The summer movie season has officially begun. Great.
THE NEW EVOLUTION
The last film that took a year to hit video was Pulp Fiction. Took forever. I want to say it was Tarantino’s decision. But I don’t know. That was over ten years ago. Since that time two things happened that changed the way movies were released and that video window: DVD and the internet. The side effect of this: making criticism mostly irrelevant for franchise filmmaking.
At the end of the 20th Century (round 1999, that is to say), the decision was made to make DVDs cheap. $15-$20. Get people buying. And they did. Where before it was the video store where most people got films, while mostly only collectors had any real home library (unless that library came from taping films off of cable). Studios reacted to this like they invented crack cocaine. The business paradigm had changed, it is why we might still have another strike. They hit Texas Gold. Suddenly it wasn’t just selling the film to HBO or WGN or Comedy Central that brought in some late revenue. You could equal or do better than your box office take with the DVD release. As David Cross once said: “How do you not fuck that?” The studios, horny as ever, fucked that.
By the late 80’s newspapers and the regular world started adding the box office to the Friday papers, started reporting numbers on Monday or Tuesday. Of course the world was aware how successful Star Wars and E.T. were, but the numbers started sinking into the culture. People who had no business caring about how a film did could argue that the general public was responding to a film or not. That people liked it or don’t. But as all members of the Dellamorte Institute of Love (and Technology) will tell you – on three – “Box office does not represent people liking something. All it means is that people bought tickets.” This too evolved, and it became about the weekend numbers. I just re-read an interview with Joe Dante where he said Warner Brothers put Gremlins 2 out the same weekend as Dick Tracy just to keep their opening weekend number for Batman higher. Suddenly, pictures that could play for as long as an audience kept going (in Portland in 1992, Howard’s End played for over a year, and kept playing post-video release) or find their audience – whether the studio wanted them to or not – would have even more limited engagements. And where video was almost an afterthought, when you’re saturating the market, and getting into consumer’s homes, you want to shrink the video window as much as possible for one simple reason: Awareness.
The other concern about to help shrink the window is piracy. Piracy in Hollywood is the number one Boogeyman (ranking higher than #2’s Leatherface and #3’s spider-monkeys cross-bred with actual spiders and then that mutated beast cross-bred with an octopus, so the spider legs are more wet and tentacle-y), and that’s why both theaters and home video are often loaded with warnings about it. Yes it is a crime, but also the studios use piracy like the Bush administration uses terrorism. You can literally blame it for anything. And it can also be used to drum up the need for the shrunken release window. Because if it doesn’t come out as soon as possible, people will own it anyway. And this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because in telling that to the public, they might just do it.
So the weekend-driven culture has become common-place, and with people reading the numbers, it feeds itself. What then happens is that if a studio wants to bury a film, they can fucking kill it. And make no mistakes, sometimes they want their films to fail. Here we are at the start of summer season, and you’d think the summer-dumbs would be just beginning. But other than films that need critical support, franchise filmmaking accounts for the majority of release calendar. With Cloverfield making January more viable, January through August can have a nine-figure films, and the studios then tend to gear up again around November for the last two months (partly blame Lord of the Rings, though Pixar and Harry Potter have also favored November).
Much of what this has done is made criticism irrelevant. Critics haven’t helped their cause much – Patton Oswalt had a bit about his regional critic growing up having horrible taste, and so many people are used to their local Gene Shallit’s that it’s not surprising that criticism has been a wounded animal of late. Critics, like art, are meant to challenge a viewer. But with the print media shrinking… again, I think I’ve told this story before where someone told me they had to grade up some of their films because the paper knew that they would be hits, and that people would get annoyed. And even the Indie-Oscar scene has Juno, which – don’t get me wrong – I loved, but is Indie in name only, and features positively little of what could be terms anything art-house. While Oregonian critic Shawn Levy gave There Will Be Blood an A rating and got letters from readers who didn’t understand why he hailed it as a masterpiece, just as a decade earlier he got letters for giving Patch Adams a bad review. And it’s because a lot of people have a weird teacher/student relationship with criticism. They want to be affirmed, and they hate it when they’re told that the thing they like might not be good. Again, though, critics can be wrong, because of that whole art/subjectivity thing. And I could just as easily site a critic who loved Patch Adams, and couldn’t stand There Will Be Blood. And if someone could give reasoned and impassioned thoughts on how “we got it all wrong” on both, I’d surely love to read that.
Alas, removing critical thought from the equation is all to the studios’ favor. They want the audience not to care about quality or relative merit. They want you there opening weekend. They want you to rush out on the first day to see things. To be first. They don’t want you to take a measured response and grade your options. They want you there for that opening weekend, and hopefully your enthusiasm will carry over to the two-disc set. And hopefully the three disc director’s cut. It just has to be good enough.
This expedited circle that the studios created is starting to catch up with them. DVD prices are dropping dropping dropping. Films that have been out on DVD for weeks routinely are sold for $10 or less. The consumer has realized this, to some extent. And once you’ve trained them on that, the cycle doesn’t stop. Blu-Ray may be a way to get people to buy the white album again, but it’s a stop-gap at best. We are on the verge of a change in the cycle. We have a strong May for sure, but it’ll be interesting to what works and what doesn’t. Analytically, the summer months are the most interesting period for looking at Box Office. In terms of content?
I GUESS IT’S HEALTHY, I GUESS THE AIR IS CLEAN. I GUESS THOSE PREDICTIONS HAVE FUN WITH THEIR NEIGHBORS AND FRIENDS
This weekend McDreamy (or is it McSteamy? Or is it both!) and Dwayne Wayne are hitting the big screen. Oh, the studios know how to start a fucking summer. With these two TV stars teaming up, it’s like if someone took a cast member from Cheers and put them with a cast member from St. Elsewhere. In the middle of the 1980’s. It’s a force. A force to be dealt with. Swiftly. I have no idea what could concievably challenge a film like this this weekend. With America having grown up on Can’t Buy Me Love and Loverboy, men, women, children, fucking dogs want to see a comedy about a dude who tries to break up a wedding because he realizes he’s in love with his female best friend. Even though he’s rich and fucks everything on two legs until he realizes that what makes him happiest is right in front of his face. Everyone can relate to this. On a personal note, I hope someone falls into a wedding cake. That shit’s hilarious. I also hope there’s a fat bridesmaid. Maybe she could sexxed up by Kadeem Hardison, and he does her because it’s a noble gesture. The trailer has at least two gags where Demsey runs into things, and some cross dressing jokes, and “men are idiots about women’s things” jokes, and it ends with a priest thinking Demsey’s gay! If this doesn’t make $200-$300 Million dollars when all is said and done, then there is no justice, and there will be no peace. I won’t know how great the film is until I see it tonight, but I cannot wait.
Here’s the anthem, so get your damn hands up:
1. Iron Man - $90.6 Million (with the Thursdays thrown in)
2. Made of Honor - $16.0 Million
3. Baby Mama - $9.2 Million
4. Harold and Kumar 2 - $6.5 Million
5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall - $6.3 Million
And Sunday I’ll feel like busting loose. Bustin’ loose in the evening. Because bustin’ loose can pleasing.