Robert Zemeckis: Should Hollywood Stop Funding his Film Habit?

It's a question commonly asked about many movie directors, especially relevant in light of Robert Zemeckis' upcoming picture -- a Yellow Submarine redo.

Then again, why not?

He's had a string of audience- and critic-approved hits during his three-decade-spanning career as a movie director: the historically nostalgic, shrimp-tastic Forrest Gump (it earned him a Best Director Oscar and Golden Globe); Cast Away, featuring the first volleyball co-star in film; the toon-human revolution Who Framed Roger Rabbit; zany '80s Douglas-Turner jungle thriller Romancing the Stone; time-travel classic Back to the Future; and a Jodie Foster-helmed feel good space quest for Contact.

Of course, there's also the mediocre Streep-Hawn cougar fight, Death Becomes Her; Back to the Future Part III; the technically brilliant but otherwise not-so-magical (especially in light of the classic childrens book it was based on) and slightly creepy Polar Express; and the visually stunning but one-dimensional (according to its detractors) animated epic Beowulf. Which summarily seems to be the common complaint about the special-effects wiz's movies -- sometimes Zemeckis' high-tech fireworks snuff out (or replace) the substance of a story; too much CGI sparkle and not enough soul, so to speak. This sentiment seems, in some critical opinions, to also encompass 2009's A Christmas Carol, which Film.com's Laremy Legel noted in his review "looks amazing" but has "an appalling lack of story."

Still, though, Zemeckis' resume is not too shabby compared to many other directors (Michael Bay, Jason Friedberg -- will spoof cinema ever be good and funny again?) still being funded by Hollywood studios despite the questionable quality of their products. Which actually begs another, perhaps more important question: Has Robert Zemeckis, to commandeer a classic Cuba Gooding Jr. line, shown Hollywood the money? Despite rave reviews, popular adoration, two Oscar nods, and a Golden Globe award, last year's indie wild card, The Wrestler, grossed about $44 million domestically. Poor marketing, perhaps? (Though its budget was a thrifty $6 million.) The point, as most audiences are well aware, is that the best films don't always make the most money. And for the most part, money is what matters to studios and film financiers.

Of course, it's difficult to compare a film's gross from a decade or more ago to the profits of current releases. And budget-to-returns ratio is a crucial factor. Other than disappointments like Beowulf (its about $196 million worldwide lifetime gross slimly recouped a $150 million production budget), most of Zemeckis' films have made millions enough, though not exactly attaining Avatar heights (tallied to date at $1 billion plus worldwide).

What about Yellow Submarine, then? The film's not-exactly-fab Fab Four replacements supposedly include Cary Elwes (Harrison), Dean Lennox Kelly (Lennon), Couples Retreat's Peter Serafinowicz (McCartney) and Epic Movie's Adam Campbell (Ringo). It's another Zemeckis-driven, 3-D performance-capture Disney venture with licensed Beatles tunes. Considering the box-office mojo of the 1968 original was owed largely to the Beatles themselves (who were part of the voice cast) along with all the frenzy and adoration that accompanied them, it's easy to envision RZ's submarine sinking. Then again, animation certainly seems to be his forte, and it's more cinematically en vogue now in then it was in '68.

For a studio, it's probably worth a gamble. Film fans, however, might prefer to wait until the critics have weighed in to buy their theater tickets. There's always the risk RZ's glossy effects will suck the whimsy out a cherished piece of Beatles history. Or not.