Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Apocalypse Right Freakin’ Now; or, The Smog is Falling

Posted by CinemaPsycho on July 1, 2005

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty sick of hearing about how Hollywood’s boxoffice is supposedly in a “slump”. This multibillion-dollar industry, which does everything it can to keep a practical monopoly over the worldwide film business, is having a big pity party because it isn’t making quite as much money as last year. Well, at the risk of sounding immature, boo fucking hoo, OK?

Never mind that the general economy in this country is in the proverbial shitter (and if you don’t believe that, you should live where I live) and gas prices are so high that people are cutting back on extravagances like food and clothing. We’re supposed to feel sorry for those rich Hollywood executives because they’re not raking in as much of our cash as they’d prefer? Screw them. I feel so sad that the brilliant minds in charge of such classics as Rebound and The Perfect Man might not get their million-dollar bonuses this year. Let ‘em eat cake, I say.

Seriously though…every single article I’ve read that has examined this phenomenon has simply compared this year’s boxoffice take with last year’s. Last year they made more than the year before, this year they made less than last year. Well guess what, did they ever think that maybe last year was just a really good year? Or consider the possibility that there may be, you know, larger issues involved, and maybe even more important things to worry about?

Movie City News, which is more obsessed with boxoffice revenues than I am with Kristen Bell, recently posted an article which claimed that this year’s summer releases, taken as a whole, have generated only $32 million less than last summer’s so far. $32 million? That’s it? That’s a drop in the bucket. That’s pocket change for Hollywood. The studio execs spend more than that every year on cocaine and Asian hookers. This is what all the doom and gloom is about? It’s like Hugh Hefner complaining that he doesn’t get laid enough.

When did the media completely lose perspective? So the studios are making a little less than last year. That doesn’t mean the industry is on the verge of crumbling. Just because not as many people are going to the theaters as there were 12 months ago doesn’t mean that NOBODY is going. When you consider all the different revenue streams that the studios have to pull from – from DVD and cable to foreign rights to catalog titles (industry speak for “old movies”) – I can’t exactly see Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony, Fox, Disney and Universal closing up shop anytime soon. Come on, let’s get serious.

I may not be an economist, but I do know that every business has its ups and downs. Sometimes profit tapers off. Sometimes it’s just not possible to make a bigger profit than you did before. Does that mean you pack it in and start selling fruit by the side of the road? I think not. The world would shut down if everybody quit their jobs just because they weren’t getting a raise every year. Why should the entertainment industry be any different?

What the naysayers don’t seem to understand is, there are always going to be people who like to go to the movies. There will always be people who go to the latest blockbuster on opening weekend. And there will always be slow periods. That’s just the nature of the business. These so-called experts claim that DVD is killing the theatrical business, but the fact is, people who go to movies often are more likely to buy or rent DVDs. Just as the people who go to movies often are more likely to subscribe to pay cable channels or order from pay-per-view services. These are people who like to watch movies! Just because other avenues are available doesn’t keep them from going to the theater. It’s the people who rarely or never went to movies in the first place that are just as unlikely to go as ever, and maybe even less likely in a bad economy.

A lot of the pundits have made the assumption that audiences “just aren’t interested in what Hollywood has to offer”. A ridiculous statement given that this is actually one of the best summers for movies in years, in terms of quality and in terms of making films with name recognition. I mean, come on, we’ve got the final Star Wars movie out there, a Spielberg sci-fi thriller based on a well-known classic novel, a new Batman movie that’s actually good, the first George Romero zombie movie in 20 years… whether or not the boxoffice is down, you can’t tell me that people just don’t care about these movies. I’m sorry, but that’s complete crap. It’s the same argument that says people have stopped listening to music because CD sales are down. Am I the only one who realizes how absurd that sounds?

Let’s put it this way: it’s like saying that if fewer people are having sex, that means nobody gets horny anymore. Does that logic necessarily follow? Of course not. You don’t stop wanting something just because you’re not getting it. Getting it makes you want more of it; not getting it just makes you want it that much more. The same principle applies to pretty much anything – movies, music, etc. People who like to read a lot don’t just stop reading without a good reason (lack of time, for instance). They don’t stop going to the bookstore just because the media tells them “nobody reads anymore”. And people who don’t read often aren’t going to change their habits either. Human nature just isn’t that easily swayed. You’re either into something or you’re not.

What Hollywood really needs is a change in perspective. It’s like they expect more from audiences than we can possibly deliver. A lot of people are going to see War of the Worlds, no doubt about it. But is everyone going to see it? No. As much as Hollywood would like to believe otherwise, individuals have minds of their own. Some people just aren’t interested in the subject matter. Some won’t go because they don’t like science fiction movies. Others won’t have the money to spare. Still others will find it too dark and frightening to take their children to, and therefore won’t go themselves. Everyone who doesn’t go will have their own reasons, and those reasons may not have anything to do with the film itself. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t sell everything to everybody.

So let’s lower our expectations a little, shall we? Let’s stop treating the boxoffice as if it’s the be-all and end-all of the cinema experience. It amazes me how these analysts obsess over the weekend tally like it’s The Word From On High. It may be hard for them to believe, but the average person doesn’t know or care if a movie cost $6 million, $60 million or $160 million – the ticket price is the same. All they care about is whether or not they want to see it. For a typical audience member, worrying about whether a studio makes its money back is absurd. And it’s not something we can control in any event – all we can do is see the movies we want to see, and hopefully enjoy them.

It’s so bizarre to me when a movie like Land of the Dead is considered a “disappointment” because it “only” opened at #5 with $10.2 million. Suddenly it’s written off as being a flop – what the HELL? This is an R-rated horror film opening in a competitive summer season without an incredible amount of promotion – that’s actually a decent chunk of change under those circumstances. When you consider how much worse it could have done, even this modest amount of success should be considered a victory. We console ourselves with the knowledge that it only cost $15 million to make, and should eventually make a decent profit on video. What does it matter if it cost $15 or $50 million? The fans should be celebrating the fact that there’s a new Romero Dead film out there, that by some miracle it got made at all and it’s playing in theaters nationwide! Isn’t that what really matters? Yes, I wanted it to do well, to avoid that very perception that if it doesn’t make money it’s a “failure”. Why does everything have to be “#1 at the boxoffice” and “a runaway blockbuster smash” in order to be validated in our minds?

It used to be, not so long ago, that a film could open to modest business and build on word of mouth to develop a following and generate a decent take. I don’t think that time is necessarily gone – it just seems that people ignore it when it happens, or consider it a fluke. But the obsession with boxoffice has gotten so out of hand that if a movie doesn’t open big, no one goes to it after that. Money has become synonymous with artistic success – if no one else went to see it, it must not be worth seeing. That’s so incredibly sad. And so incredibly stupid.

You know what I think? Fuck the boxoffice. OK? I’m sick to death of it. Really, what do we care how much money a movie makes? None of that cash goes in our pockets. I know, we vote with our money and all that. That’s true, but only up to a point. Certain genres never go away, not completely – whether it’s horror or sci-fi or action or romantic comedies or whatever. They go in cycles, but they’ll always keep making them, because they know there’s a built-in audience out there. No need to worry about that.

It would be great if Land had made a ton of money, if it had surprised everyone and beaten all the overhyped blockbusters, and suddenly George Romero was the hottest director in America. But those are extremely unrealistic expectations. Hey, I would love for everybody in America to be listening to Interpol and watching Veronica Mars and for David Lynch films to be making $100 million. Those things just aren’t going to happen. I personally love all of those things, but they’re for a certain audience that gets them and loves them deeply. They’re not for the average Joe who listens to Nickelback and watches Fear Factor and thinks Revenge of the Nerds is the greatest film ever made. You know? When you think about it from that perspective, a #5 opening with just over $10 million is pretty fucking good for a George Romero movie.

I really loved the movie, and I hope to get a review of it up before it’s out of theaters. I saw War of the Worlds today, and really loved that too. Go figure. When you think about it, it’s kind of ironic that the two best films out there are essentially apocalyptic, end of the world, “shit hits the fan” movies. It’s pretty odd that these films reflect the current state of affairs in Hollywood in general, where everyone seems to think the end is nigh and things are falling apart once and for all. I’d just like to see some solid evidence to back that up before I start hiding in the basement.

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