Of the comparison, Band says, "The world has changed a great deal since then, but I'd say our goals and values aren't too different. We want to launch new talent and make lots of movies."
Sample a few of the coming titles from Empire and you will see that we do not speak here of high art: I Eat Cannibals, Test Tube Teenagers From the Year 2000, Necropolis, Crimelord, Journey Through the Dark Zone, Catacombs and Decapitron.
Band is also planning to buy Dino de Laurentiis' studio in Rome, a vast complex with six sound stages and a million square feet. The purchase will
allow him to expand Empire's output to an astonishing 40 films annually, more than four times that of the average major Hollywood studio. The difference is that Band can make films for as little as $2.5 million with a trimmed-down operation that is not burdened by huge outlays for stars, operating costs and
directing talent. The average cost of a major Hollywood production is now about $15 million.
There is no information on what Band's Decapitron is about, but if there's a beheading in it, the film won't be that unusual. Two centuries ago, crowds gathered around the guillotine for the diversion of watching a decapitation, and it is both amazing and depressing that it can still be considered popular entertainment when staged in the movies.
There are no fewer than four beheadings in movies at the moment. In Highlander, Christopher Lambert engages in a sword duel with an enemy in the parking lot of Madison Square Garden and strikes his head off. Later the film's headliner, Sean Connery, suffers the same fate. In House, William Katt whacks the head off a ghoulish woman who is tormenting him. And in Clan of the Cave Bear, a hapless Neanderthal loses his head during a one-sided fight with a giant bear. In none of these instances was the scene necessary.
What happens when the cameraman gets the chance to take over and becomes the director of a movie? Sometimes the results are negative.
Take the cases of three of the best in the business: Gordon Willis, Michael Chapman and William Fraker. Cinematographer Chapman made an auspicious debut in 1983 with All the Right Moves and, with the help of Tom Cruise, made one of the better teenage movies of the '80s. He was then given the chance to direct Clan of the Cave Bear, which was once regarded as a major prestige release from Warner Bros. but is now receiving the distribution treatment reserved for movie orphans.
Chapman's work is honorable and sincere and deserves a little better than the derision that has come his way. He is good enough for his directing career to recover; Willis and Fraker are back behind the camera.
Willis, Woody Allen's house cinematographer and an absolute master of the craft, directed the awful lesbian thriller Windows in 1980 and then promptly returned to what he did best. Likewise, Fraker, who directed The Legend of the Lone Ranger in 1981.