In a New York Times article
titled “Hollywood Hopes Toy Story 3 Can Spur Summer Sales,” authors Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes discuss the movie industry and the recent decline in ticket sales. The discussion has been everywhere in entertainment news, having been sparked from the fact that this past Memorial Day weekend – generally one of the highest grossing during the summer – was the lowest it has been for years. The piece looks over the most recent theatrical releases and examines their expectations vs. where they eventually ended up in box office sales. Cieply and Barnes also touch on a number of points regarding the decline and the possible reasons behind it. And while they make several very interesting arguments, their impact is muted, as the article seems to drown in a sea of numbers. Much to its detriment, the key reasons behind the floundering of Hollywood are glossed over.
While mentioned briefly, the fact that perhaps those in the audience are a bit more intelligent and not quite the cattle studios believe them to be bears further examination. It is astounding to think that after decades of movie making, there is still a pervasive “Buyer Beware” attitude in Hollywood. Instead of innovation, it is imitation that still rules in movie land as studios take well-worn plots and redress them as the next big thing. While it is not impossible to take a cliché story and turn it into a fascinating film, it is impossible to pull off when no real effort is put into it. A prime example of this is the recent release of PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME. This property, based off of the video game of the same name, is rife with interesting plots, sub-plots, and characters, all of which could have been combined in any number of ways to bring an exciting and, more importantly, interesting film to the screen. But the studios – in this case Disney – opted for the quick buck, hoping that brand identity, star power, and over-the-top special effects would mask the fact that the film had no real substance. They KNEW the film had no real substance and yet, they were fine with that. They were happy to put it in a theater and ask you to pay $12.50 for the “honor” to see a movie that will most likely go straight to Netflix streaming in a month or two.
But this attitude can’t be placed entirely on the studio’s shoulders. We, the audience, are indeed partially to blame. Perhaps it is a genetic imprint left over from ‘20’s era Hollywood, a time when people had no choice in what to see at the movies. As time went on, studios started to offer more films per year and hence more choices, yet empty spectacle still drew in the crowds. Now, in modern times, we find ourselves at an impasse: The audience has evolved but the studios haven’t. We have seen greatness, those few movies that have made it through the system and come out as beacons of what could be. And we like it. But for the moviemakers, true greatness takes too much time and besides, there are quotas to meet and money to collect…why deviate from a good thing? What has worked in the past will work again, right?
In the end, the relationship between audience and studio must be mutually beneficial. In order for the studios to return to their former glory, they must provide the audience with the quality they demand. And in return, demand we must. It is easy to sit back and criticize studios for lazy filmmaking. But next time you do, keep in mind…they had to have gotten that idea from somewhere. And that somewhere is your wallet.
In a New York Times article