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And then came Scott Pilgrim, arguably one of the geekiest films ever released by a major studio: Its hero is a geek, his love interest(s) are geeks, his supporting cast is geeky, even 6 out of 7 of his enemies are geeky to one degree or another, the whole thing takes placed in a geeked-out alternate universe Toronto assembled from equal parts 1960s Marvel and 1980s Nintendo; and it's all based on an indie graphic novel (pretty geeky) published in the style of Manga (MEGA-geeky.) It's box office fate? Opening somewhere near fifth-place, a devastating bomb.
In fairness, some of this is about misplaced expectations. As I may have mentioned before, the decisions of which movies to spend money and effort on are generally made by people who don't really know all that much about what they're paying for. Pilgrim and Kick-Ass are the kind of films that their fans should be surprised (and overjoyed) even made it to theaters in the first place, not propped up as tentpole releases. But that's what happened, and it happened largely because some not-terribly-bright decision maker followed an incredibly naïve logic-chain: "Comic-Con went nuts for Iron Man, Comic-Con went nuts for these movies, therefore these movies will make as much as Iron Man did!" Uh ... how 'bout no?
But in the bigger picture, there does seem to be a real resentment building toward the geeking of the popular culture. In particular, the message from John (and Jane) Q. Public to an increasingly geeked-out Hollywood seems pretty clear: "We've had enough. Stop it. Stop blurring the genre lines. Stop expanding the reference pool. Stop growing beyond the constraints of reality. Stop asking us to think. Stop blowing our minds!"
Ah, well. All existence is conflict, all good times are fleeting. Stuff like The Expendables, for example, has spent it's time in exile - maybe it's earned a turn back on the field. But it'd be a crying shame, from my perspective, for the Geek Age of Cinema to falter now ... when there's so much yet to be done (re: Where's my Doctor Strange movie?)
If I had to guess, I'd say the real concrete test of whether or not the nerd boom is on the wane will be the release of Tron: Legacy this December. Even setting aside the unmatchable geek-bait of its premise - anthropomorphized computer programs locked an ideological conflict with videogames as gladiatorial combat in the quasi-feudal society within cyberspace - its very existence is 100 percent nerd-oriented: An expensively-produced sequel ... not a remake/spinoff but a genuine in-continuity original cast returns sequel ... to a mostly-forgotten 1982 curiosity-piece that wasn't successful in theaters, has been openly mocked in mainstream film circles in years since and is regarded as a cult classic mainly by film geeks in their early 30s. If Disney can wring a hit out of that kind of pedigree, then the geek age probably isn't over yet.
And if they can't? Ah, well. Good times are fleeting. Blind Side 2, anyone?
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.