Directors’ Trademarks: Gore Verbinski

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When we consider the abundance of CGI-fueled movies these days, there are certain directors whose work has steered the industry to become what it is today. The films of directors such as J.J. Abrams, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, and even Zach Snyder have used computer technology to create stylized stories that audiences can’t seem to get enough of. Gore Verbinski isn’t typically included on this list of new-era heavyweights, but his career has also ridden on the back of CGI. Arguably, Verbinski has taken his involvement with technology one step further than many others by being an active developer and early-adopter of new technologies and methods.

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Gore Verbinski’s career in feature-films has had more success than most. He got his start in the industry filming commercials and music videos. The famous Budweiser frogs Superbowl commercial is his. His feature film debut was 1997’s Mousehunt, which wasn’t a commercial success, but showed Verbinski’s devotion to developing realistic CGI for use in mainstream films. His next film was The Mexican (2001) which wasn’t a CGI-related nor a huge success, but allowed Verbinski to work with popular movie stars (which would be a common theme for all his later films). Verbinski had his first hit with 2002’s adaptation of The Ring, which allowed him to experiment with film-making technology in a new and innovative way. His next undertaking, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) would define his career and allow him to make two big-budget sequels. In between those sequels, he released The Weatherman (2005) to moderate critical success. The profitability of the pirate films allowed Verbinski to make Rango (2011), which was an animated movie that used lots of new (also costly) technology and methods to bring its vision to screen. Next up, Verbinski is back to big-budget summer blockbuster territory with The Lone Ranger.

So the question posed is, if you are watching a Verbinski film and you don’t know it, what are the things to look for that would identify it as such? Here are five of Verbinski’s trademarks as director, in no particular order.

Innovative Methods to Create Special Effects

This is something that audiences might not pick up on just by watching Verbinski’s films, as it has more to do with what is happening behind the scenes than in front of them. Overall, Verbinski is a visual director, who specializes in creating interesting special effects on screen. Often, as he was developing a film, the methods with which to create these special effects that he needed were not yet invented. Therefore, Verbinski is a technological pioneer, and experimented with new and creative ways to bring ground-breaking special effects to the big screen. Mousehunt is an innovative combination of computer-generated cartoon-like antics and real footage that really hadn’t been seen before. The Pirates of the Caribbean films included several characters that were completely or partially CGI, captured in real time with the animated bits added in later. Finally, Rango used a completely new and technologically-dependent method by which to create its animated world (see video).  

Characters Carry Weapons

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At various times in his films, Verbinski’s characters, especially the main ones, are shown carrying a weapon. This may come from Verbinski’s love of western films, where characters are “gunslingers”. Rango and The Lone Ranger are Verbinski’s interpretations of the genre, and the plot of The Mexican revolves around a gun. The signature image from The Weatherman is Nicholas Cage’s character toting around a crossbow, and Jack Sparrow’s costume is completed with the pistol fitted into his belt.

Surreal Visuals

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While Verbisnki’s films all strive to be realistic, they also feature elements that are a little odd, off-kilter, or weird. Verbinski doesn’t allow these surreal elements to compromise his films, but rather to enhance their tone and watch-ability. At times the surreal moments are supposed to be funny and light-hearted, such as the “underworld” rock-crab scene in Pirates of the Carribbean: At World’s End, or even the entire cartoon-like nature of Mousehunt. At other times, these visuals are used to tell a story, such as in Rango where the surreal landscape is the setting itself. In The Ring, these visuals are used as the thrilling element of the film to scare the audience.  

Wide Detail Shots

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As a visual director, Verbinski likes to cram as much detail as possible in his films. He uses wide angle shots to do this. These shots typically have his characters located in the center and the scene or scenery is behind them. Typically, in these shots, Verbinski is showing that his characters are isolated, alone on their journey. These shots help to pace the film, as well as, put it into perspective that the story being told is just one of many.

Music Connections/References

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Before starting his career in movies, Gore Verbinski was a punk-rock guitarist. Later on, he directed music videos. Therefore, or perhaps coincidentally, his films feature homages to punk and rock music and other elements related to his past career. In The Ring there is a sticker for the band Bad Religion, for whom Verbinski directed a music video. Johnny Depp’s character, Captain Jack Sparrow, in the Pirates of the Caribbean films was heavily influenced by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who makes a cameo appearance in the third film. In Rango there is a moment when the logo of the band KISS can be seen, and in The Weather Man,  Verbinski even contributed to the score of the movie by playing guitar.  


Previously: Director’s Trademarks: Roland Emmerich