The Sunday Rant

Right, so I thought I could use some venting. The years of indentured servitude one has to go through in order to become a scientist, all the while biting his tongue and pickling his emotions, have taught me that keeping things in can be at least referred to as unhealthy. So, as one might probably realize by now, I tend to rant. A lot. I like to think it’s therapeutic, but other than that I don’t really know.

Last week ended up being really interesting. I spent God knows how long waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the greatest (so far) stink-bomb of the year – “Iron Man 3”, because I really wanted to see how it is received globally. It would seem that here in Europe we’re mostly good guys and instances of brutally spoiling this film for our fellow movie-goers across the pond were rather scarce; if you don’t count Youtube – that place is just full of butt-holes, but who am I to talk… I sincerely hoped “Iron Man 3” would bomb, but quite expectedly people loved it. The critics write sonnets about how fantastic it was and the box office revenue reflects the popular (sigh!) vote; and that scares me.

I mean, I can understand that people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with this one, because the great Shane Black wrote the script for this piece of crap, but let’s face it: for the good of everyone around there should be no sanctity when it comes to art or entertainment. If Spielberg makes a s**t film – people should know, but it turns out that RDJ only needs flutter his eyelashes for everybody to fall hopelessly in love with Iron Man… Shame… And to think someone who brought us “Lethal Weapon” or “The Last Boy Scout” could contribute to this…

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who saw that (here’s a video rant from Peter Rallis), but still countless masses made Marvel and Disney think they’ve done it right, because the only thing that matters in here is money. They’ll make a lot of it with this one and I’ll bet you money right here and now that the PG-13 spirit of “Iron Man 3” will make its way to the next “Thor”, “Captain America” or the next “Avengers”. Who knows, maybe they all will feature little boys, Christmas themes and meaningless non-violent substitute for action. It’s not OK. If you want to see a good comic book movie – go and watch “The Crow” (I re-watched it last Sunday to wash the Iron Man off my brain). Actually, do it before they remake it in PG-13, because they are remaking it. Since R-rated movies are frowned upon, the teenagers moan and groan and people lose money, I’m afraid the remake might not be exactly dark.

Now, I could even try and come to terms with the superhero genre replacing the good old-fashioned action cinema, but if this is the way we’re headed – count me out. Now I’m literally dreading the release of “Thor 2”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel”, because what if they suck as badly as “Iron Man 3” did? And I need my action films to feel normal. I was raised with them and can’t imagine the world without them…

And in that spirit, and following the raging disappointment Iron Man had caused, I caught up with two films that had slipped through my fingers: “Jack Reacher” and “End of Watch”. Now, I really appreciate the effort, because lately it is rather difficult to see something relatively original leave Hollywood. Well, maybe not exactly, because “Jack Reacher” was based on a novel if I remember correctly, but then again adapting literature is nowhere near as bad as plastering numbers on films or re-heating old noodles are. I desperately tried to like it and as a result I ended up even more frustrated with it than I originally was. Somebody needs to tell Tom Cruise it is time to go. I appreciate “Rain Man, “Jerry Maguire” or “Vanilla Sky”, but enough is enough. Tom just can’t create a believable character for crime/action film any more. It’s all Ethan Hunt over and over again and the attempted noir atmosphere just doesn’t sit very well with him. Between this, the last “Mission Impossible” and “Oblivion”, I think I’ve had enough of Tom Cruise in action films.

“End of Watch” on the other hand… Now that was something else. It was brutal, violent, gripping, maybe a bit heavy-handed with all the flag-waving and police self-apotheosis, but at least it stayed true to the values of action/crime cinema. Maybe the found-footage thing was a bit sketchy, but hey… Everybody vlogs now, so why not the Mexican gangs… So, just because I can swallow a fair bit of pathos before I get sick, I wasn’t bothered by the ‘serve-and-protect’ nonsense. The dialogues were nice, Jake Gyllenhaal was awesome, and most of all when bullets flew, people got hurt. So that’s a plus, because I hate when movies show battles or gunfights and everyone’s OK (which is exactly what I saw in “Iron Man 3”, and no – I do not intend to stop bashing it, it deserves it). Plus, the entirety of the film takes place in a car or in its direct surroundings, so clearly no-one needs to blow up oil rigs or destroy CG-made cities to keep the adrenaline up.

In fact, even “Crimson Tide” (that I happened to re-watch this week as well) proves that you can put your characters in a can and use no effects whatsoever in a film, for it to be gripping. Flag-wavy, but still gripping… But then, Denzel Washington sort of drives the movie on its own, which is yet another piece of evidence that we need character-driven action films and not this plastic colorful flashy bulls**t.

Speaking of plastic colorful flashy crap, Lovefilm sent me “Skyline” this week and I don’t really want to talk about it. I had it on my rental list for ages, because why the hell not and now I got it. What a pile of crap that was… It should be shown to people in film schools as a reminder that special effects are not enough and special effects guys rarely make good directors. Notable exceptions of the like of James Cameron can only prove the theory as a whole, because no theory is complete without exceptions. I shouldn’t even speak about “Skyline” any longer, because it might be mistaken for a review, but I’ll say only this: even though it tried to look like good modern sci-fi with all the bling what-not, but the appalling story and wooden acting can make any good film look mediocre… And a mediocre film look terrible… And a terrible film unwatchable… Therefore, just to make sure I still like Sci-fi I quickly re-watched “Sunshine” and “War of the Worlds” (with the latter additionally easing my Tom Cruise pain, but Spielberg can actually direct actors so that they look convincing, so I don’t know) and everyone was happy again.

Still, when was the last time I watched some genuinely good Sci-fi? As much as I’d like to say “Prometheus”, I couldn’t live with myself for doing that. All the nonsense that went on in that movie has most probably stretched the whole thing into a trilogy, which Ridley Scott will never finish (because he won’t have a clue, how to make it look kosher again) and hence “Prometheus” should be promptly disqualified. But anyway… Good Sci-fi… Maybe “Battle LA” could qualify even with the tonne of pathos it carried, but I think the last time I was literally blown away by a Sci-Fi film was the time I saw “District 9” – four years ago!

But there is a silver lining to that, because Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters this summer, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to. And I can try to feel better about seeing “Star Trek” next weekend – hopefully it won’t suck.

Meanwhile, the Sunday rant slowly crept onto Monday territory and I think I can stop now. Maybe next week I’ll do something similar and I’ll see where it gets me.

Rant over.

On the proclivity of Hollywood to put numbers on things…

While browsing through movie-related news couple of mornings ago I couldn’t help but notice that a huge part of what is going on in the world of film is related to various sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, resurrections and such. I’m sure someone more proficient in English language than me could find some more words that start with ‘re’ that reflect on the sad state of things in the movie industry. Just as I’m writing this, “Star Trek 2” (A sequel to a reboot to a reboot) is slowly making its way towards the big screens, together with the third “Iron Man” only to make way for another “Thor” and “Captain America” this year. We all know that the “Star Wars” franchise is being dusted off by J.J. Abrams and another “Transformers” movie is in the works. Oh, and another remake of “Godzilla” is being shot right now as well. I thought for a second that something’s not right in here, because it would seem that almost every other major project made in Hollywood could easily have a number after its title, so I decided to have a look for myself.

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I took the time to plow through all the major movie releases (thanks to Wikipedia) in the last decade (2002-2012) and fished out all the films that were either sequels, prequels, remakes or reboots to any other movie. Plus, I also included the re-releases as well, because I think they are the most blatant examples of one’s lack of creativity. That’s right, if you want to make more money without lifting a finger, release “Titanic” theatrically once again. It will cost you nothing, but surely you’ll find people, for whom the DVD was just not enough.

chart 1 Anyways, in my search I managed to find 374 such movies. Now, bear in mind that I might have missed some here and there, as the Internet isn’t perfect and neither am I. Especially the further back in time you go, the less reliable these numbers might get, simply because 10 years ago the number of people taking their time and effort to put something up here was much smaller than nowadays and I can’t simply assume perfect linearity in data collection in the Internet, now can I? Nevertheless, I think the trends would stay unaffected even with growing statistical uncertainty here, so I think I’m fine and I can continue rambling. One more thing, these 374 films I found among wide releases in the US. If I had to flick through all the Bollywood pictures I’d probably kill myself instead.

OK, so where was I? Out of 6558 movies noted in box offices (according to The-Numbers.com) in the last ten years, 374 were based on an already existing movie and that constituted 5.7% of the pool. Note here, that the percentage might be slightly higher, because of my inability to find all of those pesky sequels out there. Out of those 374 movies 62% were direct sequels, 29% were remakes, 4% were reboots, 3% were re-releases and 2% were prequels. If one decides to group them together, we end up with 64% (continuations and the like) against 36% (re-imaginings and such). That already says that Hollywood likes to put numbers on things more than it likes to dig out old corpses to revive.

chart 2

It’s fine and all, but those numbers didn’t reflect the trends I was looking for, so I broke them down by year and that’s when the patterns emerged. While you can clearly see the upward trend in the number of ‘sub-creative movies’ across the decade (with the profits following a similar, yet more moderate trend), one can already see that the most decisive rise in production of those films commenced right around 2008. When the movies are further broken down into sub-categories, the pattern becomes almost impossible to miss. While it would seem that number of remakes fluctuates across the decade peaking in 2004 and 2010, the number of direct sequels remained steady throughout 2002-2009 and then suddenly jumped in 2010 by nearly 20% and stayed there until the present day. Now that’s something to think about.

chart 3 I can actually understand the behavior in the number of remakes, because these used to be often subject to fads and related band-wagon mentality. For instance, I believe that the surge in remake productions of 2004-2005 can be attributed to the wave of Asian terror cinema that swept the world around the turn of the century and Hollywood labels wanted to capitalize on that phenomenon. These were the years where “The Ring”, “The Grudge”, “Dark Water” and the like got released. Shortly after, the American horror cinema of the 70’s and 80’s got revived to contrast all the long-haired girls walking out of TV sets, which sparked a new wave of horror in Hollywood and contributed somehow to the increase in sequels that followed. However, none of the “Wrong turn” or “Final Destination” franchises can explain what happened between 2009 and 2010. A flat bump by 20% has to happen for a reason.

If you have a look at how the total number of movies registered in Box Offices during that time looked (thank you again The-Numbers.com), you would notice immediately a sudden drop in produced movies that took place around 2008/2009; Hollywood’s output got reduced by well over 30% within two years. At the same time – which really takes the biscuit here – the percentage of ‘sub-creative’ cinema doubled (from 4% to 9%). These further emphasize the importance of a short period of 2008-2009. What could have possibly happened to effectively derail widely-understood creativity in Hollywood?

chart 4 I think everybody knows that this was the time when shit hit the fan and – thanks to banks, mind you – we all got slapped on the wrists; some more than others. People lost their jobs and houses, the global economy shrank substantially, countries went bust… Just turn on the news. It would seem that while all this was unfolding, all the producers in LA went ‘oh crap, we’re going to get poor now’. Surely, when people have to save their money, the luxuries like going out (including cinema) get axed first. In order to prevent that from happening, some things needed to be done. Gone were the artsy risky passion projects… Out with cerebral story lines  What we needed were movies that guaranteed box office success. And what can be more reliable than a well-executed sequel? chart 5

If you look at the Top 20 highest grossing movies of all times, 14 of them can be classified as sequels. And yes, I counted “Skyfall” and “The Avengers” as sequels that they are – deal with it. If you look at the last 11 years (2002-2012, the bracket for my investigations), 9 out of 11 highest grossing films each year were sequels. I’m now not at all surprised that in late 2007 and early 2008 all the studios decided to devote much greater funds towards producing ‘numbered’ movies. After all, they bring revenue. As a result, with the total number of movies produced yearly cut by 30% post-2008, the revenue managed to retain its growing trend. So, yay… Thumbs up – producers, you are getting richer. At the expense of us, lowly ticket-buyers who want something more than another “Iron-Man” (who am I kidding; I’ll probably go and watch it anyway). At least now I know that I can point my finger towards the bean-counting producers, for shame! Why is the movie industry in such a sad state? Apart from what others already pointed out, it’s simply because the studios desperately wanted to get rich while everybody was getting poorer.

Desperate times – desperate measures… and suitably disenchanting results. Now, let’s see what’s happening with the new Star Wars…