The Circle Is a Perfect Example of a Bad Movie

the circle movie

After the last round of trailers and subliminal Coke messaging prior to my viewing of The Circle, I strapped in for an odd delight of my mine: watching the movie’s production logos appear. 20th Century’s Fox’s drumroll and fanfare, Scott Free’s wild animation, New Line Cinema’s cascading strings, and countless others — these opening seconds are ripe with memories of the hundreds of movies that have borne those logos before. It’s simply the first bookend on the magic of cinema.

But when a film displays not three, not four, but five separate logos for companies producing or associated with it, I begin to worry – especially if I don’t recognize any of them. This forebodes a mess, a movie changing hands between studios, producers, and creative until the audience is delivered a Frankenstein amalgamation of sloppily edited scenes and stitched-together plotlines.  This isn’t always the case, but it had me a little leery of the Circle from the outset.

And boy was I right.

the circle

The Circle is a mess. Horribly underdeveloped characters, a largely skipping and monotonous plot, and a woefully confusing sense of morality mire what might have been an exciting, if predictable, thriller with a talented cast behind it. In fact, this movie might very well have been just that before any of the aforementioned production companies tinkered with it.

At times, it appears to tell a cautionary tale about privacy and the insidious motivations behind major corporations like Google, Facebook, or Apple, and at other points seems to defend its Orwellian premise. The lead character Mae Holland (Emma Watson) shifts between disillusionment and cult-like adherence to the titular company without provocation. John Boyega, Karen Gillan, and Ellar Coltrane are introduced as vital characters to the plot, but tumble in and out of the storyline with such irregularity that they become little more than cardboard plot devices. Heck, it broke my heart to see the late Bill Paxton pushed to the sidelines in favor of Emma Watson’s endless monologues to floating text boxes on the screen.

the circle film

How did all of this go so horribly wrong? Likely, The Circle had a Suicide Squad problem.

David Ayer’s critically panned yet fairly successful villain team-up flick famously had two very different cuts. After the film’s first trailer met with a lukewarm response from fans, Warner Bros. added plenty of color, comedy, and catchy pop tunes to the second trailer. People liked the latter more, but they liked a facade. This meant massive reshoots to fit the tone of the second trailer, but test audiences grimaced at both cuts of the movie. This led to the disjointed theatrical cut, and a historically bad taste in my mouth.

the wolfman movie

Or better yet, does anyone remember 2010’s The Wolfman? After director Mark Romanek quit the film mere weeks before production was set to begin, the studio rushed Joe Johnston on the project under a tight series of deadlines. Reportedly, cast and crew did they best they could, but a set of reshoots brought another director, Vic Armstrong, onto the project. For those that haven’t seen The Wolfman, it comes across about as slapdash as you might expect.

Did something similar happen with The Circle? It’s my best guess for how a simple adaptation could have gone so wrong and why the film is so jarring at times.

I haven’t read Dave Eggers’ original work, but a Wikipedia summary tells me that the original ending may have been a bit dark for the studio’s intended audience (perhaps a cross between people that watched The Social Network and The Bourne Identity). The team involved may have reworked the plot into a more feel-good ending only to have the studio decide to split the difference in the same vein as Suicide Squad.  They may have edited out key character motivations and plot points in a hungover stupor after a rowdy night of the “Suicide Squad Director’s Cut Drinking Game” (drink every time you wonder why they didn’t cast a sturdy 2’x4’ instead of Joel Kinnamen).

the circle tom hanks

Regardless, the lesson here is that a bad movie is created in the making. Any square-spectacled snob can call the internationally popular Fate of the Furious popcorn trash for the braindead masses, but it’s much harder to argue that it’s a bad movie. Well-choreographed action sequences, serviceable melodrama, and excellent comic relief beg to differ; it’s surface-level schlock, but it’s a functionally good movie. The Circle is functionally bad, failing on the most fundamental level. Even if that pipsqueak snob appreciated the totalitarian and Orwellian themes in the film’s premise, the actual movie fails to capitalize on any of that.

At their hearts, films are structures. They require solid foundations, sturdy support, and the occasional name like “flying buttress” for hilarity’s sake. They can’t all be renaissance wonders or Beaux-Arts masterpieces, but they at least need to stand up of their own accord and function in some capacity. And they should never, ever criminally under-utilize the immortal beauty that is Bill Paxton’s acting.

Poor Bill Paxton. Now I need to shed tears of bitter mourning while watching Twister again.

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