Friday, March 4, 2011

How Netflix (and people like me) killed good mainstream movies

As sky-is-falling screeds go Mark Harris's "The Day the Movies Died" in GQ is a fine example. His fundamental point is that mainstream Hollywood is no longer in the business of telling stories. An original story like Christopher Nolan's smash hit Inception is an anomaly, not a foretaste of things to come. I laughed out loud at Harris's description of what we have to look forward to this summer.

. . . let's look ahead to what's on the menu for this year: four adaptations of comic books. One prequel to an adaptation of a comic book. One sequel to a sequel to a movie based on a toy. One sequel to a sequel to a sequel to a movie based on an amusement-park ride. One prequel to a remake. Two sequels to cartoons. One sequel to a comedy. An adaptation of a children's book. An adaptation of a Saturday-morning cartoon. One sequel with a 4 in the title. Two sequels with a 5 in the title. One sequel that, if it were inclined to use numbers, would have to have a 7 1/2 in the title.

One of the main culprits, according to Harris, is the cohort of 40-something studio execs for whom Top Gun was their filmic epiphany. Then there are the marketers. Nowadays the main question about a potential project isn't "Is it good", it's "Can we sell it?" The cool poster and marketing campaign comes first, the actual content is something of an afterthought. But there's another group of culprits, another group responsible for the fact that we can look forward to a fifth(!) installment in the The Fast and the Furious franchise.

Blaming the studios for everything lets another culprit off too easily: us. We can complain until we're hoarse that Hollywood abandoned us by ceasing to make the kinds of movies we want to see, but it's just as true that we abandoned Hollywood. Studios make movies for people who go to the movies, and the fact is, we don't go anymore—and by we, I mean the complaining class, of which, if you've read this far, you are absolutely a member. We stay home, and we do it for countless reasons: A trip to the multiplex means paying for parking, a babysitter, and overpriced unhealthy food in order to be trapped in a room with people who refuse to pay for a babysitter, as well as psychos, talkers, line repeaters, texters, cell-phone users, and bedbugs. We can see the movie later, and "later" is pretty soon—on a customized home-theater system or, forget that, just a nice big wide-screen TV, via Netflix, or Amazon streaming, or on-demand, or iPad. The urgency of seeing movies the way they're presumably intended to be seen has given way to the primacy of privacy and the security of knowing that there's really almost no risk of missing a movie you want to see and never having another opportunity to see it. Put simply, we'd rather stay home, and movies are made for people who'd rather go out.

So true. And I plead guilty. Even before kids came along there were precious few movies that compelled me to make the effort to see them on the big screen. After all, I can catch them on DVD later. Want to know why Hollywood isn't primarily in the business of telling stories anymore? Take a trip to your local Muvico on a Friday night. Check out the demographic. Those are the folks Hollywood is making movies for these days.

1 comment:

Mark said...

I have to admit, for the most part, I fall into the category of waiting until the DVD comes out, or I order it on demand at home.

However, it appears that Hollywood is not even trying these days! Because I did make it to the theater for Inception, and before that I think it was Gran Torino. Oh I take that back, I was dragged, kicking and screaming to Sex in the City 2, which I don't even want to talk about! Anyway, I will take some small responibilty for Hollywood making crappy movies, but I think they could make more of an effort too.

Thank you for posting this!
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