Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Whiff Of Desperation

Over the last few days, my movie mail inbox has been inundated with missives trumpeting the joys of a movie you couldn’t pay me enough to go and see –- “Pacific Rim”.

A week ago, I did plunk down some hard-earned cash for a ticket to “World War Z”, in my opinion a not-too-shabby and somewhat original Summer blockbuster which had received lukewarm reviews at best yet appears poised to turn a profit.

Preceding it was a trailer for “Pacific Rim” which is basically about Giant Robots fighting Sea Monsters. As I watched, I recalled seeing pretty much the same movie when I was about 12 and delivered newspapers for the Regina Leader-Post.

Every year, the paper treated us, its trusted carriers, to an afternoon at the movies and on one occasion served a theatre full of 12-14 year old boys “King Kong vs Godzilla”.

We cheered like crazy when the title appeared and erupted once again with the arrival of each of the combatants. But an hour or so later, with no real story or characters to fall back on, the guys in the rubber suits had lost us and many had departed to get an early start on delivering the Saturday edition.

These days, a theatre packed with 12-14 year old boys appears to be every studio executive’s wet dream, a sure-fire way to insure that a new Ferrari will be sitting in the driveway and Christmas can be spent skiing in Aspen.

But all these emails hyping “Pacific Rim” have me feeling they’re just not so sure anymore. And when one includes a quote from a critic assuring me that director Guillermo del Toro “surpasses such contemporaries as Michael Bay”, I know they’re grasping at straws.

A few weeks back, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted a coming collapse of the Hollywood system. And should that happen, if you ask me, most of the blame could be laid at their respective doorsteps.

The Summer blockbuster was undeniably their invention. Yet I can’t think of two larger talents who more pissed away the original concept and their own promise by opting to shoot projects with a brighter future as Theme Park rides and Toys R Us franchises than classic films people wanted to experience for years to come.

Even their early successes were eventually turned into Summer marketing fodder. The “South Park” episode in which both men eagerly rape Indiana Jones struck a lot of people in the film business as much closer to reality than satire.

According to some in Hollywood, the collapse theory is a cover for launching a new movie pricing system in which audiences will be asked to pay more to see tent-pole blockbusters and ‘event’ films than the rest of what gets distributed.

It’s yet another example of a failed business model attempting to save itself at the cost of everything else around it.

A decade ago that same idea got Edgar Bronfman laughed out of the top job at Universal. But with studios now producing far fewer titles at budgets where failures cause greater internal damage it appears to be an idea whose time has come.

Except, as always, one element hasn’t been included in calculating the equation –- the audience.

Already burned by too many lame sequels, repetitive plots and overdone CGI, audiences have begun turning away from the “sure-fire”, “can’t miss”, “we know what they want” formula Summer films.

Hundreds of Millions of Hollywood smart money aside, Audiences knew that “After Earth” was just Will Smith trying to make his son a movie star and “The Lone Ranger” was the next Johnny Depp ego trip and passed, costing those films and their respective studios dearly.

Add “Oblivion”, “White House Down”, “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “Beautiful Creatures” to the list and you get a clear message that jacking up ticket prices won’t even begin to solve the problem.

And I fear no amount of email bombing will save “Pacific Rim” either.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

It could well mean that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas don’t work as often. But after being bored to death by “Lincoln” and embarrassed by Chapters IV, V and VI, maybe it’s time for some new blood, new ideas and new approaches.

There’s a whiff of desperation in the Hollywood air –- one that attracts the hungry, the new predators, and signals a change. Hopefully it’ll be for the better.

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