In Hollywood, where ego rules the day and perception is reality--there were (and are) few bigger names than wonderkind director Steven Spielberg, mogul David Geffin, and the polarizing yet savvy Jeffrey Katzenberg. When the three combined forces to form DreamWorks Studios in the nineties, the promise of a modern media revolution (and empire) captivated LaLaLand. However, the idea of a contemporary entertainment utopia never quite developed into a reality. With no real business plan in place and clashing priorities, DreamWorks became the most expensive start-up of all time and one of the most public displays of hype unrealized. Nicole Laporte's exhaustive chronicle "The Men Who Would Be King" expertly details the folly and foibles in a cautionary tale that absolutely captures the essence of the current film industry. It is THE must read of the year for anyone with a passing interest in the movie business.
The rise and fall of DreamWorks provides incredible highs and devastating lows, so Laporte's expose is as dramatic and colorful as it is informative. But you might expect that drama with the huge personalities involved! Katzenberg, in particular, is so compelling as a character--he is, alternately, an incredibly savvy businessman and utterly pigheaded. Spielberg, the center of this particular universe, is an undeniable creative genius--but with his limited attention span and free spirit, he never leveraged his power to propel DreamWorks into a successful business model. For every film success ("Saving Private Ryan," "American Beauty," "Gladiator," and "Shrek"), there were many more failures or missed opportunities. A studio compound that never got built (and angered environmentalists to boot), a television division that never took off, an Internet company before its time, a music group that courted more individualistic talent, a unwavering commitment to 2-D animation even with advances in technology, and a gaming sideline that was sold before its biggest moneymaker was released--these are just a few aspects of the DreamWorks empire with more fizzle than sizzle.
"The Men Who Would Be King" is an incredibly entertaining read. It probably helps to have a passing knowledge of the subject matter, but I found it fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at things that played out very publicly. Of personal interest, in terms of subject matter, I think Laporte excellently depicts the Oscar campaigning for certain films as modern warfare--which having lived in the periphery of that world, I found to be very true to life. A definite recommendation to cinephiles, the book also has cross-over appeal to the business set (a how-not-to, so to speak). For all its grandiose aspirations, Laporte showcases DreamWorks as a magnificent display of hype over substance and has, in "The Men Who Would Be King," created a new essential in the library of books about the film industry.