What Went Wrong With CUTTHROAT ISLAND? - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

What Went Wrong With CUTTHROAT ISLAND?

How long have you got?

Arriving December 22nd 1995, Cutthroat Island intended to be a huge blockbuster of a movie, reviving the adventure swashbuckler genre and saving the in-trouble Carolco Pictures, Inc. Even though the studio had hits in the preceding years with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Total Recall and Basic Instinct, Carolco had overspent and found themselves risking it all on what was, essentially, a wedding present from director Renny Harlin to his new wife Geena Davis.

Where did it all go wrong?

It's easy to just say that the film itself is just not very good, hence the negative reviews and why no one went to see it, but having rewatched Cutthroat Island again recently I don't believe it's that bad. I mean, it's not the greatest pirate movie but it's enjoyable enough in a pulpy way and I'd certainly take it over any of the Pirates Of The Caribbean squeals.

However, thanks to a notoriously troubled and chaotic production involving multiple rewrites and recasts, some questionable lead casting and a budget that skyrocketed so much the director had to dip into his own pocket to partially fund the production, Cutthroat Island seemed destined for failure before a single frame of film was in the can.

As mentioned previously, at the time Cutthroat Island was produced Geena Davis and director Renny Harlin were married. Even though she was primarily known for light comedies, Harlin convinced producer Mario Kassar to cast his new wife in the film as Morgan Adams, the female lead, seemingly because he felt Davis could be an action-adventure star.

To fund Cutthroat Island, cash-starved Carolco cancelled its only other project under production, Crusade starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, losing the $13 million they'd already spent on its development in the process but freeing up additional money to feed into Harlin's endeavour. Carolco also sold a $20 million interest in their upcoming productions, Showgirls, Last Of The Dogmen and Stargate, essentially borrowing against the potential earnings of these films, to raise additional funds for Cutthroat Island.

The studio really were undertaking a massive gamble. Somehow they'd clubbed together a sizable $60 million budget for Cutthroat Island, pinning hopes for their survival on the success of the film. The reason they took this gamble was not because they were generously funding a ridiculously expensive vanity project out of the goodness of their hearts or because they were banking on the star-power of Geena Davis (who with the greatest respect was never a big enough name to open a big budget production like this), rather because at the time they also had one of the most bankable Hollywood stars of the previous decade attached as the male lead.

Michael Douglas, who had recently enjoyed a string of successful films like Basic Instinct, Falling Down and Disclosure, originally agreed to play the male lead of William Shaw under two conditions: filming had to start immediately because he was available only for a limited time (already committed to 1995s The American President), and, after hearing who his co-star was and the circumstances she had come by the role, Douglas insisted that his character had to have the same amount of screen time as Davis.

All of this was initially agreed to, but Douglas pulled out of the production at the eleventh hour after receiving an updated script, citing the clause in his contract and the fact that Davis's role had been expanded at his character's expense. Years later, Geena Davis would say that when Douglas quit she was having second thoughts about the project and thought about quitting herself, but as she was already contractually obligated to the film, and one suspects withdrawing would've been a very difficult conversation to have with her new husband, she remained with the project to the bitter end.

After Douglas quit, Harlin was so preoccupied with trying to find a male lead that set construction and script work were done without his input. Consequently, with Harlin in the USA and Cutthroat Island to be shot on location in Malta and Thailand, plus utilising the large Paddock Tank at Pinewood Studios, England, when he finally arrived at the Mediterranean Film Studios in Kalkara, Malta, where most of the indoor scenes would be shot, Harlin did not like what he saw. Filming was due to start within days but Harlin halted it, postponing principal photography and ordering expensive rebuilding and rewriting. As well as the costs involved with that, the entire crew were put on retainers during this time.

Whilst back in the USA, Harlin had tried desperately to woo a big name for Cutthroat Island; Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, Jeff Bridges, Ralph Fiennes, Charlie Sheen, Michael Keaton, Tim Robbins, Daniel Day-Lewis and Gabriel Byrne all turned down the role of Shaw before the director cast Matthew Modine. Although Modine had risen to prominence as United States Marine Corps Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket, all his other parts since had been lower profile and certainly nothing like the action-hero role he was about to undertake. Experience in fencing would aid Modine's portrayal of swashbuckling con-man and thief Shaw, but despite decent turns in Pacific Heights and Memphis Belle, like Davis, Modine was not a headline name to carry such a large production.

When filming finally got underway a series of unfortunate events, conflicts and accidents added to the already expensive and over-budget-before-a-shot-was-filmed production. As you read through this you may think that it's almost a comedy of errors, but with costs spiraling further and further out of control I'm quite sure no-one at Carolco was laughing.

The first week into filming, Cutthroat Island's original cinematographer, Oliver Wood, fell off a crane and into one of the water tanks, breaking his leg. Filming was halted for seven days until he was replaced by cinematographer Peter Levy.

Following a dispute, Renny Harlin fired the chief camera operator. This led to more than two dozen crew members quitting in solidarity. The production was again paused until replacements were found.

Oliver Reed was originally cast for a cameo as Mordechai Fingers, but was fired after getting in a bar fight and attempting to expose himself to Geena Davis while intoxicated. Although Reed was replaced by British character actor George Murcell he was still paid for the role.

Harlin required the actors to do their own stunts whenever possible. This led to multiple minor accidents, causing the shot to be reset and filming to start over. Often, dozens and dozens of takes of scenes which a professional stuntman would've likely got in one were necessary to satisfy the director's craving for authenticity from his cast. While promoting the film, Geena Davis frequently spoke about this when she appeared on talk shows alongside clips of her doing basic stunts over and over again. At one time she fell out of a window too soon, rolled down the roof and under a carriage, narrowly escaping permanent spinal damage. Covered with bruises and injuries, I suspect Davis' once-desire to be an action star was firmly quashed.

During filming at Pinewood Studios, a waste pipe ruptured causing raw sewage to pour into the water tank where the actors were supposed to swim. Filming again had to halted whilst the 806,000 gallon tank was drained, cleaned and refilled.

With the costs mounting up Carolco really didn't have any option but to find the funds from somewhere. As they say, in for a penny in for a pound, and Carolco were certainly fully in, ending up funding Cutthroat Island to the tune of $115 million! And that's not accounting for the additional $1 million+ Renny Harlin spent of his own money for a further rewrite of the script late in production, and a couple of additional scenes shot to finish the film. Harlin had no choice, Carolco were in so much debt by this time they could not afford to pay a dollar more.

In the end, Carolco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a month before Cutthroat Island's release. Reviews were nothing like anyone involved with the production had hoped, and the film was pretty much dependent on good favour by this time as, thanks in part to Carolco's bankruptcy and that MGM, the film's distributor, was in the process of being sold and thus could not devote itself into financing a marketing campaign for the film, paid advertising and promotion for Cutthroat Island was incredibly limited.

Arriving in U.S. cinemas on December 22nd 1995, an ill-timed release date if ever there was one, Cutthroat Island opened in 13th place and went on to take just $10,017,322 gross worldwide. Aside from the obvious huge loss, to put that gross into some kind of perspective, the Mel Brooks/Leslie Nielson spoof comedy Dracula: Dead And Loving It also opened the same day. That $10 million film premiered in 10th place and went on to make $30 million worldwide.

To say Cutthroat Island was a box office bomb is an understatement. Having one of the highest losses when adjusted for inflation in film history at $147 million, it even appeared in the Guinness World Records for being the biggest box-office bomb of all-time. A title it now now longer holds, thanks largely to rising production costs making potential deficits more commonplace, but given that Cutthroat Island is 25 years old it lost so much that it still sits firmly in the top 10 of biggest box office bombs of all time. It not only killed Carolco, it wiped out Geena Davis' waning star.

In a 2011 interview with KCRW, Santa Monica Radio, Renny Harlin discussed Cutthroat Island's box office failure. Seemingly unable to shoulder any of the blame himself he pointed out that Carolco was already in ruin before shooting even began and at one point in time part-way through production he begged not to carry on with the film but had to since financing from foreign investors was already in place. This is of course true, but Harlin was well aware of the situation at all times and yet still insisted on multiple extensions, reshoots and revisions. It sounds like his request to be let go came late in production when he was likely well aware of all the issues the film had and had already sent the budget skyrocketing.

What went wrong with Cutthroat Island then? Oh, so much! A lack of an A-list name to open such a large budgeted film, a desperate film studio playing Russian Roulette with their future, a series of accidents, mishaps and hold-ups during production, a poorly timed release date with almost zero advertising, and an over-ambitious director unable to curtail his fantasies. And yes, it isn't the greatest film of all time but all of the previous reasons, I believe, contribute far more to Cutthroat Island's failure than the content on-screen itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad