MOTW: The People Rule: The Channing Tatum Effect on "G.I. Joe: Retaliation"

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
March 26th, 2013

MOTW: The People Rule: The Channing Tatum Effect on "G.I. Joe: Retaliation"

So "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" was supposed to be released last year to rave reviews, with product tie-ins and a huge release that was supposed to make people in Hollywood way rich and more famous than they already are. The original release date was set at June 29, 2012, which put it in exactly the spot where an action-packed mega-super-duper-budget blockbuster extravaganza would want to occupy for the traditional summer ticket sales. The posters were painted, the entertainment press had been alerted that something entertaining was about to happen, and then nothing. Nothing happened on time. The film, which had a budget of $130 million, just up and disappeared from the coming attractions list. Paramount Pictures, which had funded the whole shebang, had very little in the way of an explanation. When news broke-very quietly, of course-that the movie was back on the shelf until the next spring, some kind of explanation seemed called for. Thus Paramount told audiences that "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" had been sent back to post for conversion into a 3-D picture and not to worry about it, since the conversion, which usually costs between $10 and $15 million and leaves a movie looking like it was shot through a pair of black nylons, wasn't going to push the film over its budget. What's really going on?

Make no mistake, a $130 million project that's being as aggressively marketed and cross-promoted as "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" doesn't just get pulled to give it a quick and dirty 3-D retrofit. One clue to the real story seems to be that before it was pulled, the film had already made it to test screenings. Test screenings are perhaps among the most transparently bad ideas in Hollywood. The idea seems totally sound, right? Since the movie is a major investment, why not release it to a limited number of people for feedback and incorporate their ideas into the film prior to its main release? The idea seems to be that if there's some kind of weakness in the picture, running the movie past a sample of the very public that will be paying to see it couldn't hurt.

The problem with this is that the movie-going public is the movie-going public for a reason. That is to say, people who go to movies usually do so because they don't make their own. When people whose only connection to cinema is that they haven't figured out how to rip movies off of BitTorrent are consulted as an integral part of the filmmaking process, strange things can happen. One of these strange things may be known as the "Channing Tatum Effect," in honor of the star of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." See, when a test audience is shown a huge-budget special effects-laden noisy blockbuster and doesn't like it, studio executives start having terrible visions of dollar bills with little wings on them fluttering away like sad little butterflies. The result is often a rush to "fix" whatever the test audiences said was "wrong" with the film.

The results of this can sometimes be comically bad, as when "I Am Legend" got a negative reaction from its screeners and was immediately reworked, with the ending reshot to eliminate the thinky, highbrow concept that Will Smith had been the bad guy all along, and the zombie vampires he'd been slaughtering with abandonment were actually thinking, loving creatures who were terrified of him. The new, audience-approved version just had him going down in a blaze of glorious violence, lest audiences be forced to consider a message of tolerance and compassion.

Another example of this effect is that of Harrison Ford's narration at the end of "Blade Runner," in which the original, very depressing meditation on mortality and what it means to be alive gave way to a happy tale about finding true love and leaving behind the no-fun post-apocalypse world the whole movie had been shot in. According to Terry Gilliam, something very similar happened to the domestic release of "Brazil."

So is that what's going on here? It's known that "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" got reviews that ranged from mediocre to bad, according to the review site Deadline. One silver lining to the film's overall chilly reception seems to have been the friendly bromance between Channing Tatum's Duke and Dwayne Johnson's Roadblock. Considering that Duke died near the beginning of the movie, this clearly was a problem. So it seems that "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" isn't just getting a 3-D workup, but that the entire film had been reshot to give the people what they want: more Channing.