February 22, 2011

The Movies Are Not Dead, Inception Isn't The Movie Messiah, And Hollywood Is Fine

Mark Harris has no faith in the power of Hollywood. Let me rewind, last week Harris dropped an article in GQ Magazine called "The Day The Movies Died." With a killer title like that, it was no surprise that the article became a "mini-hit" with people instantly agreeing and tweeting the article everywhere. Yet the problem is Harris is wrong on many accounts. He states that the only people going to the movies now are males between the ages of 18-25, yet this is the best box office year ever for adult dramas.  He deplores the studios for the now infamous statistic that there are 27 sequels coming out in 2011, but what is so bad about sequels anyway? And finally, he wishes more studios took chances on an original ideas (like "Inception" which he adores) but in reality, original ideas in Hollywood are rare at best now and are aren't the most profitable or critically acclaimed. Before he sounds the death knoll for Hollywood, it sounds like he needs to get a large popcorn with extra butter and pay attention to Hollywood around him.

Harris goes into detail stating that movies that are not aimed at kids are becoming "a peculiar and antique art. Like books. Or plays." If this is so true, why are "adult" films, you know the kind that don't involve robots, come from serious directors, and get nominated for awards, are thriving. Take "The King's Speech" for example; It's an awards favorite, won't sell any toys and has already made $100 million plus in the United States. The same can be said about "Black Swan" and "The Social Network" For more on the success of high class films that Harris believes don't succeed anymore, check out Patrick Goldsteins excellent article about it here

Now to hear Harris tell it, there is nothing worse than a follow up to a successful film, no matter if it is a prequel, sequel, remake or reboot. They are all indicative of Hollywood's desire for "branding" not product. Sure some of them like "Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" are purely $$$, yet many of them are in fact have some of the world's best creative minds working on them. For example the new "Mission Impossible" film, is first live action film from animation genius (and Oscar Winner) Brad Bird. Or "X-Men First Class," the first super hero movie to take place in the Cold War. And  let us not forget 2012's "The Wolverine" from wunderkind director Darren Aronofsky. And if Christian Bale wins an Academy Award for the "The Fighter," "The Dark Knight Rises" will have four Academy Award Winning Actors in it (Bale, Freeman, Caine, Cotillard), why shouldn't we be excited about that?

And while these may not excite you, what is so bad about sequels in the first place? After all it's not like the movies invented the idea. The concept of a sequel goes back to 18th century novellas, hardly a Hollywood created idea. After all if there were no sequels we wouldn't have  "Lord of the Rings" (A bloody follow-up/prequel to the Hobbit!), no "Chronicles of Narnia," (it even contains a prequel!), or even 'Harry Potter." If people love a fictional character, what is so bad about wanting their story to continue? And yes, Mr. Harris I am very excited to see if Vin Diesel can beat The Rock in mortal/car combat in "Fast Five."

If there is one thing that Harris is positive about in his article, it's "Inception." To hear him tell it, "Inception" is the most original film in Hollywood history and Nolan is the cinematic messiah that will save us from our problems with his bold ideas. Yet here is the problem with original ideas - Hollywood doesn't like them that much. Critically if you look at the Best Picture Winners of the last 10 years, only 3 were original ideas ("Crash," "The Hurt Locker*," and "Gladiator**"). The rest were based off books, plays, and foreign films. From a box office perspective, not counting last years mega behemoth "Avatar," the last original film to top of the Box Office was "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998. The issue here isn't that there aren't good ideas out there in Hollywood, it's that people/critics aren't that receptive to them (even they're offered). Simply put, "Inception" was a fun, exception to the norm.

Mr. Harris needs to stop ringing the death bells for Hollywood and take a deep breath. Sure there's a lot of sequels coming out, get over it, sequels are here to stay. And while the content may not be original, the studios are taking bigger risks on young directors and developing their talent (people like Nolan) in the process. Intellectual films like "The King's Speech" are succeeding at the box office. And finally from a technical perspective, 3D films when made correctly are redefining cinema as an experience (see Avatar). Hollywood is not dead, it's just evolving and changing, anybody who can't see that needs to wake up from their dreamland. Maybe Nolan/Leonardo can help Mr. Harris with that.

*The Hurt Locker was based off an article
**Gladiator was original but was rooted in Roman History/Myth

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