MovieBob - Intermission
Why Movies Suck Now Part Two: The Reality

Bob Chipman | 23 Jul 2010 12:00
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Last week was the fun part, when I got to tear down a lot of weak excuses I'm sick of hearing about the supposed decline of modern moviemaking. This is the depressing part, where we have to go down the list of what actually is going wrong.

Reason #1: People Only Care About Friday

It takes hundreds of thousands of people to make a movie, and almost all of them are involved in separate unions, guilds and agencies. This, plus insurance and taxes, makes everything incredibly expensive. To offset the expense, cost is dispersed through multiple studios, multinational investors, back-end (to say nothing of back-room) deals with "the talent" and commercial tie-ins - hence why you'll so often see movies apparently set in alternate universe where the only laptop available is the Vaio - and everyone's accountant has things laid out so they look like "the winner" for as long as possible, since money-management is a full-time job and most "creative" folks are famously bad at it to begin with.

In other words, nobody knows what anything really costs, and no one will know how much money they've made for a long time after the work is done, which leaves studio executives trying to lay out their achievements and cost/benefit analysis with very few concrete "wins" to claim at any given moment, except for one: "Who won the weekend?"

Yes, the one solid and immediate piece of hard data anyone gets is the totals of who earned what between Friday and Sunday. Whatever was #1 at the box office "won," everything else "lost," and someone gets to put "I produced a #1 movie!" on their resume. Gee, how could that go wrong?

As you can imagine, weekend totals can be incredibly deceptive: They ignore how much a film cost, along with being a poor indicator of how it will fare long-term. Most horror films, for example, open high but sink like a stone the next week. Predators only opened in 3rd place, but cost so little to produce thanks to penny-pinching producer Robert Rodriguez it's probably going to turn profit much faster than most number ones. More troublingly, it means that certain audiences effectively don't matter. Generally, only two types of moviegoers care about opening night: hardcore movie-geeks and non-discriminating folks who'll see whatever's at the right time on date night. Other audiences see things during the week, or at matinees, but since all anyone cares about is the weekend, the input of those audiences is ignored unless one of their movies becomes a phenomenon - as in the inexplicable popularity of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

So, what ends up getting made? For the most part, actioners and genre pictures (for the geeks) dumbed down for the "whatever's playing" crowd. Recipe. For. Disaster.

Reason #2: Mainstream Audiences Are Idiots

Does this one even need explanation? Jersey Shore outdraws nearly every news and information program on TV. Transformers 3 is going to earn a billion dollars. Newsweek is floundering while Us Weekly is thriving. We are not living in an intellectual age.

Now, before everyone jumps down my throat: No, I'm not calling you stupid. I'm calling US stupid - as in "us, the alleged civilization of man." Remember that great line from Men In Black: "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it."


But, on the other hand ...

Reason #3: Movie Geeks Are Elitist, Spoiled Brats

You can't put all the blame on Joe Sixpack. Film geeks have done a lot of good for the movies: championing offbeat films, preserving lost classics and acting as middle-men between filmmakers and audiences. Oh, and we also put together the odd internet TV Show here and there.

But in other ways, we suck. We got lazy. The DVD era made it too easy. We got used to not jumping through hoops to find the odd and obscure, so now, even though more geek material is being made and released than ever before, if it's not perfect, we don't want it. We want it pristine, uncut and playing at a multiplex right near our house. Is it a horror film? Better be R-rated! Is it foreign? Better be subtitled! That one might come as a surprise to anyone reading this in nations like France, where native-language dubbing is the norm: Americans are huge snobs about dubbing now - even kung-fu movies play subtitled here. (This is my own ultimate nerd heresy: So long as I can get a subbed copy later, I don't mind dubbing if it helps cool movies reach a bigger audience. Yes, even anime. Especially anime.) And if we don't get these things, we won't show up. We'll wait for DVD, or pirate it "in protest." Then we'll complain about why nothing good comes out anymore.

But all that might be forgivable as mere nerd eccentricities if we weren't also such jerks about it. Time was, a key component of movie geekdom was introducing all the crazy stuff you found to unsuspecting others. "Dude! You've GOT to see this!" Now it's all about pop cultural hoarding - protecting our icons from the grubby fingers of a mainstream audience that doesn't deserve a chance to experience them. Folks, it's fun to know more about something than everyone else, but it doesn't count if they only don't know because you're hiding it.

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