It’s been a bit of a slow news week for films. Nothing especially interesting has happened. Jurassic Park 4 was renamed Jurassic World. An image of Godzilla from next years remake leaked online. Justin Bieber is playing Robin… or maybe not. If that film is based on The Dark Knight Returns would that mean he’s playing a female Robin? Cos I could believe that. Two screenshots of the Need For Speed film starring Aaron Paul (bitch) were released that show no cars or the any sign of the purported return to 60s style car chase movie themes. Was there anything else..? Well, I suppose it was announced that Jack Black is going to be starring in a Goosebumps film. Yup, that’s happening. Apparently he’ll be playing an author who’s characters come to life. So Monkeybone then, sorta. I don’t think I could write an entire blog post about that. Although… you know, Jack Black sure is doing a lot of crappy films these days. And they’re almost always awful. Hey, Jack Black… What the hell happened man?
Jack Black is one of those guys that rose to fame at exactly the right moment in his life. In a short space of time he scored a breakout role in High Fidelity, stealing the show along the way. He released a genuinely funny and excellent comedy rock/acoustic metal album with his musical partner in crime Kyle Gass. He also had a hit comedy in Shallow Hal… which is a fucking awful film. But it was a hit. With those three roles/performances he had gained comedy cred, musical cred and mainstream success. But he didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Say what you want about the man but he worked his arse off and paid his dues to get to where he was at that point. He didn’t get flung into the mainstream because of how sexually appealing he looked in a pair of Calvin Klein boxer shorts… although many would claim he does. No, he worked his way there.
Try to think of the earliest film you saw Jack Black in. Some would say High Fidelity or Shallow Hal. Many may remember him in Enemy of the State (decent film BTW) and The Jackal. Some may even remember him as being the only good thing about The Neverending Story III. Fun fact: Jack Black was in The Fall Guy. A series which many people have forgotten about today and in about 2 years will remember as a film starring The Rock. There’s also an advert for Pitfall on the Atari 2600 from around then that he’s in. You skip to the 90s and look over his imdb page and you’ll realise that he’s in a hell of a lot of films that you’ve seen, albeit, in small roles. Waterworld, Mars Attacks, Cradle Will Rock, The Cable Guy and Demolition Man all feature a little JB action. Not to mention the cinematic classics that are Airborne and Bio-Dome. He was even in Northern Exposure and The X-Files on TV along with a short lived Tenacious D show, which is excellent by the way. What I’m saying is Jack Black earned his place as a star.
As many websites will have likely reminded you this week, School of Rock is 10 years old. There’s one of those facts that reminds you how fast time flies. School of Rock is a damn fine film and manages to float that line between the two audiences that Jack Black is most loved by. Fans of his swear filled music and kids. He has a lot of pre-teen fans. Kids love him, and not just because he helps them find octagons. They love him because he has a child like sense of fun and wonderment in how he carries and delivers his jokes. He doesn’t just hit his line at the right time. He puts a little bit of playful flair on his delivery. It’s not so much what he says but how he says it. I’m not saying he’s anywhere near the comedic skill of say, Steve Martin in the 80s or Louis CK now, but he knows how to get that laugh and understands that sometimes you’ve just got to enjoy it and, most of all, mean it.
It’s pretty clear that when you see Jack Black in front of an audience he craves and eats up the adulation. It’s what he lives for and no audience will shower you with laughs and cheers like kids will. Gradually, as his career moves on, he appears in less and less serious or more adult centric films. This could partly be because the film market is aiming younger these days in general, but, I think it’s the lack of praise he gets for his serious roles that does it. He’s actually a pretty skilled serious actor. He’s no Brando, but he holds his own well in films such as Margot at the Wedding and The Holiday. He certainly doesn’t harm those films. There’s the occasional role over the last few years that feel like proper Jack Black roles, such as in Tropic Thunder or his excellent voice work in Brutal Legend. But he was a supporting role in Tropic Thunder and Brutal Legend failed to earn the sales that the average Double Fine game deserve.
Add to this that the Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny, Nacho Libre and Be Kind Rewind all failed to find a wider audience whilst Shark Tale and Kung Fu Panda likely brought him at least 1 half diet half regular coke (he’s trying to lose some of the weight). If you were Jack where would you have started pushing your career.. It seems where Jack is most successful is in the supporting role, but he’s a guy that clearly craves the centre stage. He’s provided the voice of Po from Kung Fu Panda many times over now, even in the video shorts Dreamworks love to take onto their dvds. He loves the role cos kids love Po. Thank God Kung Fu Panda took off and not Shark Tale. He’s recording dialogue for Kung Fu Panda 3 now. Yes, there’s a third film coming.
Did you know Jack Black was recently in a film with Steve Martin and John Cleese? Think about that. Two of the biggest stars of comedy of all time are in a film together along with Jack Black and Owen Wilson and no-one saw it. It cost $41 million to make and took $7 million. If that was released 10 years ago it probably would have been huge. He was also in a film called Bernie, which did quite well for it’s very low budget, but didn’t get wide promotion and I am yet to see a copy of here in the UK. It got very good reviews too, many noting Jack Black’s performance as standing out. And yet Gulliver’s Travels, a film that practically spits in the face of the original stories and is critically derided, made $237 million and continues to sell on dvd. What’s a Jack Black to do? He works his arse off in a film and it fails to find an audience. He appears in something that is way outside the realms of his adult audience and it succeeds spectacularly.
I honestly don’t think Jack Black minds doing these kids films all the time. As I mentioned, I reckon he enjoys making kids laugh. Have you ever seen his appearance on Sesame Street where he’s looking for an octagon? He is lapping that up no end. In a way you’ve gotta respect that he’s able to pick out the roles he enjoys. I can’t help but feel that we’re missing his full potential though. Maybe I’m being selfish, but I want the sweary Jack Black back. I want him to make a few adult comedies, or at least some films that work on both levels such as School of Rock and eventually I want someone to dare to shout out some praise for his dramatic talents. The trouble is that I can’t help but feel that, gradually, he’s just going to move further and further away from his adult audience because them kids, they love them some Kung Fu Panda and they don’t sit there critiquing his every move. There’s a hint of rebellion in him still, just look at the cover of the last Tenacious D album for example. But will he ever be given the chance to be a lead in an R rated comedy again? It seems less and less likely. And that’s a shame.
But herein lies the magic of cinema. We still have High Fidelity. We still have his show stealing in Orange County. We still have School of Rock and that amazing first Tenacious D album. His films that failed to gain their audience on a wider scale, such as Bernie and Be Kind Rewind still exist on dvd and blu-ray and various digital stores. Whilst the Jack Black I know and love may be moving into a territory that I cannot follow… cos fuck see a Goosebumps movie… I know that I can always play those films and listen to that music whenever I want. In film actors may change and shift their focus, but if they ever made anything you loved it will always exist. Now, what do I need to do to get Brutal Legend 2 made?