If Beale Street Could Talk
Jenkins’ decision to let the original storyteller live and breathe throughout If Beale Street Can Talk is a wise one.
What should a $40 coffee table book about a controversial blockbuster do? Should it be expected to illuminate how a troubled production made it through tragedy and controversy to get to the big screen or should it be more of a piece of fan service, designed to forget all those dramas? Titan Books releases lavish, art-filled volumes that have the ability to enhance a fan’s appreciation of a major motion picture instead of just feeling like a glossy tie-in. Their books on “Alien: Covenant” and “Wonder Woman” this summer offered details about the craft of those two films that made it easier to appreciate their accomplishments. They added to the film’s legacies instead of just walking beside them or serving as an afterthought.
But is that even possible for a film like “Justice League,” which has widely been considered a disappointment and went through more ups and downs during its filmmaking than most entire franchises? From the rescue job done by Joss Whedon to Henry Cavill’s mustache to the tonal changes reportedly ordered by Warner Bros., a true companion piece could illuminate how a production even survives such things to make it to multiplexes. But books like this aren’t really designed to do that. They’re often produced in conjunction with a movie, unable to take into account shifting sands or public reaction. And so “Justice League: The Art of the Film” doesn’t bother with missing mustaches. In fact, it doesn’t bother with much at all.
The denser volumes in this book genre offer detailed essays on production but “Justice League: The Art of the Film” contains fewer printed words than I’ve ever seen in a release like this. It is quite literally a picture book, and a lot of those pictures are readily available stills that fans could find online. It is made up almost entirely of images, with the occasional quote from a member of the technical team. Of course, the most interesting pages include details of the production design, whether they be Daily Planet posters you probably missed or sketches for the design of Aquaman’s very detailed look. Still, even this material feels stretched thin. One page contains three shots of Aquaman at different angles. It’s the same shot.
But maybe that’s what fans of “Justice League” really want—stills, sketches, and other bits of fan service designed to remind them of what they love about Zack Snyder’s movie and distract them from the stories of money lost by Warner Bros. and other behind-the-scenes drama. You could say there’s plenty of fan service online, but there has also been a great deal of the opposite—we live in an era of transparent productions for major films like this. And when people find “Justice League: The Art of the Film” under their Christmas tree, they want to put all of that aside and enjoy their memories or a beloved movie. Just make sure it’s beloved a great deal before you add this one to your holiday shopping list.
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A review of Fallout 76.