Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cinematic Dreams for 2011

Sorry for the lack of updates this month: it has been a busy time in real life, which combined with a bit of a post October writing funk has done nothing for my reviews. I plan to have at least one more up before the end of the month (and year), and should have a fresh crop ready to go in January, 2011.

Speaking of the New Year however, and the mostly miserable failings of 2010 at the cinema, I would like to take this time to go over my hopes and dreams for 2011 and beyond.

The “Death” of the Blockbuster

Well, the death of the blockbuster as the cornerstone of Hollywood’s financial game plan. In a year filled with financial and critical disappointments, it is about time Hollywood finally took notice that the blockbuster might not be the best suited to ensuring the film industry’s existence. Take a look at the past weekend’s box office, where the 150 million dollar third entry in the Chronicles of Narnia franchise opened at number one, at yet still is a disappointment. Better yet, consider film The Tourist, with what are supposedly the two biggest movie stars on the planet. A 100 million dollar plus (reported) budget, and a 17 million dollar opening. Hardly seems worth paying those two the cash, does it?
Speaking of which...

The Movie Star IS Dead. Accept It.

I am not saying that there are not actors people are willing to pay to see, but the time in which you could slap the name of a star or two above a poster and expect to sell a ton of tickets is gone. Ask yourselves this question: since Will Smith, has there really been anyone to come along whom, on almost name alone, could sell a film?

Part of the problem is the saturation of the media with supposed “stars.” Look back at the greats, from the Classic Hollywood Era till around the 1990s: Humphrey Bogart, Lauran Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro, and hell, even Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, each has headlined at least one bomb, but at their prime, they sold tickets like nobody’s business. In each case, there was that special “something” about them, even if it was just the sheer physical spectacle of their body (in Arnold’s case). The testament to their power was when they could star in a mediocre film, or a film that was solely built around their personality, and sell tickets. No high concept or name branding to hide behind.

These days, there are plenty of “stars,” but no guarantees. Leonardo DiCaprio is a fine actor, but his biggest successes have not been sold on his name alone. George Clooney is one of the smarter stars in Hollywood, with creative and financial success. But it took the combined presence of Clooney, Brad Pitt and other big names to sell the Ocean’s Eleven series of films. And for those of you waiting to point to The Expendables as an example of movie stars still holding power, ask yourself this: if this film had only featured Stallone, and maybe even Jason Statham, instead of building itself around the combined spectacle of as many legendary (i.e. older) movie stars in one film, would it have been nearly the success it was? Also keep in mind that the film was made on a modest budget overall, and that its success is highly relative compared to the heyday of each of the film’s stars.

Adults are Your Friends. So are Low Costs.

Or rather, adult content is your friend.

Look at the following list of films from the past year: Inception; The Town; Black Swan; The King’s Speech; The Fighter. All of these are titles of adult oriented films, and all thus far have been outperforming the youth oriented films that drove the box office this year. And better yet, most of these were fairly inexpensive to produce, save the obvious exception.

Yes, I understand that youthful audiences have the most disposable income, but with the wide variety of media fighting for their attention, most are likely to be, well, fickle. And it is not JUST the youth I am talking about here; older audiences are just as guilty. Point is, it is the hardcore cinema fans, the ones who are willing to show up each week, even to see the same film again, that carry a given movie beyond week one at the box office. THAT is the audience you should be chasing.

And that audience tends to want substance.

Look, anyone who has spent any time at this site knows I love some straightforward fun, but that is all Hollywood seems to be trying for these days (and failing to achieve I might add). We need substance. I don’t care if you have to import it from another country, but please make the option available! I love Netflix, but honestly, I do want to be excited to go to a theatre once and a while. So come on Hollywood, throw us a bone. Please.

More “Mini-Majors”

Or how about a series of new, smaller studios not connected to the majors?
Part of the problem with modern Hollywood is the lack of competing studios. Even in the late 1980s, there were companies like Orion Pictures to give the majors a little bit of competition and release some odder films. These days, even New Line cinema has been absorbed into Warner Brothers, Mirimax has just managed to get out from under Disney, and the Weinstein Company has barely dodged being put out of commission. That leaves us with the majors, and their “indie” companies, if you really believe them to be separate companies.

The only new studio in recent years has been Summit Entertainment, which despite being built on the backs of the Twilight Saga, has proven itself willing to take on some projects other studios have not been willing to touch. These includ The Hurt Locker and the upcoming, financially dicey project The Beaver, which stars Mel Gibson. While hardly backing or releasing projects that are all that boundary pushing or independent, the studio is proving to be slightly riskier with its releases.

But it is still not enough. We need more studios to diversify the types of films released into general theatres, and we need more voices making it to the silver screen. Perhaps it will take a breaking apart of the currently existing majors, or a group of young upstarts, but news studios are needed to create competition. And with competition, hopefully some better films.

And those, my dear readers, are my cinematic hopes and dreams for 2011. Will they likely come true? Well, not likely in 2011, but as the next decade rolls on, I continue to live in hope that some of these will come true. And who knows? Perhaps with enough voices demanding it, we’ll get at least one or two of these to happen.

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