Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 27, 2006)
Every year produces plenty of “can’t-miss” movies that flop along with sleepers that pop out of nowhere to rake in the big bucks. Boffo! Tinseltown’s Bombs and Blockbusters examines the processes that go into Hollywood’s hits and misses.
Boffo offers the expected mix of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. It features a nice mix of prominent filmmaking personnel. We hear from actor/producer/director Danny de Vito, producer/studio head Peter Guber, director/producer Peter Bogdanovich, actor/director Jodie Foster, producer/writer Brian Grazer, studio head Tom Rothman, director/producer Sydney Pollack, actor/producer Morgan Freeman, producer/studio head Richard Zanuck, producer David Brown, actor/director George Clooney, director/producer Penny Marshall, actor/writer Nia Vardalos, producer/studio head Robert Evans, actor Richard Dreyfuss, writer/director Willard Huyck, writer/producer Gloria Katz, director/producer Steven Spielberg, actor/producer Charlize Theron, studio head/producer Sherry Lansing, studio head Alan Horn, director/producer John Singleton and actor/producer Pierce Brosnan.
Boffo looks at the “rules” in Hollywood and related risks. From there it leaps back to look at the flicks that defined the concept of a “blockbuster”. We hear about The Godfather, the first movie to earn more than $100 million in the US, and go to Jaws, the film that established the idea of the big summer hit. Sequels then get attention, as we find notes about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ocean’s 12. After that, the documentary checks out risky successes like Moulin Rouge! and Forrest Gump.
From there, Boffo deals with flops. We hear about “can’t miss” bombs like Clan of the Cave Bear and personal reactions to failure. Notes about screenplays and storytelling follow, and then we shift to a need for self-confidence to navigate the industry. There’s info about the “movie gods”, successful accidents and the magic of movies.
While enjoyable and consistently entertaining, I must admit Boffo ends up as a disappointment. The show boasts a great notion, as it’s fascinating to hear from many Hollywood moves and shakers about the business side of things. Throughout DVD extras, we’re used to hearing folks talk about the filmmaking side of things, but we don’t often learn about the financial areas and reactions to both failure and success. An exploration of what happens after the movies hit the screens – for good or ill – stands as territory ripe for exploration.
Unfortunately, Boffo remains too superficial and fluffy to truly succeed. Part of the problem stems from its disjointed nature. If there’s a plan behind the show’s structure, I couldn’t discern it. It flits from one area to another without much apparent logic as it covers various subjects.
For a while, it looks like it’ll view the changes in the industry as blockbusters became more and more expected. We learn about how The Godfather and Jaws affected the industry, so it appears that we’ll then follow subsequent related issues. This fails to occur. There’s a token nod to the rise of sequels, but this never becomes a subject of substance.
That’s really my main complaint about Boffo: a lack of substance. The filmmakers can’t decide if they want to examine the industry or if they want to give us notes about the creation of various flicks. We get details about different productions that have nothing to do with the program's overall arc. These are interesting, but they shed no light on the issues at hand.
I also think Boffo spends too little time on the “flops” side of things. We hear a lot about the various hits but the show only superficially touches on the negatives. Because the show is so puffy, it doesn’t want to dwell there too long; it prefers to keep us in happy territory.
At least Boffo boasts a great roster of participants. It’s hard to fault the long list of Hollywood movers and shakers on display here, even though some get much more time than others. That means lots of De Vito and Clooney but very little Spielberg. I don’t regard this as a major problem, as it’s not like we only hear from lesser lights; virtually everyone here is a big name. Still, a little more balance would’ve been nice.
Those involved do present some good stories. I really like Freeman’s discussion of The Bonfire of the Vanities. He seems somewhat reluctant to actually discuss the issues, but his expressions are priceless; they tell the story non-verbally and prove more effective than words might have. Foster also gives us an entertaining tale about how hard she worked to get her part in The Accused.
Oh, and as an aside, Dreyfuss provides today’s definition of irony. He berates the trend toward story and character deficient effects extravaganzas while he’s on the set of Poseidon, a film that absolutely defines the concept of the story and character deficient effects extravaganza.
Ultimately, Boffo amuses and entertains but doesn’t achieve its goals. It eventually becomes more of a celebration of the movie industry than a serious look at the subject of hits and flops. I enjoyed Boffo but I couldn’t say I felt like I learned a lot from it.