He’s one of the most hated men in movies. Critics pan his flicks. Audiences aren’t having it. Gamers loathe him. Heck, a chewing gum maker even wanted him to retire. But is it possible that we’ve all been wrong?
This year, Prince of Persia was supposed to be the big Hollywood film that got gaming right. It didn’t deliver, and 2010 was another year bereft of the elusive great gaming flick. As gaming movies continue to let us down, maybe it’s time to consider that the worst offender in all this might not be the worst offender after all. It is time to re-assess the king of hated video game movies, Uwe Boll.
The German-born Boll made his splash in the early part of the last decade with House of the Dead, a cinematic take on the Sega arcade games. Low budget and corny, it was the film that would cement his reputation in the West as a maker of low-budget game-inspired schlock.
“I have almost no time to play video games,” Boll tells Kotaku from the set of his current production In the Name of the King 2. According to Boll, The House of the Dead film version came via Mark Altman, the film scribe and producer behind DOA: Dead or Alive.
Boll thought he’d made the most accurate House of the Dead film send-up possible, and Sega supported the picture with then Sega of America exec Peter Moore given a zombie cameo. The movie’s reviews were brutal, but the movie turned a profit. “Because it made money I went deeper into the gaming world and tried to acquire games I like – for example Alone In The Dark or BloodRayne,” Boll says.
Alone in the Dark didn’t fair much better with Alone in the Dark’s scriptwriter dishing on the changes Boll made to the film and the game’s developer deciding not to make this film a tie-in for the then-upcoming Alone in the Dark 5. The movie was not a success with critics or at the box office. BloodRayne, which had a budget of $US25 million only made $US3 million at theatres. Critics hated it. This is where the career of any normal filmmaker would draw to a close. Uwe Boll is not any normal filmmaker, because Boll produced sequels of both: BloodRayne 2 in 2007 and Alone in the Dark II in 2008.
This is Boll’s brilliance – he is able to get his films made. Even when critics tear into his pictures, there he is with yet another film. He’s used German tax loopholes to get his films financed as well as good old fashioned pre-sales, private investors and subsidies. Boll might not be the greatest film director, but he is a great movie producer. Since 2002, he’s made over fifteen films. “I’ve never made more than three movies in a year, and I only did that twice,” he says. “Normally I do two movies a year. Three is too much.” Here’s a guy who filmed three movies back to back, all using Nazi uniforms, props and settings and all completely different. His work ethic and corner-cutting harkens back to the bygone days when directors pumped out films year after year, rather then leaving them to languish in development hell. When asked whether he’ll continue making films into old age, the 45-year-old director replies, “I don’t think i will make movies after I’m 70.”
Uwe Boll doesn’t only get films made, he gets them made with name actors: Ben Kingsley, Christian Slater, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, John Rhys-Davies, Michael Madsen, Tara Reid, Kristanna Loken, Til Schweiger, Leelee Sobieski, Burt Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Billy Zane, Edward Furlong have all appeared in Boll’s films. There some big stars in there who have worked with big directors in big movies.
And even after suing Billy Zane over a BloodRayne dispute, the director was somehow able to talk him into starring in this year’s Attack on Darfur. Even Michael Madsen, who got ill and injured during BloodRayne, said he’d work with Uwe again “if he called me tomorrow”.
But what’s his secret? Compromising photos? Blackmail? Ha! No. “I send the script and make an offer,” Boll explains. “Actors and Hollywood Managers and Agents know that I’m a real filmmaker and [don’t]agree with the internet bashing. They watch my movies and don’t hate them.”
It’s more than that. Uwe Boll turned himself into a brand-name filmmaker. Ask any internet inhabitant, and they’ll know his name, just like they’ll know Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay. Granted, they know Boll’s name for different reasons, but they do know it. Name recognition breeds media exposure (like this!), which creates interest in what he is doing.
Boll didn’t build a name through himself by a series of bad films. There are tons of directors that create b-movies. No, Boll – who has a PhD in literature – is smart. The man is a master of early 21st-century publicity stunts: beating up internet critics or calling Michael Bay a /”fucking retard”.
“Boll uses the internet as a true communications medium,” says Vince Desi, CEO of game developer Running With Scissors (They made the Postal game). “He interacts directly with the fans and the press. He is very public about his personal opinions about actors and topics he makes movies on.” He knows how to push buttons, how to elicit a response. For example, Postal, based on the Running With Scissors franchise, was one of the first films to attempt to parody the 9/11 tragedy, causing a firestorm of controversy. The movie featured a 9/11-style attack gag that caused two hundred theatre goers in New Jersey to walk out on a free Postal screening. Distributors balked, and the pictured went from a planned 1,500 screens to a mere 21. “All my movies are about life and death, and they are all radical,” Boll says. “I’m not the political correct guy.”
Boll considers himself a serious filmmaker, as he should. He’s made several serious films like Attack on Darfur and Rampage – with those films getting solid reviews. Next February, Boll’s take on the Holocaust, a film titled Auschwitz, will debut in Berlin. The director describes it as a “day in the life” at Auschwitz, stripped of traditional Hollywood heroics. “There is a documentary element in the film with interviews with German school kids,” Boll says, “and it is shocking to see that they don’t know a lot about this chapter of German history”.
Meanwhile, Boll continues work in Canada, directing action star Dolph Lundgren on the set of In the Name of the King 2, the sequel to the film he made based on the Dragon Siege games, readying a new social welfare drama and appearing in video game Postal III. Uwe Boll is a hard-working filmmaker and brilliant producer. His grandest production so far is himself, Uwe Boll.