Will Francis Ford Coppola’s Epic Ambitions Ruin His Potential Masterpiece?

The iconic director has complete creative control for the ambitious project. But will that be his downfall?

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 07: Chloe Fineman, Nathalie Emmanuel, and Francis Ford Coppola are seen ...
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There’s been an air of mystery surrounding Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis for years now. Self-funded (in part thanks to his winery) by the director himself, it claims to be a sci-fi epic utopian story boasting stars like Adam Driver and Nathalie Emmanuel. But exact details of the story have been kept under wraps, leading to rampant speculation about its plot — most of which can only be gleaned from divisive screening reactions.

Now, we finally know what this vast story really is, and it’s his most ambitious yet. But will this jam-packed story play well when the film finally hits theaters, or is it a case of too many ideas?

Megalopolis is described as a sci-fi thriller about an architect who aims to rebuild New York as a utopia after a devastating disaster, but it appears to be far more sprawling than a simple logline could describe.

Adam Driver (and his Caesaresque haircut) stars in Coppola’s modern Roman epic.

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In a new feature for Vanity Fair, Coppola revealed his vast list of inspirations for his opus. “I wasn’t really working on this screenplay for 40 years as I often see written, but rather I was collecting notes and clippings for a scrapbook of things I found interesting for some future screenplay, or examples of political cartoons or different historical subjects,” Coppola says. “Ultimately, after a lot of time, I settled on the idea of a Roman epic. And then later, a Roman epic set in modern America.”

He reveals some of the subjects of this “scrapbook,” including Robert Moses, the Claus von Bülow murder case, Studio 54, and other foundational parts of New York history. Later, he credits a laundry list of 43 artists who inspired him, ranging from Euripedes and Aeschulys, to Kubrick and Kurosawa.

Is the singular vision of Francis Ford Coppola too much for Megalopolis?

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It’s a lot of lofty talk for a story that was previously described as “unflinching in how batsh*t crazy it is.” It seems like this movie is either going to be an all-encompassing love letter to New York and utopian ideologies or a massively-scaled example of sometimes too much creative control can be a bad thing, resulting in an overstuffed, self-indulgent story.

It’s a big risk, and one that’s especially high-stakes in the sci-fi genre. If a sci-fi movie is well crafted, you end up with Star Wars. If it becomes too self-indulgent and unfocused, you end up with Jupiter Ascending. It’s a hard needle to thread, but if anyone’s equipped, the director of Apocalypse Now is.

With Megalopolis premiering at Cannes Film Festival, reactions will prove which side of the divide this story falls on. But Coppola remains hopeful that this is the movie that will live on longer than himself. “It’s my dream that Megalopolis will become a New Year’s Eve perennial favorite,” he said, “with audiences discussing afterwards not their new diets or resolutions not to smoke, but rather this simple question: ‘Is the society in which we live the only one available to us?’”

It’s a big question. We’ll have to see if one director and 43 inspirations are enough — or even too much — to answer it.

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