There are plenty of reasons why the emergence of AI should make you angry. It will destroy creativity. It will take your job. It will, in years to come, gain vengeful sentience and doom humankind to a life of miserable enslavement. However, by the far the very worst thing that AI has ever done – and potentially the worst thing that it will ever do – is make all those crummy Wes Anderson parodies.
You know the ones. Last month a number of AI-generated photos were shared on Twitter, of what the Harry Potter franchise would look like if it had been directed by Wes Anderson. And, you guessed it, they all show the Harry Potter characters standing dead centre in front of various meticulously designed backdrops. They also all happen to be wearing the sort of garish outfits you only really find in the most obnoxious percentile of east London hipster brunch spots. No character in Wes Anderson’s entire filmography has ever worn the sort of garish paisley Banana Splits outfit that Harry Potter wears here, for instance. But, hey, let’s not let accuracy get in the way of an easy gag.
Similarly, last week a lumpy, ugly AI-assisted trailer emerged online, created by a YouTube user called Curious Refuge. The trailer’s title was Star Wars by Wes Anderson and, even if you haven’t seen it, you already know how it goes. The sets are all highly symmetrical. The cast includes Edward Norton and Willem Dafoe standing around blinking listlessly. There’s a bit where they list all the weapons they’ll need, including a paper aeroplane for added whimsy. C-3PO looks like a pencil drawing. You get it.
Anyway, buoyed by the virality of the Star Wars clip, Curious Refuge has just released another parody trailer, this time called Lord of the Rings by Wes Anderson. And this one, miraculously, is even worse than the first. The characters are uglier and more cartoonish, the colours are all wrong and, in a bid to spice up what would otherwise be a string of static Dall-E images, the whole thing is full of the sort of ugly pans and zooms that Anderson has studiously avoided his entire career. It’s enough to make you want to crawl inside your computer, grab AI by the lapels and shout “STOP DOING WES ANDERSON WRONG.”
To be fair, humans are just as bad when it comes to doing Wes Anderson wrong. There’s a current trend on TikTok, whereby people try to do mundane things in a Wes Anderson way, in which all they do is stand completely still with an unaffected look on their face in a succession of symmetrical and slightly old-looking locations. One does it in Spain. One does it in a burger shop. Michael Barrymore did one in a launderette. It’s the sort of thing that is slightly funny once, and then intensely annoying for the rest of time.
To some extent, the sudden fascination with Wes Anderson makes some amount of sense, since he’s well-known and has a distinctive style that is easy to mimic. It would be pointless to make an AI parody of Star Wars in the style of, say, James Cameron, because nobody would know what that would even look like. But Wes Anderson’s shtick is so well defined at this point that it’s basically a shorthand.
The problem is, though, that none of these things actually spoof Wes Anderson. The only thing they do is spoof other Wes Anderson spoofs, in particular Saturday Night Live’s Wes Anderson horror movie spoof from four years ago. Like all the newer parodies, they were just a loose collection of tropes – kids in matching tracksuits, old tents, the colour brown – except it was made by incredibly talented people with a large production budget and a clear appreciation for Anderson’s work, as opposed to a computer program that can stitch Bill Murray’s face on to the body of Gandalf so ineptly that it looks like every nightmare you’ve ever had rolled into one.
Most importantly, though, the spoofs fail to accurately parody Wes Anderson, because he is a director able to develop his shtick. Just look at the actual trailer for his real next film Asteroid City. The box of tricks has grown and evolved. There are still vintage cameras and safari suits, but now there are different aspect ratios. There are stop-motion mushroom clouds. There are new fonts. And there is one thing that none of the current crop of parodies have mentioned: dialogue. At one point in the Asteroid City trailer, Jason Schwartzman describes an alien invasion by saying: “I don’t like the way that guy looked at us, the alien, like we’re doomed,” to which Scarlett Johansson replies: “Maybe we are.” See? You can’t parody Wes Anderson, because he is already parodying himself.
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