Somebody Wrote That?


On 4th June, the Japanese will be releasing the DVD and Blu-Ray versions of the anime Yamato Resurrection, an announcement accompanied by excitable trilling about the on-disc extras. This was because the animators made two different endings, and left it to a focus group of 4000 viewers to vote for the one that was used. This is not a problem peculiar to Japan, but endemic in a medium that constantly tries to place a statistical value on creativity itself. I’m just saying, nobody needed a focus group to make Casablanca. Although if they had, Rick’s Café would be owned by a werewolf, and “As Time Goes By” would have been sung by Jay-Z and the cast of the Muppets.

The Writers Guild has a slogan that it likes to push at the public: “Somebody Wrote That.” Their point is that writing isn’t just what people say on screen. It’s the things you see. When Asuka Langley’s Eva unit picks up an entire battleship in End of Evangelion, somebody wrote that. When Ponyo’s mother rises out of the sea like a sentient tsunami, somebody wrote that. When the lead character in Dante’s Inferno crawls up a devil dog’s bum… er… I guess somebody wrote that, too.

But somebody made a decision. Who lives, who dies, who falls in love, these are questions in the hands of the author. I’m sick of recuts and reworkings and resprays, as if everything I pay money for is only a work in progress. Modern television tries to sell me rehearsals and auditions in place of performance. Modern movies increasingly ask me to fill in plot holes or write my own ending. I do that for a living. And I can do it at home without buying a cinema ticket.

Here we are again, back in the world of fan-pandering. Decisions like the dual ending of Yamato Resurrection play to modern youth’s love of interactivity and gaming, and the notion that decisions are made by the people who show up. Even if the people who show up are a bunch of giggling morons who will love anything as long as there’s a pretty vampire boy in it with a talking ocelot. Will it turn out soon that “nobody wrote that”?

I don’t want democracy at the movies. I want to see a writer’s creative vision, not mob rule by whoever showed up at a particular cinema several months ago. If I’m not paying the creators to use their expertise, why am I paying them at all? Democracy is me voting with my wallet, not discovering that the creatives named on the poster actually left it to 4000 strangers to decide how their film should end. It’s an abrogation of authorial responsibility – a sneaky, pre-emptive strike against bad reviews, as the answer is sure to be: “Well, that’s what you wanted.” If this film sucks, it’s the fans who will get the blame. And if it’s a success… well, write your own ending.

(This article first appeared in NEO #70, 2010)

10 thoughts on “Somebody Wrote That?

  1. Now now JC, you’re showing your age. We have to move on with the times. With Casablanca, I would have voted for her staying. ~_^

  2. Even the best ‘public voting’ can create Plot Holes, in 1988 when DC comics asked readers if the Joker should kill the Robin of that era, Jason Todd, votes were close but the majority answered yes, although it was compelling reading I’m sure, it left many fans wondering why batman could tolerate that level of cruelty. OF course that is a moot point because plot holes, or holes in the fabrics of DC’s universe allowed an alternate Jason Todd to emerge (ain’t that about a convenience?)

    Can’t we have the same type of scenario as the 1985 comedy Clue where all the endings were included on the home video release, then its up to the individual to pick the ending that works for them.

  3. What an appropriate discussion for the election season. If democracy worked in the way that its proponents might suggest then there shouldn’t be any problem. We would get the best, most logical decision for the good of the community. Unfortunately what we actually get is a lot of individuals voting for their own personal, selfish desires and we end up with bland, short term focused, lowest common denominator outcomes.

    Personally if someone starts offering me multiple or focus group endings for a story then they’ve already lost my confidence in their ability to tell a story. In actual facts it’s an indication that they’ve decided to let the accountants run the show and I’ve seen too many other industries and services that have had the creative soul sucked out of them by doing that very thing.

  4. Democracy: If the needs of the many out-weigh the needs of the few, and the many are a select group of sheep, democracy goes off at a tangent- a good reason everyone should vote in the election.

    I pay to see someone’s’ vision – good or bad – not an average mean that is designed to please the most. Otherwise it’s cinema by numbers and then you can predict exactly how things will turn out- because sometimes it’s nice to see the boy not get the girl.

    Casablanca was perfect. It was so good that even “BarbWire” saw no need to mess with the ending… ah crap, what am I saying, someone pass me the singing Ocelot.

  5. Paul, what happens if the studio intervene though? Maybe the director is forced by the studio or producers to omit many key scenes or never even film them, or make cuts, rewrite etc, I’m partially thinking of Christian Bale and Part Sam Raimi. Sometimes we get a director’s cut, usually an improvement on a theatrical cut but not always. Even minor edits, the removal of glare from the glass panel in Raiders of the last ark was enough to create the illusion that Ford was point blank face to face with a Cobra. But while I’m on the topic of Lucas and Spielberg, we could ask why guns were replaced with walkie talkies in E.T, or a whole load of changes to the original star wars films, some good, but some bad, some for sake of newly written continuity. When the fans aren’t pleased they take matters into their own hands, like the infamous Phantom Edit. Will anime fans react in a similar manner? am I likely to sit down and watch a Ghost in the Shell where the Tachikoma have been cut, or silenced? or an episode of Naruto where Rock lee’s inabilities aren’t mentioned more than once, maybe a fight that lasts 2 minutes because there’s no intermission of the characters explaining their special move. What would this new term be called anyway, Fanime?

  6. You are right Chris, Hollywood studios (or USA Distri) do these things by focus panels, but I’ll always hold out for the Directors cut when I’m shopping for the DVD.

    Never sure if Japanese Directors succumb to such pressure as they seem to be a hard nose lot? A case in point is that I hunted around until I found the full release of Blue Submarine 6 that had all the bits they felt children shouldn’t see. The committee put out the censored version, but the Director – Mahiro Maeda – never intended it for kids, so it has a better bite to it in it’s full form.

    Hmm, you should copyright that word “fanime” it sounds too right to slip by unnoticed ¬_¬

  7. “Although if they had, Rick’s Café would be owned by a werewolf, and “As Time Goes By” would have been sung by Jay-Z and the cast of the Muppets.”

    -Can I be the first person to say that sounds ‘awesome’? Sorry.

  8. Pingback: The Official Schoolgirl Milky Crisis Blog » Blog Archive » Yoshinobu Nishizaki 1934-2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.