16 March, 2011

The Day The Movies Died

The following is my paraphrasing the great article The Day The Movies Died by Mark Harris (GQ, February 2001).  While I’m a big fan of comic book movies, I loved his take on Hollywood’s shift to branded entertainment;  how Christopher Nolan’s Inception was indeed a gamble;  and how fear has descended over the studio system.  As James Schamus -- Screenwriter, Producer, and head of Focus Features – points out, “Nobody in Hollywood wants to be the person who greenlit a movie that not only crashes but about which you can’t protect yourself by saying, ‘But at least it was based on a comic book!’”

Here’s what’s in store for us this year.  Remember, these are the big movies of the year that their respective studios are pushing. 

Four adaptations of comic books.  One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book.  One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy.  One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement park ride.  One prequel to a remake.  Two sequels to cartoons.  One sequel to a comedy.  An adaptation of a children’s book.  An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon.  One sequel with a 4 in the title.  Two sequels with a 5 in the title.  And one sequel that, if it used numbers, would have a in the title.[i]

Now, to be fair, it usually takes two years for an idea to make its way through the pipeline and onto the screen.  So, given the success of the likes of The Social Network and True Grit, let’s look at what’s on tap for 2012.  

An adaptation of a comic book.  A reboot of an adaptation of a comic book.  A sequel to a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book.  A sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a TV show.  A sequel to a sequel to a reboot of an adaptation of a comic book.  A sequel to a cartoon.  A sequel to a sequel to a cartoon.  A sequel to a sequel to a sequel of a cartoon.  A sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a young adult novel.[ii]  And soon after:  Stretch Armstrong.  You remember Stretch Armstrong, right?  The rubberized doll you could stretch and then stretch again, at least until the sludge inside the doll would dry up and he would become Osteoporosis Armstrong?  A toy that offers less narrative interest than Bingo?

As I say, I’m a big fan of comic book movies.  So let me say that we will all probably come out of three or four of the above shouting, “That rocked!”  And, yes, it's even possible that in a few years a magazine article will begin with, “Stretch Armstrong’s surprising journey to a Best Picture nomination began when …”  But for now let’s just admit it.  Hollywood has become an institution that is more interested in launching the next marketable toy than in making the next interesting movie.

Of course, we can argue that any system that allows Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher to draw from the invention of Facebook and The Coen Brothers to visit The Old West (though, to be fair, remember it too is a remake) has to mean that American filmmaking is in reasonably good health.  (Three cheers for the same system producing -- and America embracing -- the likes of The King's Speech and Black Swan and The Kids Are All Right.)  But the truth is they’re simply the minority.  And it’s hard to hold out hope for a change in these very strange tides indeed when one studio executive, who, while I won’t name, but could easily be speaking for all her peers, is ready to chisel on Hollywood’s tombstone, “We don’t tell stories anymore.”

Too harsh?

Lest we forget – and you know what a big Tom Cruise fan I am – Top Gun 2 is right around the corner.
 


[i] Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, Green Lantern, and Thor.  X-Men:  First Class.  Transformers 3.  Pirates Of The Caribbean:  On Stranger Tides.  Rise Of The Apes.  Cars 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2.  The Hangover Part II.  Winnie The Pooh.  The Smurfs in 3D.  Spy Kids 4.  Fast Five and Final Destination 5.  Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2.
[ii] The Avegengers.  Spider-Man (3D).  Men In Black 3 (3D).  Star Trek untitled.  The Dark Knight RisesMonsters, Inc. 2.  Madagascar 3.  Ice Age:  Continental Drift in 3D.  The Twilight Saga:  Breaking Dawn, Part 2.