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May 31, 2017

Hollywood Blues: Worst Memorial Day for Box Office; Reviews Are Apparently to Blame

Before getting to that:

It should be noted that movies are only one aspect of Hollywood. When we say "Hollywood," we must also think of television, which is doing... well, I don't know it's doing. I do know all of The Elites spend hours and hours watching it because we're in a Golden Age or something.

Point is, theatrical production and exhibition is only one part of this industry.

That said, I have to note Steven Spielberg's seeming prescience.

Steven Spielberg on Wednesday predicted an "implosion" in the film industry is inevitable, whereby a half dozen or so $250 million movies flop at the box office and alter the industry forever. What comes next -- or even before then -- will be price variances at movie theaters, where "you're gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man, you're probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln." He also said that Lincoln came "this close" to being an HBO movie instead of a theatrical release.

George Lucas agreed that massive changes are afoot, including film exhibition morphing somewhat into a Broadway play model, whereby fewer movies are released, they stay in theaters for a year and ticket prices are much higher. His prediction prompted Spielberg to recall that his 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial stayed in theaters for a year and four months.

Yeah, I left in George Lucas' part because it's so obviously wrong.

The real movie side of Hollywood-- including theatrical distribution, not just PPV stuff -- is in trouble.

Here's the problem:

1. Television picture quality has advanced to the point where there is not really a big premium on seeing a movie at the theater. I used to always have to see the big spectacle movies on the big screen, but I don't any longer. For one thing, spectacle is now commonplace and CGI is often lame, and for another thing, there's really not that big of a difference between "The Big Screen" and a good-sized TV.

The big screen has the best theoretical resolution and sound, but how many times do you get to see a movie where the projector is perfectly focused and the sound is perfect? And you don't have idiots yapping next to you?

2. Because of the overseas market, and because Hollywood needs a reason to draw people into the theater instead of just waiting six months to watch it on demand on TV, Hollywood really can only make one kind of movie now. Gotta be big, gotta be splodey, gotta be something that can be plausibly claimed to be "better in 3D" or "mindblowing in Imax."

Don't get me wrong, I like a good popcorn movie with explosions, but when that's the only kind of movie you can make, the novelty of such a thing quickly diminishes, and you have to start making movies that are really third-tier material at best.

When's the last time you saw a big movie advertised that wasn't about superheroes or reboots of tv shows from the 60s to 80s?

Where are the detective movies? I only remember the Reacher films and The Nice Guys.

Where are the comedies? Fewer and fewer -- as with detective movies, comedy relies on dialogue, and that doesn't play well with foreign audiences. And even where there is a comedy, it's often a comedy-action-special-effects hybrid, like Ghostbusters, which gives not one but three different Failure Paths.

War movies? Well, you can't make a movie about our current wars, which are Bad, and even movies about World War Two have to be about something other than war. Saving Private Ryan was about the rescue of a single soldier, and Dunkirk -- which looks pretty good -- is about an evacuation/rescue/escape. Which is, yes, part of war obviously, but note that it's not about beating our enemies. It's about saving lives.

Same with Hacksaw Ridge. Yes, part of war (medics need love and haven't gotten enough), but we're running into the same problem where the number of things you can make a movie about are getting smaller and smaller. War is a spectacle and so should make for a movie -- except, you can only do war movies where This Time, The Mission is a Man.

How many of those can they do?

Horror remains a popular genre and we still get a lot of those (some pretty darned good!), but it's a niche genre that most people don't like.

Sure, there are exceptions here and there, but basically you have movies based on cartoons, or movies that are cartoons (children's fare), or attempts to turn a children's toy or game into some kind of Shard Universe. (Which GI Joe and the Micronauts are apparently doing -- there'll be some kind of Hasbro Toy Cinematic Universe. Maybe.)

Eh. I'm a fairly childish adult but even I can only take so much of childish things.

3. TV is, I keep being told, in a "Golden Age" where you have "actual stories you care about" or something, though when I see it, it always looks like a premise that could have been dealt with in a movie or six episode miniseries but gets padded out with all the same potboiler/soap opera twists and turns we've seen six thousand times so that they can make a full season of it.

Anyway, TV is more and more for anything that isn't about superheroes or aliens.

So the theatrical side of Hollywood finds itself in a fix similar to the one it faced in the 50s, when TV first became big.

Oh, and a lot of their movies are terrible and fall into the category of I Didn't Ask For This. That Great Wall movie with Matt Damon? Um... A movie about the Great Wall and the Mongol wars might have been interesting, but now it has to be about Giant Space Monsters or whatever.

Because Imax.

I've seen enough Giant Monsters From Space. Seriously.

Spectacle is too common and too easily achieved now to be spectacular. The most "spectacular" parts of movies are just CGI cartoons now and most could GAF -- and many people wonder, "Why not just have the hero and villain fight? Without all the super space explosions." Few have anything nice to say about Batman v. Superman, but many complain, rightly, that the garishly cartoonish fight at the end was the worst part of the movie.

I hear people are saying the same about the otherwise-well-reviewed Wonder Woman -- once again, the stuff they spend the most money on is the stuff that makes people wonder, "Why didn't they just have her kick the bad guy's ass for a bit?"

It's just boring now. When everything is a CGI Extravaganza, nothing is a CGI Extravaganza.

Anyway, the rash of failures is prompting some to complain that reviewers, who no one listens to anyway, are to blame for this.

But here's the thing:

No one wanted a Baywatch reboot. They estimated the Brand Value of the IP was high. They were wrong.

But they felt forced into Exploiting a Known IP because... I don't know. A movie without a pre-existing brand identity would be punted to Netflix or something.

No one wanted a Pirates of the Caribbean 5. In fact, no one wanted a Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and definitely not a 4. (We did want a Pirates of the Caribbean 2... until we saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2.)

Movies are largely about novelty, fellas. These things are not novel. Even the idea of doing a spoof of a bad, poorly-remembered TV show is old -- Brady Bunch did it. Starsky and Hutch did it. 21 Jump Street did it. Some of those movies are fun, but the idea of doing a silly spoof of a bad old TV show is old.

Clint Eastwood is doing a movie about those three Americans who thwarted the knife-and-gun attack on the Thalys train running from Brussels to Paris. I assume Hollywood only permitted this because they're all afraid of saying no to Clint Eastwood. And they fucking should be.

That's kind of new, just because it's so not of-the-moment. It's new because people don't do suspense movies with Problematic Overtones any more.

Tom Cruise's movies are like that too -- he's the only guy doing a particular kind of movie, where the late eighties never really died. Shooting and stunts and no giant space monsters (usually). Good bless him.

But everything else is so samey-samey.

And it kind of has to be. Anything else isn't a movie in today's climate -- it's something you pitch to a pay tv channel, and then pad it out until it's boring.

I don't know how they're going to solve this. In the 50s, Hollywood trotted out spectacles and introduced Panavision and Technicolor and stuff to differentiate theatrical pictures from TV fare, but spectacle is dead, and I can't think of any kind of technological innovation that would make seeing a movie on the screen a big must any more.

I don't even blame it on a lack of creativity (though, you know, some would be nice.) There are economic and social forces now arrayed against theatrical exhibition of films that I think are completely unstoppable.



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posted by Ace at 08:30 PM

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