Guilt — and the movies

17 05 2005

This isn’t going to be as deep as the title makes it seems but I have to admit that, humor aside, I’m not completely happy with my listing the movie top tens after each weekend like I did last night and last weekend.

First off, it’s way too easy to get snotty about it. Usually I check out of the movie-going experience around this time of year (with one or two exceptions) anyway. The films that I like either don’t come out in the summer or don’t come out at all.

But my bigger objection is simply that it bugs me when twelve year olds discuss which movie was number one the past weekend. It frightens me when the box office of a movie is the determining factor of its success, rather than whether it was successful at what it said and did.

Now, a Vin Diesel movie (whether I like it or not) can be successful on those second set of terms. It wanted to be an E-ticket ride and, as dumb as it was, it may have succeeded on that level. [Note: This is just an illustrative example. I have no idea whether any Vin Diesel movie succeeds on any level.] But if a movie’s sole reason for being, according to the audience, is whether it is successful at the box office, then it is doomed to failure.

And it worries me to live in a society that doesn’t see that difference.

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3 responses

17 05 2005
Cory

I had some very similar thoughts yesterday. Over Monster-in-Law, of all things. one of the producers here was defending it, saying it was not that bad and as evidence cited the box office. And i was thinking (to myself because I don’t offer opinions here, I just collect a paycheck) that the box office performance just makes me feel all the worse about MIL. Because it’s exactly as you say, Norm, I worry that people can’t see the difference between good work and commercial success. To start with the fact that a difference exists between the two is enough to give me a nosebleed. And I’m not a movie snob really. put some zombies in it and I’ll slap down ten bucks to see your movie. It’s just with a film like MIL, there are real opportunities to examine interesting dynamics between people, there’s an opportunity to make an entertaining film that rises above the level of crass, unthinking commercialism. Instead they offer up something that is patently offensive in its treatment of women, pathologically brainless in concept and not funny AT ALL in its execution.

The fact that the makers didn’t bother to even try and yet people still went just makes my head hurt.

17 05 2005
wamez

I’m not sure society as a whole is blind to the distinction. No one wants to get gyped (sp? — I assume this comes from the word “gypsy”) out of their $10. What I worry about is that this town is blind to the distinction. Ever since moving here oh-so-long ago, I’ve felt that movies were perceived in a different light here. We have a better sense of how difficult it is to get the writer, director, cast, etc. you want when putting a project together so some merit is given to a film that, if nothing else, looks good when the deals are struck.

As for the oft-blamed Middle America, I doubt they feel any differently about MIL than Cory unless the film somehow speaks to their lives (a concept that frightens me quite a bit).

But think about Scooby Doo (1 and 2…oh, shit, that rhymes). Warner Brothers duped a lot of people with the first one, saw it as a success (in the monetary sense) and promptly went to work on the second film which three people saw. Why only three? Because people understood that the first one had no merit as a form of entertainment. I don’t think a-one of them said “well, the first one sucked, but since it grossed $100M it must have been better than I thought. Here’s my money for number 2…”

Granted, anyone who went to see either film are probably not looking for the kind of “successful” film that Norm is talking about.

18 05 2005
Norman

I agree with both of you. But, Joe, I think that LA is not the only town that cares about the success of a film. Otherwise, why would Entertainment Weekly, and entertainment television shows, and the New York Times and other media outlets even publish the weekend box office statistics.

The strength of a film’s first weekend’s boxoffice gives it the appearance of legitimacy which gives it the appearance of value. Otherwise, the studios wouldn’t open their films in 3500 theatres with huge national advertising buys. The really sick thing is that it’s not even a per-theatre average that rates a mention on the Sunday night 7pm news; it’s the total box office. Therefore a great film which opened in 20 theatres will always get shafted in favor of a crap film which opened in 4000 theatres.

And, once we get satellite digital distribution, I fear that this trend will only get worse. Once it is as easy as flipping a switch to change three of your screens over to MOTHER-IN-LAW instead of a better film, then they’ll do it. The Friday opening evening’s box office reports will tell the theatre owners which films they are liable to generate more revenue from on Saturday and Sunday and, all of sudden, Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046 will be gone, replaced by SCOOBY-DOO 3.

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