
An article in the May 14 Los Angeles Times titled "'Men in Black 3' was no easy sequel to make" explains exactly why: Sony Pictures rushed the film into production to take advantage of New York City tax credits, which is where much of the film was shot. As a result, when cameras started rolling in November 2010 less than half of the script was in place. After wrapping the first part of filming in December, the rest of the script was hashed out but was delayed until April, reportedly because Smith was unhappy with how the script was progressing (I’m not sure if he spent the time sulking in his giant trailer that was parked in SoHo during the shoot, which generally pissed off everyone who lived there). The movie has four credited writers, and it obviously wasn’t written in a cohesive matter with all of them sitting in a room. There’s a good chance that along with Will Smith himself there were a number of other uncredited writers, too.
This wasn't a case of "let's get the gang back together because we have a great story to tell," it was "let's get the gang back together because we have a good chance of making money." Instead of rolling the dice on a much cheaper original movie (or two… or three), Sony slapped together this production with fingers crossed and prayers begging for a hit to any deity who would listen.
This “start without a script” process is nothing new for major blockbusters, but is alarming. Alien 3 and Jurassic Park 3 didn’t have finished scripts before shooting, and Jeff Bridges claims that dialogue was written on the fly during the filming of Iron Man. But once the Men in Black 3 train started rolling there was no stopping it, no matter how many problems the production faced. All things considered, it's believed that Men in Black 3 cost $375 million to make and market, more than two prior films combined. The film will likely make more than that, but as the second sequel of a fifteen year-old franchise is not expected to do Avengers, Hunger Games, or Dark Knight Rises money. So it again begs the question: why?
After all, the two previous Men in Black movies certainly were popular (the original trailed only Titanic as the highest grossing film of 1997… of course, it trailed by about $350 million, but it’s still impressive), but in the ten years since the last film they’ve hardly gained “classic” status with millions clamoring for another sequel. Even though the series was based on a comic book property it isn’t like The Avengers or Batman featuring characters that remain woven in our collective pop culture fabric. The Men in Black movies were just two very successful summer blockbusters, and Sony hopes to stretch that success a bit longer.
The L.A. Times article hints at the possibility of a Men in Black 4. In the outside chance that happens, I hope that its production won’t be as messy as that of Men in Black 3. In fact, let’s hope no major studio tries that approach again, but my fear is if Men in Black 3 does well other studios will rush into films without a finished script, considering it a minor concern. And when a big-budget film’s story is considered something that could be hashed out during filming, we moviegoers have to face the consequences.