One is feted as possibly the finest director working in American cinema today- an all-time great in the making. The other, is accused of being an accountant, a derivative hack who is a byword for loud, brainless blockbusters. One is considered an auteur, the other more of an oh-dear. With both The Master and Resident Evil: Retribution in cinemas, Sky Movies investigates which director Paul Anderson deserves the best of our love.
Paul Thomas Anderson [henceforth PT] is a 42 year old Californian who, with only six films completed, can well be considered a genius. He is renowned for eliciting stunning performances from great actors, and miraculously, with Punch Drunk Love, somehow making Adam Sandler engaging and likeable. Extraordinary.
His last film, There Will Be Blood, was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two, including a best actor gong for Daniel Day-Lewis. His current film, The Master, sees Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix produce career best performances in a film about trust, belonging and power, through the prism of a movement not unlike Scientology. Like all his films, it features damaged characters struggling with the challenges and expectations of the ‘normal’ world. The Master is a rich, deep and profound piece of work. A slight story dominated by theme and nuance and personality. Influenced by Kubrick and Altman, PT is a worthy successor to these giants. He is a cineaste and an artist.
Paul WS Anderson [henceforth WS] is a 47 year old Geordie with a love of popular culture. Whereas PT’s films are influenced by literature, history and ideas, WS’ films are influenced by film, television and computer games. PT’s films trust their audience, WS’s movies pander to theirs. PT’s films are controlled, concentrated and erudite, WS’s movies are as a subtle as a knee to the balls. He rips off other directors shamelessly, substituting performance for style. A style that’s not his own. Paul WS Anderson added the ‘WS’ to his moniker in 1999 in an attempt to avoid confusion with PT. Wishful thinking, some might say.
PT’s films often require at least a second viewing, WS’s don’t ‘require’ a single viewing; one watch of the respective trailer should contain every highlight the movie has to offer. PT’s films are dense, epic and challenging, WS’ movies are safe, shiny and predictable. Both are synonymous with ‘their’ type of cinema, both are considered a ‘safe’ pair of hands.
If only it were that simple. These two namesakes represent the inherent tension in the film industry. Working at opposite ends of the movie spectrum, theirs is a symbiotic relationship.
After making an impact with the controversial film Shopping with Jude Law in 1994, Paul WS Anderson moved to Hollywood to make Mortal Kombat, a martial arts fantasy based on the hit computer game. As of 1995, video game adaptations had been largely unsuccessful. Super Mario Bros. was a huge critical and commercial failure, as was Double Dragon. Street Fighter had made money but had been panned. WS succeeded where others had failed. With a budget of $18m, Mortal Kombat went on to make $122m, proving that computer game adaptations could be enjoyable, well received and hugely profitable.
WS’ follow ups Event Horizon, and Soldier, were both significant flops, though the former has become something of a sci-fi cult classic. Two disappointments of this magnitude would have broken most directors, killing their career. Many would never have been employed again. Despite these two major setbacks, and after a well-received TV movie, WS returned to his video game roots to write and direct an adaptation of Resident Evil. It was a smash hit that was to spawn four successful sequels. The five movies he has directed since 2002 have all been profitable. His films have grossed over $1bn. He has become an expert in managing medium budget action films, those between $40m-$70m that cannot buy success through the attachment of a star name. These are the films that fill studios with fear.
Paul WS Anderson is exactly the kind of director the British film industry should nurture and cherish- slick, competent, profitable and one with a populist touch. He is not a cynic; he genuinely understands and enthuses about science fiction and video game culture. His achievements from an industry perspective are hugely undervalued.
It is an immutable fact that films like The Master cannot be made without the films of WS. Resident Evil: Retribution alone has grossed more than the six films in Paul Thomas Anderson’s oeuvre combined. PT needs the films of WS to keep the current studio and distribution system afloat and is fully aware of this fact. As should we be.
The world of Magnolia and Death Race are poles apart. It’s film vs movie. Art vs commerce. The same medium but a very different product. It’s not like comparing apples with oranges, more like comparing skateboards and hot air balloons. Form and function are completely different.
The Master is yet another stunning piece of work from PT Anderson. Layered, sumptuous and profound. But if it’s a Saturday night, a beer is open and your pizza has just been delivered, you might just want to enjoy a beautiful woman kick a baddie in the face in slow motion. And we know just the guy.