Why is an industry mired in remakes and sequels aghast that its annual awards show came across as well past its sell-by date?
“The whole night looked like an AARP pep rally,” the New York Times remarked of this year’s Academy Awards broadcast. TMZ’s Harvey Levin dubbed the ceremony “stale.” Television critics panned the movie critics for giving an atavistic silent film the big award. They noted that Billy Crystal had already hosted the show eight times, that 62 is the median age for a member of the academy, and that the theater that hosted the shindig is named for Kodak, a bankrupt film company left behind by digital. John Anderson declared at CNN.com that “someone — producer Brian Grazer, perhaps — should answer for why a show celebrating an industry in so much trouble chose to cast itself as something so profoundly passé.”
Don’t blame the industry awards show. Blame the industry. The Oscars aren’t living in the past. They’re living in Tinseltown, which lives in its past. It’s Hollywood, but even an awards show can’t act as though throwback movies are cutting edge. Such a performance would simply demand too much.
Hollywood is in its Sunset Blvd. years, living off the fumes of its past. Consider the retread rubbish that ruled the box office last year.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, the first installment of the fourth Twilight book to hit the big screen, earned more at the box office in 2011 than all but two films. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third live-action film based on a toy that had long since spun off a cartoon series, a comic book, and an animated movie, placed second. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, the latter half of the seventh installment of the film franchise, earned the top spot by grossing $381 million in the United States.
Do you sense the pattern here?
The top ten domestic receipts of 2011 belong exclusively to remakes, sequels, and films based on ancient comic-book characters. Reruns are supposed to be for television.
One has to go all the way down to the 13th spot to The Help, a movie that everybody says they like but nobody really likes, to find something new (and technically, it’s based on a 2009 book, so purists might contend that it’s not totally new). For the first time in the history of motion pictures, the annual cash leaders wholly excluded original movies.
There is a dearth of creativity in a town built on creativity. Marketing rules. People lacking imagination decide what films get green lighted and which films get red lighted. It’s easier to sell the known but weak commodity than it is to sell the unknown but strong commodity. There’s safety in numbers — as in part 3, part 4, and part 6. But doing the “safe” thing isn’t always safe. The best commercial arts are a risky business.
It’s tempting to judge a bestseller list frontloaded with stagnant superheroes and silver-screen second helpings of mediocre television shows as market validation of rerun cinema. But 2011’s sequel-heavy Hollywood closed 4 percent down from 2010, which was down 5 percent from the previous year. Fewer people went to the movies in 2011 than in any year since 1995.
The industry points to a down economy, piracy, and improvements to in-home theaters as handicaps. Those factors certainly haven’t helped. But neither has the recycled content. It’s easier to blame external factors beyond one’s control. It’s more constructive to identify the internal impediments that can be fixed.
Hollywood can make dinosaurs walk the earth again and host visits from cute candy-eating extraterrestrials who befriend children. But can they feed people stale and convince them that it’s fresh?
That’s a problem with this year’s Academy Awards. More importantly, that’s the problem with the movies that the academy had to sift through. At least the Oscars didn’t honor the films with statuettes that the public had honored with cash. Fast Five, Mission: Impossible, Ghost Protocol, and Captain America cleaned up at the box office but left the Kodak Theater empty handed.
But it’s not as though the movie industry has learned its lesson from a dismal few years, especially with rehash reaping cash. March offerings include John Carter, 21 Jump Street, The Lorax, and Wrath of the Titans, a sequel to the remake of Clash of the Titans. We may not have seen these movies before. But we’ve been there, done that.
It’s lamer than you think.