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.

Did Hollywood whitewash Last Airbender and Prince of Persia?

Dev Patel and Shaun Toub in THE LAST AIRBENDER
Dev Patel and Shaun Toub in THE LAST AIRBENDER

In an AP article from May 25th, author Deepti Hajela brings to light a controversy many may not even think of : Whitewashing. Whitewashing is the practice of casting Caucasian actors in the roles of ethnic characters. The examples cited are two upcoming fantasy films, THE LAST AIRBENDER, which has 3 white actors in the lead roles despite the fact that their cartoon counterparts are Asian, and PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME, which casts Jake Gyllenhaal as…well, a Persian Prince. While the article discusses the controversy itself, I wanted to provide my own view of this practice and, begrudgingly, play the devil’s advocate.
One would have to be blind to not see that this happens in film…hell, its been happening practically since the beginning. But this practice should be viewed for what it truly is: it’s not about race, it’s not about appealing to the “white audience”…it’s about money. Pure and simple. Each studio has its summer blockbuster, and in order to sell that blockbuster, they need a recognizable face on that poster. So they will go to the A-list stars to get it, those celebrities who are constantly being photographed for People and TMZ. They go to them because the audience, no matter their race, know them, identify them with movies that they’ve done and in some way enjoy what they’ve seen. Presumably, the audience would want to repeat that enjoyable experience. Hollywood is not ignorant of non-white actors but rather ignorant of the audience itself and what the people want.
For those who don’t agree, let me present another argument: You have a favorite Middle Eastern actor who is just starting to make a splash on the International film scene. Do you really want his first major studio film to be PRINCE OF PERSIA? Putting ethnic stereotypes aside, I think that we all know, deep down in our guts, that this movie is going to be a stinker. Disney has taken a gritty video game and adapted it to Kid-approved eye candy. If it failed, our hypothetical actor from the East would suffer a huge set-back in his career, whereas an actor like Jake Gyllenhaal is established and can definitely rebound from taking a hit. And lets not forget the possibilities that well-known foreign actors may have been approached, but were smart enough to turn the script down.
The arguments the author brings up are warranted and worth talking about, but the examples presented in the article are all concern popcorn flicks, not films. It concerns people getting upset over movies designed to appeal to our basest of instincts, to instill a sense of awe and wonder by flashing lights in our faces for a solid hour and a half. These movies are not high art; these are not though-provoking representations of people in our world, of characters with deep flaws. These are cash cows, here today and gone tomorrow (until the DVD pops up a few months later).

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