MovieBob - Intermission
Why Movies Suck Now Part One: The Myths

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 16 Jul 2010 16:00
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Here, let's do it this way:

A Demographic Timeline of Hollywood Movies

1945-1969: Most films aimed at adult male heads-of-household, with a small smattering of offerings aimed at women, minorities and children.

1969-1977: Audience fragments, as Civil Rights, Women's Liberation and increased disposable income among children and teens erodes the economic monopoly of white males. Unable to discern a singular mega-market, Hollywood movies become increasingly small, personal and niche-driven.

1977-Present: A modestly-budgeted, largely-experimental movie called Star Wars becomes an unexpected record-setting mega-hit, particularly among young boys. "A-ha!" says Hollywood, "We've found a mega-market again!"

So, yes, from that point on Hollywood has been laser-focused on teenaged boys, but that's not the same thing as bad movies being their fault, as it relies on the erroneous assumption that the types of films teenage boys prefer cannot be good or even great in their own right - Dark Knight and Iron Man can certainly attest to that. It also ignores recent developments like The Twilight Saga, easily the biggest blight on the cinema right now and most definitely not made for teenage boys.

This will be covered in greater specificity next week, but it seems like the bigger problem is that the massive movie industry refuses to deal with more than one audience at a time. So instead of accepting that not every movie can be for every moviegoer, they continue to make teen boy movies and then awkwardly cram them with ill-fitting extras that they expect to satisfy everyone else. Why does Spider-Man 3 re-hash a love triangle that was put to bed two movie ago? Because someone thought it'd make the film more attractive to women. And let's not even get into the embarrassing, borderline-racist knots studios tie themselves into trying to appeal to what they see as the strange and mysterious "black audience."

Myth #3: Hollywood Is Out Of Ideas

Too many remakes, too many sequels, too many adaptations of books, comics, TV shows ... hell, now they're even using board games and theme-park rides! Makes sense, right? Sure, except it doesn't. You know that point at the 30-minute mark of every episode of House where the totally-sensible diagnosis turns out to be totally incorrect, the ambient noise and hospital sounds get suddenly louder and they cut to commercial on a sardonic quip from Hugh Laurie? This is one of those.

Hollywood has always made movies from pre-existing material. Go run down any list of "the classics," then hit up the IMDB and marvel at how many of them were based on plays, books, history, legends and - yes - even other movies. The Maltese Falcon, regarded as the greatest of all detective films, had been filmed twice before, and all three were based on a book by Dashiell Hammett. Jaws? Godfather? Exorcist? Psycho? All adaptations. And while we're at it, what's the precise difference between a movie about Robin Hood and a movie about G.I. Joe, apart from the age of the material?

Now, to be fair, yes, there do seem to be exponentially more of them now, and from increasingly dubious source material, but that's not a disease, it's a symptom. The disease is expense: Movies cost too much to make, and take too long to turn a profit, so no one in charge of the money wants to take a risk on anything without proof-of-profitability already behind it. Transformers didn't get made because someone at the studio loved a pitch about giant robots, or because Michael Bay was a fan of the franchise (in fact, he thought it was "stupid"), it got made because someone was able to point to a Mattel earnings report showing how much money these characters had already made.

Right now, professional screenwriters are turning their unsold original scripts into novels and comics so that they can make a sale now that the pitch is an "adaptation." (That's where the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens came from.) Elsewhere, others are digging through old idea bins looking for material that might work with the same title as an initially plotless board game or action figure line. Quick: Can you think of a functional premise somehow involving a hungry, hungry hippo? Because that might be worth money right now.

None of this is especially encouraging, but keep in mind that it's the movie you make - not what you make it out of - that matters in the end. Knight & Day was an original pitch, Iron Man was an adaptation. Which was better, again?

So, there you have it: Three theories that aren't responsible for movies sucking now. Next week: The real reasons.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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