Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Video Killed the Video Star

Ticket sales are down. People aren't watching movies. Hollywood is flabbergasted. A lot of movie buffs and movie reviewers like to talk about whether or not a movie is good -- they'll look at directorship, production, casting, acting and screen-writing. My problem with this model has always been how people tend to excise the movie out of a movie. We cannot forget that a movie is more than just a sum of all its reels. A movie exists not as its own entity, but is a tangible vehicle for an intangible connection that is forged between what is on the screen and the people sitting in the seats. A movie is that reaction in your gut when you watch Jack sink to the bottom of the ocean in Titanic, that prickly sensation in the back of my neck as Samara comes out of the television, and that lump in your throat when Mufasa is stampeded. Ultimately, as much money as is poured into movie-making, everything about a movie culminates to that one two-hour reaction. Do we believe the premise and are interested in the character's experiences? Are we wowed by the special effects, brought to tears by the emotional dramas, and do we have lasting impressions as the end credits roll? A lot of the issues I've had with movies over the years (Kill Bill, Crash, etc...) have not been with the movie itself, but with the reaction the movie engenders in the audience and how it is received by them. I guess ultimately the reason I love movies is because I think it's a great insight into the way the mind works. Merely by manipulating light on a screen, moviemakers can get at the very heart of what makes us tick and use that knowledge to tease us and make us jump. So why is it that Hollywood has forgotten how to do this? Lately, fewer and fewer movies have raised my body temperature more than half a Kelvin. The critics seem to have lost their bloody minds, giving good grades for good marketing ploys rather than good movies. Ebert and Roeper have to keep their jobs, so they can't be seen as being out of touch with movie-going audiences, but lately, they seem to be existing in this twilight zone of films in which everything with an astronomical budget geared at adolescents is "two thumbs up"-worthy. Franchise films are being produced based entirely upon the strength of their franchise (Spiderman II, anyone?), and Hollywood has become a meat grinding company in which cows on a conveyor belt go in and a whole lot of sticky, icky, bloody ground chuck comes out. It must be all about capitalism. It was when Hollywood realized that they could make more money marketing to dumb 13-year-olds that they let the quality of their movies drop. Hollywood recently made a movie called "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava-girl". I think that speaks volumes. Moviemakers de-emphasized the movie experience in favour of just filling the damn seats. The advent of the new trailers (not to mention trailers of trailers, and teasers of those trailers of trailers, and, of course, novelty popcorn holders and product placement) are part of this phenomenon. For Hollywood, at some point in the mid-nineties, they realized that all they had to do was get us in the door and whatever happened after that was none of their concern. That's why we see so much money spent on trailers and teasers. Some trailers have been better made than the movies themselves (Fantastic Four, anyone?) and most blockbuster films have teasers that come out over a year in advance of the film, almost as soon as the editors have enough film to string together some sort of 30-second clip to a choppy first draft of the movie theme. And I'm sure that Movie Announcer Guy got a raise. The problem is that by deemphasizing the movie-going experience, moviemakers created their own financial dilemma. In a titillating analogy to America's general myopia when it comes to capitalism and industry, Hollywood sacrificed it's own long-term survival for a few extra dollars in its pockets. With trailers being as catchy as they are, and movies being so much of a let-down, we now have a generation of movie-goers who were told that the movie is never as good as we think it is. Couple that with the increasing trend of telling most of the movie in a trailer (some misguided Hollywood executive's answer to the decreasing effectiveness of trailers a few years back), the amount of crap they jampack into DVDs to boost DVD sales, and the fact that anything you don't want to spend money on can be downloaded or bootlegged, and there's a good reason why ticket sales are dropping. Movies today aren't worth $8.50, and we know it. Take for example last week's big-earner: Jodie Foster's Flightplan. The premise of this film: Jodie Foster makes a big airplane. She takes her kid on it. The kid disappears. Jodie Foster runs screaming through a big, metal, airborne cigar-container a few hundred meters long for two hours like a chicken with its head cut off. Roll credits. Compare that to a couple of other films out right now. Just Like Heaven: a dead neurotic med student falls in love with the very-much-alive tenant in her former apartment. Hilarity ensues as they take two hours of your life to realize exactly how pointless such a relationship would be. The Greatest Game Every Played: otherwise known as Golf: the movie. The 40-Year Old Virgin: an old guy has never gotten laid. Eventually, he does. Into the Blue: from the trailers, I can't tell what this movie is about, other than being a two-hour vehicle to show Jessica Alba's breasts as much as possible. Roll Bounce: Nick Cannon on wheels - they spinnin', n*gga, they spinnin'. And then we compare that to the big headline: Flightplan on top! It's the bestest movie ever! I guess someone forgot to read the fine print: Flightplan kept its top spot by earning a mere, drab $15 million this weekend. Of all the suckas out right now, this was the least sucky. If Hollywood wants to entice us moviegoers back to the theatre, they need to enchant us with movies again. They need to sell the movie-watching experience, not rely on big name actors, comic book franchises, and knock-offs of Industrial Light and Magic to get us to the seats. (For you comic book geeks, they are making a film about Namor. NAMOR! The Sub-Mariner!!) By treating us as well-paid sheep just waiting to give our money away, they forgot exactly what it was that they were selling, and are now furious that we're no longer interested in buying the cheap counterfeits they're hawking. That's not to say that indie films are by virtue of their lack of marketing "good films". Like all other films, it's all about how you tell a story, and the quality of the connection made with your audience. Indie film-makers are just as guilty of forgetting their audience as big-budget film-makers, if for different reasons. I remember a time when movies were an artform, when even a blockbuster hit respected its audience. The Matrix delighted in twisting my head with its philosophical musings as the Wachowski Brothers engaged us, their audience, in a cinematic opus of a Philosophy 101 discussion section. Great action thrillers like Face-Off combined amazing on-screen talent with behind-the-camera attention to visual detail. The camerawork and pacing of that film was carefully orchestrated so that every racing of an audience member's pulse was deviously intentional. Old school dramas involved ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, but nonetheless bringing to life subdued and real explorations of the human condition -- dramas and comedies nowadays have the feel of a cheesy UPN sitcom. And nobody remembers the old Disney movies because of the voice actors and adult-oriented double entendres. This past weekend, I watched two films at the cinema. Both of them did poorly in the box office, and only one would I characterize as a good movie. I saw Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence which seemed so gratuitous in its violence, sex scenes and plot that it overshadowed the great talent and decent scriptwork. As if edgy would sell, this production went over the top, and ignored the mental limits of a puritannical American audience by doing so. Moreover, all the trailers sold this movie exactly as I described it: hey, look! It's Viggo Mortensen (oh, yeah, and Ed Harris)!!! Come see this movie!!! So you can imagine what kind of audience was in the seats. The good film I saw this weekend was Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist. This movie was truly phenomenal. I grew up on the musical movie, Oliver!, and I thoroughly enjoyed Polanski's carefully engineered version of Charles Dickens' novel. The casting was nearly perfect, the pacing and cinematography was just right for the time period of the movie without being boring, and Polanski succeeded in making a well-known story unique by offering slight deviations from the plot I remember. Most importantly, Polanski remembered that it wasn't about making the big bucks, but took care to keep us, the audience, in mind. Oliver Twist will not make big bucks, and it will be out of theatres in two weeks, tops. Hollywood doesn't care about respect but will continue down this path it has chosen, obstinantly certain that it need only find the right combination of existing franchise, cotton candy fluff, youth-appeal acting talent and McDonald's value meal deals to win back its viewership. Of course, we all know better. We're the ones who said we're not buying. And until Hollywood learns to pay attention to this national, unorganized and yet unbelievably effective strike by the moviegoing audience, I'm really not sure I'm crying about it.


Blogger solitaire said...

LOL @ the Roll Bounce comment! That reminds me, Roger Ebert had a very interesting movie review on that one. I wouldn't be caught dead watching it (a) I don't go to the theatres and b) it looks cheesy as heck, even though Nick Cannon is FINE AS HELL, yeah I said it!) but his review was interesting. It was pretty heartwarming, as far as movie reviews go.
I'll blog about it later.

10/04/2005 09:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

I agree with you. I went to see the latest incarnation of Pride and Prejudice, and I have to say, that tho it was a good movie, it wasn't stellar, like the 1995 movie was. That pretty much set a benchmark which has yet to be exceeded. Needless to say, it bored G. stiff, poor kid.

Anyway, I am soooooooo sick of franchise movies that I just don't go to see them any more. It's just not worth it to see the same old, same old, and then pay a fortune for the privilege. At the very least, we can wait for it to come out on DVD instead and have it to watch forever (or at least until we get tired of it and sell it on...).

The Fantastic 4 movie would have been better if they'd left some stuff out, and maybe made it longer or something. I wasn't really into it that much anyway so I have no idea what they cut out, but...damn. It felt like there could/should have been more to it than that. They wasted so much time on the relationship stuff and not enough on the actual action part of it....

Seems like the story of most movies' lives, really....there could have been more to them...

10/05/2005 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

"Just Like Heaven: a dead neurotic med student falls in love with the very-much-alive tenant in her former apartment. Hilarity ensues as they take two hours of your life to realize exactly how pointless such a relationship would be." - Jenn

Classic line. Just perfect.

My two cents on the American movie industry? Hollywood can only do so much with low-brow cinema. A sizable portion of the domestic box-office desires movies where they don't have to think to enjoy themselves, and most movie production must cater to that.

The problem is that there are only so many ways to deliver a fart joke.

All the special effects in the world can't save a horrible movie, and to way to avoid a horrible movie is through amazing screenplays. It all begins with the writing. Still, the quandary manifests again: amazing writing involves complexity, depth, and character development. You can't get that stuff without forcing people to use their brains.

No one's going to movies right now because people can't justify $9.50 for Jessica Alba's breasts. Let's write an interesting movie first, and then see how folk react. And no, In Her Shoes starring Cameron Diaz does not count.

10/05/2005 03:16:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home