CYBERSURFING: Did JAWS Ruin The Modern Blockbuster?

In a recent New York Times blog by Ross Douthat, the author provides his reaction to the assertion made by New York Magazine columnist David Edelstein that JAWS & STAR WARS ruined Hollywood. Mr. Douthat strongly defends the original summer blockbusters, stating that they are in no way to blame for the most recent lukewarm summer offerings. A 35-year old movie could not in any way be responsible for JONAH HEX, right?
JAWSYes and no. JAWS and STAR WARS were milestones in modern cinema, movies that drew in crowds and more than recouped their production costs. As studios are very interested in making lightning strike twice – or three or four times – Summer eventually became known as “Blockbuster” season, a time when Hollywood pulls out all the stops and tries to top themselves with even more outrageous fare. As time went on, the films that made it to the screen veered away from the basic foundations of good storytelling and focused more on the sensory aspect of the film. This provided a lowering of quality and a rise in quantity. And still, the audience came. The lack of accountability to provide a well-rounded experience spurred on the “More Is More” mentality, eventually leading to where we are today, with both studios and audience asking the same question but for different reasons – “What happened?”
Yet, despite the point that JAWS and STAR WARS may have kicked off this trend, it is in no way their fault. Both are solid films that focus on the sum rather than the parts, leaving them as pioneers that have a place firmly etched in the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. Rather than innovation, for years the audience has been subjected to imitation. We indulge this because we want to repeat that sense of awe and wonder and we are more often than not left feeling cheated out of our money instead. Yet Hollywood misinterprets this spending as a request for more of the same. So in turn, that is what they give us. It is the bottom line, not the film, which has spurred this on and to blame a successful movie for a bad one seems a tad shortsighted.
Besides, as Mr. Douthat points out, despite the flops that have been put in front of us, the last 35 years has seen a whole slew of now-classic films. These are the films that keep audiences coming back for more and for a while, the good outnumbered the bad. Unfortunately, the rule has now become the exception. Have hope though: this trend seems to be reaching a breaking point as studios flounder and audiences make their voices heard. We may very well be on the brink of a new age for movies. Let’s all hope it’s the start of a new “good old days”.

Cybersurfing: Hollywood's Future Rests In The Hands Of A Plastic Few

Toy Story 3In 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.