Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Busted: The Failure of the 2010 Summer Blockbuster

Thirty-five years ago, a film was released that ushered in a new era in Hollywood and forever changed the way movies were marketed to the public. The film, directed by newcomer Steven Spielberg, was called Jaws and it invented the “Summer Blockbuster”. It wasn’t long before George Lucas followed in his friend’s footsteps and released Star Wars, proving the concept was here to stay.

In the subsequent years Hollywood perfected the idea, often advertising the big summer releases 6 months in advance during the Super Bowl. Summer Blockbusters have the actors with household names, they have the biggest production budgets, the best special effects, and they’re adapted from the most popular books. At this point, 35 years into the game, it’s a tried and true formula that almost never fails to turn big profits for the industry. That is… until this year.

Sex and the City 2 took in $26 million less than its predecessor during its opening week. Comedies like Killers and Get Him to the Greek debuted with only $16 million and $18 million respectively, far less than similar films in recent summer seasons. Shrek Forever After, the forth film in the incredibly successful Shrek series, is pulling in the worst numbers of its franchise. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood just barely cracked $100 million domestically, though it did much better overseas. It’s the same story with Prince of Persia. So far only Iron Man 2 has proven to be really successful, making more than the first installment did in 2008.

The 2010 summer season has studios scratching their heads as film after film expected to make a big splash has disappointed at the box office. But the explanation should actually be quite obvious. Hollywood’s own past success has crippled its creativity, and the lack of ideas is becoming all too noticeable. Exhibit A, The Sequels: Iron Man 2, Sex and the City 2, Nanny McPhee 2, Twilight 3, Toy Story 3, Step Up 3, and Shrek 4. Exhibit B, The Adaptations, Remakes, and Spin-offs: Prince of Persia, MacGruber, The A-Team, Jonah Hex, The Karate Kid, The Last Airbender, Robin Hood, and Get Him to the Greek. Starting to get the picture? The vast majority of the big films being pushed this season are either rehashed ideas or sequels made in an attempt to cash in a second (or fourth) time on the strength of previous success. It’s lazy, and it seems as though the public has finally caught on.

The thing that’s easy to forget about the original Summer Blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars is that they were simply really good stories that focused on character development and had well written scripts. They just so happened to be told in a big, flashy way and marketed on lunch boxes, but the core values of quality film making were never left out at the expense of a cool special effect. Jaws, Star Wars, along with many other big summer films that followed, were successful because they connected with people on a human level. Story first, spectacle second. Ultimately, whether they know it or not, audiences crave this type of personal connection, and this summer Hollywood isn’t providing it; instead insulting the audience by assuming that any old sequel will sell.

However, even after the darkest night, the sun will eventually rise. Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, fresh from The Dark Knight, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is due out July 16, and it looks to be just the kind of interesting, thought provoking, personal film that could salvage the summer movie season. Hopefully audiences go see it in droves, sending a message to Hollywood that it takes more than slapping a “2” at the end of a title to guarantee a hit.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New DVD/Blu-ray Release: Remember Me

New DVD/Blu-Ray Release: “Remember Me” (Available June 22)

Remember Me, a film by director Allen Coulter, starring Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, is the type of film that is becoming too rare in today’s Hollywood system. It oozes raw energy, drips authenticity and heart, has a thought provoking, well written script, and it only cost $16 million to produce. Too often films today are designed as franchise vehicles and use their $100+ million budgets as marketing tools. Remember Me, however, is a real film, centering around a young man named Tyler in New York struggling with the death of his older brother and a detached, workaholic father, played surprisingly well by Pierce Brosnan. Tyler is intelligent but directionless, and ends up in some trouble with the law. But it’s this incident, which doesn’t seem overly significant at the time, that leads him down a new path in life. He meets a girl named Ally (Emilie de Ravin), who happens to be the daughter of the officer (Chris Cooper) who arrested him. Despite the fact that they are very different people, they quickly form a strong bond, and suddenly the world is a little less lonely.

This movie is a must see for anyone seeking a quality, meaningful film in a year where we’re asked to endure Iron Man and Sex and the City sequels. Pattinson is proving to be an actual talent with real potential beyond the Twilight series, and he has real chemistry with co-star de Ravin, best known for her work on the TV series Lost. Brosnan and Cooper are Hollywood veterans and they lend considerable gravity to their supporting roles. Remember Me is exactly the kind of movie we need right now, a film that reminds us of the power of true film making, where character and story matter above flashy special effects. Make sure to stick this one through to the end, because the ending perfectly ties subtle narrative threads together that run under the surface throughout the whole film.


A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Remember Me is a film filled with raw emotion and as a viewer you never feel entirely safe. It has a dangerous, gritty quality while still retaining accessibility and charm. While A Streetcar Named Desire has a very different plot, it is also defined by a raw sexual energy and a general feeling of insecurity, set in an authentic urban environment. Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando, Vivian Leigh, and Kim Hunter, Streetcar is an all-time classic.

Blanche DuBois (Leigh) arrives in New Orleans, trying to outrun her personal problems, and drops in on her sister Stella (Hunter) and her husband Stanley (Brando). Stanley is a dominating figure and the presence of Blanche upsets the dynamic of his relationship with Stella. After learning about Blanche’s past troubles there’s a crash course to an inevitable confrontation that doesn’t end well.