The Horror of a Blockbuster

by Josh Price

With Hollywood churning out blockbuster after blockbuster, it is no surprise that the hunt for new directors is in full swing. However, all too often, their films are a disappointment. Some studios have gone for the safety of hiring directors who have already directed a smaller scale version of what the studio wants.

Although logical, this can end in disaster. The explosive argument between studio and director during the 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four underlines this issue. Josh Trank (director) ended by publicly announcing that audiences were about to see an awful adaptation – not his original cut. Of course, it is easy to pin this down to studio meddling, but it takes a director of a certain talent to go from a tiny indie-flick to a giant summer blockbuster. So, how do you find a good director? Set pieces.

Steven Spielberg’s body of work consists of some of the most iconic set pieces in film history. From the chase sequences in Raiders of the Lost Ark to the T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park, he has continued to amaze audiences for decades. If you break down how Spielberg constructs his set pieces, you find that it is specific to one type of genre – horror. The set pieces of a blockbuster need to feel involving, and few genres are more viscerally involving than horror. Spielberg establishes the audience’s viewpoint in line with that of the character; when the character is scared, we are scared.

Spielberg also leans heavily on implication, another effective horror trope. In one of the scariest movies of its time, Jaws, the shark does not appear in full until the end. Cleverly, Spielberg makes the audience aware of the threat before they have even seen it.

Spielberg’s success is not an isolated incident of horror directors succeeding in blockbusters. Before directing the highly acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson worked exclusively in low budget horror movies. James Cameron may be better known for his blockbusters but his first two films, The Terminator and Aliens, are essentially horror movies. The list goes on and on, with James Gunn going from Slither to Guardians of the Galaxy and Gore Verbinski making the transition from The Ring to Pirates of the Caribbean.

While many set pieces focus on pure empty spectacle, a filmmaker who has dabbled in horror is more likely to understand something else: the bigger emotional response you can elicit from a viewer, the chance of leaving a lasting impression.

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