by Garytt Poirier
The following essay is a response to an interesting piece called "Profits Rise, Creativity Falls" written by my friend Andy Hoglund over at TheInclusive.net. You can read the piece here.
When The Hunger Games came out earlier this year, I attended a party where I listened to every girl in the room gush over how good it was and how I needed to see it. I felt like I was in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I politely said, "Nah, it's not really my thing." This, of course, prompted the people at the party to make it their mission to convince that it most definitely is my thing and that I am wrong. As is par for the course with me, I had a couple more drinks and finally erupted with a rant that sounded something like this:
"Listen. I have no interest in The Hunger Games. It is a franchise that isn't remotely directed towards me. I'm also not willing to spend $16 on a movie just because it seems like everybody else is seeing the movie. Oh wait, it's not just ONE movie. It's a trilogy! So I have to dedicate upwards of 8 hours of my life and $48 on a movie trilogy that I have no interest in seeing in the first place just because millions of tweenage girls are going gaga over it?! It's not like you guys are trying to convince me to go see The Godfather! No thank you."
It turns out I was wrong about one thing during my rant: the final movie in the trilogy is being split into two films, thus making the grand total of $64 and four films that I don't give a flying fuck about. It isn't that I am a stubborn moviegoer. I will gladly take recommendations from peers and walk in with an open mind. In 2011, I bought a ticket to see Midnight In Paris off the recommendation of a close friend. He knew of my lack of excitement over anything Woody Allen-related, but he promised me I would not be disappointed. I wasn't. I walked out of the movie with a twinkle in my eye and the film remains one my top favorite films of 2011. Here is the difference between the two scenarios. My Midnight In Paris friend recommended the film because he truly thought I would fall in love with the film. My Hunger Games friends recommended their quadrilogy of films because they wanted me to drink the koolaid.
According to The Inclusive's article, "188 of the 300 Top 20 grossing films each year since 1997 have been remakes, adaptations, sequels, or sequels of adaptations."
Some may overreact and consider this a disturbing trend. Sure, we can all channel our inner Chicken Little and run around screaming, "The sky is falling!" The truth is, it's not. 188 out of 300. So Hollywood green lights 188 "sure bets" in order to produce 112 "original" films. I think that is a fair trade off considering the state of the entertainment market. Americans have become less of a movie theatre culture. High prices and big crowds have alienated moviegoers into buying big-screen HDTVs and surround-sound systems (myself included). What also aids this is the understanding that if you want deep three dimensional characters with high stakes and bone chilling drama...then simply turn on your television set.
Don't get me wrong. The soul of television is probably in worse shape than the film industry when it comes to pandering for a loyal audience. However, put the best television head to head with the best filmmaking at this time: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and Homeland versus The Artist, The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, and Slumdog Millionaire. Television wins by knockout.
A film getting a sequel in today's age is equal to a series getting renewed for a second season. Who can blame an actor/director/writer/producer for saying, "Hell yes!" to making a sequel. Hollywood used to be a place where filmmakers and actors had careers spanning decades. In this YouTube age, where the next big thing happens every five minutes, the film industry has adopted more of a scratch ticket philosophy. If you find a franchise as an actor, cash in while you can because it doesn't last forever. If you don't believe me, go ask Jim Carrey and Eddie Murphy what they've been up to lately.
The Inclusive quotes Spike Lee in a recent interview: "I think that it is a different climate today. I do not think Oliver Stone gets JFK made today. Unless they can make JFK fly. If they can't make Malcolm X fly, with tights and a cape, it's not happening."
I take great umbrage with Spike Lee's statement. In fact, I think the statement is completely ignorant. Malcolm X could easily get made today. The first half of 2000s could be called the "Biopic Era" with films like The Aviator, Capote, Ray, and Walk the Line garnering all kinds of critical praise. Maybe Spike Lee and Oliver Stone sit in cafes complaining about how they can't get their movies made anymore. Spike Lee's films do not get greenlit anymore because he is an overrated filmmaker at best who has become irrelevant due to his body of work over the past decade. He has also ruined his reputation. When I think Spike Lee, I no longer think Do The Right Thing and He Got Game but rather the goofy troll who is always obnoxiously yelling at the referees from the sidelines of every New York Knicks game. Oliver Stone probably would not be able to get JFK made today because he has spent the last 10 years boring audiences to tears with W., World Trade Center, and Alexander.
The Dark Knight Rises opens today and will likely shatter box office records. Christopher Nolan found a franchise he could exploit while also stroking his creative ego. Now he basically has coupon from Warner Bros. for a $200 million budget whenever he flipping wants it because his name is now a brand that is equal to $1 billion worldwide. He paid his dues while also making a name for himself in an artistic and masterful way with The Dark Knight Trilogy.
The Rock 'N Roll era of movies is over. Instead of the Beatles, we have Bieber. Sequels, adaptations, and familiar faces are the name of the game right now, but it's no different than how gangster films ruled the 1930s and musicals ruled the 40s. Let comic books have their fun in the sun while it lasts. There is no need to be bitter or resentful. You can still make an original movie without a built-in audience. Just don't expect someone to hand you $100 million to make it. Audiences will continue to give into peer pressure by swarming to franchises like The Hunger Games. You can continue going to the movies because you feel like you have to.
I'll continue to go only when I want to.
- Garytt Poirier (@Garytt)