The Looming Hollywood Crisis

Observatory, The Arts

Cinema box offices sales have hit a twenty-year low, but such troughs have been weathered easily before. This time around, though, it’s a bit different. The problem is 3D, which has artificially raised cinema’s profits, and the fact that the so-called revolution turned out, once again, to be a fad that the public doesn’t really care for.

3D remains curbed by the need to wear glasses. If the effects are showy, they adversely affect the viewing experience by looking cheesy. If they’re subtle, the mind stops reading the dimensionality at all. In the accidentally hilarious new trailer for ‘Titanic 3D’, a swooping movement down past Kate Winslet’s hat makes her appear the height of the Empire State Building – it’s a classic example of 3D Gone Bad. Now theatres are requesting more 2D prints than 3D ones.

Then there’s the emergence of China as a massive growth zone for cinema – but there are a lot of films they won’t take from Hollywood – the latest to be banned is the crummy remake of ‘Total Recall’, which brands its dystopic city as Chinese. As effects become easier to produce and the old Hollywood action model is copied, more countries are discovering audiences for home-grown flicks.

One solution would be to break from demography and produce films that are interesting, but that means firing Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell and ditching categories like Bromance, Wedding-Chick Flicks, Gross-Outs, Supernatural Romance etc and just go for great stories.

The system still produces intriguing films, but these often seem to sneak out more by accident than design, and power is still too tied up in stars. One big problem remains in methods of publicising movies. It’s much easier to relaunch a known brand with a slightly different spin on it than to laboriously explain that audiences will be seeing something new.

In the seventies, a healthy number of original, intelligent films were made that returned respectable box office receipts. For Hollywood, original stories would surely now represent a step too far.

6 comments on “The Looming Hollywood Crisis”

  1. Gary says:

    Stuff from the 70s often tried to attract an older, or at least wider, audience. Looking at a list of 70s hits, it’s rather startling to see that even a fairly light-hearted caper movie like THE STING is very smartly written, with a script requiring the audience to pay attention (not to mention having one star in his late 30s and another nearly 50!) There was obviously a lot of rubbish about, but I do think that the general tendency was towards slightly more adult films.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    I believe that in the 60s and 70s there were still writers and directors working who had reputations for “quality products” developed in the movies years before, not music videos or television. Now, it seems with a younger audience a great many people in movies are from slap-dash mediums.
    So many “kids’ shows” are fluf, surface and “formula” and you can just see the master script: opening – super-kids accidentally blow up garage, pet rats f-rt in fear, little daughter’s blender explodes while full of sparkly pancake batter, older son’s car flips over house lands in their pool, older sister has serious boyfriend problem, mother has bottle and glass of something under bed, and father is stupid and has to quietly sell his stock. Each bit is actually a stand-alone “skit”. This is just master plot one.
    Plot two the father is a cop, but it’s otherwise much the same. With a pop music deal.
    Plot three all the kids are adopted, so the family is a little U.N. of types. ETC. Ahhhhhh.

  3. snowy says:

    I have never been convinced that the current version of ‘3D’ has anything to do with the ‘customer experience’, and feel it is just a blind to claw back the cost of converting to digital projection. Which itself is driven by a understandable desire to reduce distribution costs and a doomed effort to reduce piracy.

    The ‘3D’ offered isn’t 3D but a forced perspective, and given that a considerable portion of income comes from sales into 2D settings, broadcasts, streams, DVDs etc. There seems very little point using the process at all. When badly considered ‘3D’ sections are viewed in 2D they look ridiculous, an example being ‘Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone’, [which was completely 'cheesetastic' even without the '3D'.]

    Skipping [the over long explanation of] why, true 3D is not practicable in cinemas. And pointless in a confined domestic setting.

    Today films cost an eyewatering amount of money, for the reasons why have a peep at

    http://www.anomalousmaterial.com/movies/2010/03/the-cost-of-making-a-hollywood-movie/

    (But you may never feel sorry for an A-list actor ever again, given their fee for 6-10 weeks work.)

    ‘Jaws’ the first ‘blockbuster’ cost $9M to make [due to massive overruns], the average cost of a film in 1976 was $5M (corrected for inflation $20M now) compared to $200M for the average franchise film today. Based on the numbers available something odd has happened, if you correct for inflation (over 40 years), the ‘value’ of the box office gross hasn’t changed. So it now costs 10 times more to make the same money. Or to put that another way a failure costs 10 times more than it did in 1976.

    (While post exhibition fees from the markets mentioned above, will help soften the blow, they will all be based on the box office performance. If the film was a box office flop, the TV fees will be lower.)

    I don’t feel that categories are necessarily the problem, since they are only new names for old concepts.

    Bromance is just a spin on the ‘Buddy Movie’ like ‘The Odd Couple’ or ‘Trains, Planes and Automobiles’.

    ‘9-5′ and ‘Thelma and Louise’ were ‘Chick Flicks’,

    ‘Gross-out’ is just slapstick with body fluids, ‘Animal House’, ‘There’s Something About Mary’.

    ‘Supernatural Romance’ (struggling a bit now, er, um,) ……..’Ghost’ with the potters wheel, and when Steve Martin was still funny, (“pointy, pointy birds” thingy)……….. Had to look it up, ‘The Man with Two Brains’.

    What mitigates against smaller and more interesting films is the staggering cost of advertising, to get anyone interested in showing or even seeing them.

    (Right enough waffle from me, time to get back to ‘Zapreshchyonnaya realnost’ and try to work out what on earth it’s supposed to be about!)

  4. admin says:

    Snowy – supernatural romance is ‘Twilight’ and related spinoffs.

  5. BangBang!! says:

    The supernatural romance section in Waterstones just depresses me. As soon as we walk past it my wife says, ‘Ok, do you want to get your get your rant over with now?!’ Thankfully, besides the garbage that is Twighlight, it doesn’t seem to have taken off in the movies. In my defence, I did once try a Charlaine Harris…….. I don’t really want to say any more than that! A least I have a vague idea of what it’s about.

  6. snowy says:

    Thanks Mr F, I got your original reference (to the franchise we dare not name), but I decided not to soil my fingers, (or your blog with it). And to my shame I could only come up with obviously, grossly inaccurate parallels, that were competently made, had a shred of intrinsic merit and were worth watching. :-)

    If pressed (at gun point), I would say that the unnamed series has the all the originality and well crafted dialogue of ‘Carry on Screaming’. But I think that would be doing a dis-service to a much loved British classic.

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