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)