Hollywood it seems, has created a conveyor belt system of movie production. Instead of beginning with an innovative idea or exceptional plot, contemporary movie making begins by either optioning popular mediums such as best-selling books or “re-imagining” some property already owned by the studios. Collaborative screenwriters are then pressured into thrashing out a screenplay as fast as possible. But with each dangling cheque come caveats; the screenplay must not exceed 2 hours in length, the protagonist must win, and there has to be the potential of product tie-ins and sequels. If these terms are met; the film is immediately green-lit. The completed script is quickly given to the lowest bidding and currently out of work director regardless of suitability. The studio then clambers to sign actors whose only skill is their bankability and return on investment. Surely somebody who starred in the last box office hit will be responsible for the next? A quick and abrupt shoot is then commenced, a shoot where the only aim is to make a pre-determined deadline and release date which does not interfere with the studio’s other similar works. A bank of servers and a pool of workstations are quickly assigned to digital “artists” who churn out overpriced but underwhelming effects and compositing for the upcoming film. We the public get an annoying trailer which endlessly fades to black without dramatic effect, and a crappy poster surfaces. Voilà; we have another lame movie.
Now for some reason this system has by and large worked for the film companies. The studio-logic of “they consumed that, so let’s turn it into a movie” has engulfed viewers with an overabundance of what the studios assume the public wants. Contrary to studio executives perception however, just because we’ve read a book or watched a TV show, it doesn’t necessarily mean we want an unfaithful and rushed adaptation. In recent years, Hollywood’s coprophagous tendencies have been the most obvious. For over a decade now we have been inundated with re-packaged excreta; the result of feeding off the latest and most popular products in order to cash in on ideas not originally intended for film.
People read books… let’s adapt a best-selling book.
Families go to theme parks… let’s have a theme park ride adaptation.
Kids like toys; let’s have action figure and board game adaptations.
Contemporary studio executives try to accommodate the public instead of letting the creative process shape the films they produce. They force on us what they think a certain demographic or generation will like. If for example somebody watched the Transformers cartoon as a kid and played with the toys, now an adult he or she may have their own children. An adult who is now earning money and has a family is a perfect profiled and targeted consumer. It is predicted that they may want to revisit their childhood and share these experiences with their children. Therefore a PG-13 adaptation of something such as a retro cartoon which appeals to families (with the backing of a toy manufacturer in order to cash in on toy sales) is the perfect money-making machine for the summer family-orientated crowd.
This reasoning however, does not warrant the Michael Bay bullshit-behemoth that was the Transformers trilogy. These films were so effect-cluttered yet devoid of emotion and tension, they lacked everything needed for an enjoyable action movie. These gung-ho, pro-American, racist and sexist shit-fests hardly resemble the original cartoon. And contrary to what the studios must think, people who watched Transformers as children did not collectively undergo lobotomies and do not appreciate prejudicial characters and pointless plot lines heavy in explosions and over-complicated robot effects. These types of western-centric, nauseating, wannabe action movies which are visually disorganized and contain pointless lens-flares and American flag waving are the kinds of vehicles that are responsible for giving contemporary Hollywood such a bad name. Coupled with military-ass-licking crap-fests such as Peter Berg’s Battleship, every recent summer movie seems to be an exercise in promoting Hasbro’s line of unimaginative toys whilst expanding on Hollywood’s ever banal output.
Another contemporary trend ruining movies is the unwarranted sequel. Films which were once popular or high grossing are automatically green-lit for sequels whether they ruin the original in doing so. But until we the public stop watching these pitiful movies, the studios will continue to make more. It seems that film studios these days are not just content in creating back to back sequels, they have in the past decade or so began either remaking relatively recent films or making sequels without any of the original directors, writers, and even actors involved. Please somebody tell these studios that you cannot make a faithful Die Hard without John McTiernan and Michael Kamen, you cannot make a true Terminator sequel without James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, and not enough time has passed to be remaking films like Total Recall and Robocop.
If the studios can’t find a classic film to ruin they find some old product to somehow fashion into celluloid. The Transformers movies are only three in many hundreds of films which reference some other popular commodity; from comics, books, to social media folklore and with each optioned work we get a lacklustre film quickly cobbled together in order to bank in on a current supposed trend. Comic book adaptations have been everywhere for the past decade or so, but for every watchable adaptation like The Dark Knight there is an unwatchable but highly profitable The Dark Knight Rises. And to make matters worse every time they start these superhero movies from scratch with a “re-imagining” they for some unknown reason start from the beginning. Is there anybody left on Earth who doesn’t know what Superman or Spider-Man is or does? The rest of us aren’t interested in a 2-hour plus re-telling of a re-telling. But, because we the public either respect the writer, director, or actors involved, we fall for this trick again and again – surely the latest version will be better than the last?
This standardized template for creating a Hollywood film does away with the creative process. A writer or director should begin with a vision; something which they have either imagined or have thought would provoke the audience into agreeing or disagreeing with their viewpoint. Films rarely pose questions or want answers these days. Gone are character studies, gone are untested plots and for the past decade or so, gone too are graphic language, sex, and realistic violence. Because most movies cost upward of $100,000,000, the studios want the audience to be as varied as possible, ranging from pre-pubescent children to retired octogenarians, therefore anything certified as NC-17 or 18 equivalent is avoided at all costs. Contemporary movies are made with the Board of Certification in mind and are manufactured to appeal to the widest cross-section of society. The end result is a messy genre mash-up, and even though on paper they seem to appeal to everybody, in the end they usually leave everybody feeling indifferent.
A film which was inclusive of coarse language, explicit sex and violence did not in the past restrict its profitability. Films which may not have been blockbusters at the box office usually recouped and exceeded their funds through the rental and purchase market, through licensing to television, and finally through re-edited, special edition, and new-format releases. Studios forget that a low budget and slow burning cult film is sometimes the one that will continue to garner interest and reputability. Disinterested in longevity, the studios want to make money instantly these days and are quick to pull any trick in their greedy hat in order to make as much money as quickly as possible.
This is definitely the case with 3D. Something which was intended as an added perspective for the viewer has become an added bonus for money-making studios. Quick to realise the higher ticket price of screening a 3D movie, the studios have been rushing to post-convert any movie in order to increase profits. But post-conversion has created some of the most 2-dimensional 3D ever seen. Films which are not conceived or shot to be inclusive of this format are always the worst 3D films in the cinema. If you are lucky enough to own 3D home cinema equipment, you can plainly see the difference between the two. If you sit down and watch a movie and the first thing someone in the room says is “is this supposed to be 3D?” then you are most likely watching a post-converted film. Just Google any movie which you thought was a “good 3D” movie; from Avatar to Disney’s Christmas Carol, you will find that they are always created and shot (or animated) in 3D. Any “bad 3D” film is usually a result of conversion after being shot in regular 2D. If the studios do not relent in faking 3D, slowly the audience will become disinterested to the format and 3D will have to be abandoned after a spurt of interest just like in the 50s and 80s. Greed will kill this potentially creative addition to the film experience.
Another thing which is being systematically slaughtered is storytelling. Writer-directors such as the late Michael Crichton created some of the greatest and imaginative plotlines ever to grace the screen. Other writer-directors such as the late John Hughes became masters of creating relatively inexpensive but highly enjoyable and well written films. These movies went on to become not only profitable, but “classic” films which are still referenced to this day. With the death of both Michael Crichton and John Hughes however, the idea that a well written script and innovative plot can also be the most entertaining has regrettably also perished. Huge set pieces and high concepts are not needed if the passion of storytelling is present.
Gone too are skilled visual and effects artists. People like the late Stan Winston were artisans when it came to makeup and visual effects, creating some of the most stunning animatronic creatures. Stan Winston was responsible for some of the most memorable creatures in movie history from Predator to Jurassic Park and when a film heavily relies on effects like the majority of today’s mainstream movies, you need a true artist who enjoys their craft and has a natural talent for the medium in which they work. His contemporaries too such as Rick Baker and Rob Botin were known for creating a portfolio of effects work which was recognizable by style just like the work of any film director or actor. An equivalent digital artist has yet to be found, and films which contain heavy effects have in turn suffered, relying on whole composite and effects-based studios such as WETA and ILM. But with this production line of faceless and nameless workers churning out effect after effect, comes a rather dull and underwhelming experience. A talented digital artist today will never be singled out and heralded as the one to compete with. These days striving to achieve the accolade of being the “best” has been done away with and replaced by drones who work in order to keep an effects company in profit. Why stand out and try hard if the only praise received will be for your director and company?
The price per ticket to the cinema and the annoyance of watching a film with a group of noisy and inattentive audience members only adds to this apathetic view of cinema. Home cinema has become a relatively cheap option for most film fans, and slowly our TV and sound systems at home have been upgraded and upgraded until we own 65” 1080p 3D LED screens and 2000 watt 7.1 Dolby Digital amps and speakers. But while we were upgrading our living room technology, cinemas didn’t seem to keep up. Even though their prices rose, what was on offer didn’t. The advancement of our home cinema equipment has meant a comparable experience can be achieved at home without all the hindrance of cinema going. Most films today are usually framed, shot, and edited on a small to medium sized screen anyway therefore something which can look cramped or shaky in a cinema, is usually unnoticeable when watching at home. The lack of noisy food packaging and emotional outbursts at crucial scenes just make it a more enjoyable experience at home. The fact that most mainstream films today do not warrant the inconvenience or expense of driving, parking, queuing, ticket-buying (and cringing at the unnecessary applause at the end) just adds to the sense of agoraphobia associated with contemporary cinema-going.
All these factors have now converged into making mainstream Hollywood movies and the industry which sells, distributes, and markets them a joke. Contrived and rushed seems to be the order of the day. True actors and “star quality” have all but disappeared. The once mega-star A-List actors, producers, and directors have of late cheapened themselves by working on the most mediocre of films and more recently television. If they have not been snared or enticed by the web of money and fame, they have either retired or passed away. And while they slowly disappear, a bunch of “ordinary” looking, “ordinary” thinking everyday Joe’s have taken over the responsibility of acting and directing (think Seth Rogen or Jason Clarke). Instead of searching for genuine new talent (which does still exist) studios look for the quick fix for this talent drain. Quick to employ offspring from yesteryear’s flock, studios very rarely risk whole productions on unknown talent.
From unknown actors to up-and-coming directors, it seems nobody is anybody until they know somebody. Networking and kissing arse is the only way you get anywhere these days but the ones willing to get down and pucker up are never the ones who harness great talent and skill needed to create a memorable and satisfying cinematic experience. A bunch of closed cultured yes-men are not who the movie studios should be surrounding themselves with. If they continue on this path they will ruin yet another form of art.
So, what went wrong with film and cinema? Predominantly greed and lack of talent has ruined this art form. Next time they spend $250,000,000 on a movie which lacks substance and talent, stay well clear. Read between the lines of movie reviews and instead look for films which real independent viewers have recommended and not what corruptible sources tell you.
So if you want a good action movie watch The Raid or Point Blank, if you want a good drama watch The Secret In Their Eyes or The Page Turner. Want a violent horror? Find an uncut version of Serbian Film. If you don’t like reading subtitles, go watch the original version of any contemporary remake. There will never be a remake better than the original. Always search the internet for underground and unknown films and try not to be put off by subtitles. Some of the best films are produced outside of the American mainstream.
Hollywood is dead. Burn Hollywood, Burn.