Producers have learned not to bother pitching anything original to the studios. These days just about every green-lit movie must be pre-sold as a film, book, story, comic, play, TV show, vidgame or theme park ride. Always risk-averse, especially when spending big dollars, the studios have boxed themselves into a corner, leading to the inevitable blanding out of the movies on display this summer, which is generating such headlines as Is this the worst summer for movies ever? and Why does Hollywood's heat of the summer feel so ice cold? Attendance overall is down 3 % over last year, Memorial Day Weekend ticket sales were down 17 % over the previous year, and last weekend, Shrek Forever After beat out all the new movies in its third go-round. Luckily, international tickets are selling like hotcakes, up 64% in the first five months over last year. But that won't make up for flaccid domestic titles under-performing later on DVD.
The summer is still young--Pixar's Toy Story 3 will perk things up on June 18. But remember, nine of the ten Pixar blockbusters were originals.
The studios are second-guessing themselves into paralysis, only rarely making big bets on original films, like James Cameron's Avatar. (That worked out okay.) Remember, the greatest franchises of all time were once originals. Someone had to think them up in the first place, and then a studio had to take a chance on The Matrix, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Rambo, Alien or Lethal Weapon. You can go back to the well as much as you like. But you can't make audiences drink.
Prince of Persia was a meaningless vidgame title that was supposed to be a mix of Aladdin and Raiders of the Lost Ark. In a bid to reach the widest possible audience--and justify the movie's $200-million budget--the studio and Jerry Bruckheimer smoothed out Mike Newell's cut, which I for one would have liked to see. And the studio also failed to figure out a marketing profile for the movie. The rule of thumb for any summer marketing campaign: make sure you've got at least two quadrants covered before you try to go for all four.
Robin Hood is the same thing: what made this movie stand out as a must-see? Ridley Scott can direct an action sequence, and Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett are great actors, but that wasn't enough to make a familiar-sounding movie pop, and Mark Strong is the cliche villain du jour these days, ubiquitous in everything from Sherlock to Kick-Ass.
Hollywood's best writers and filmmakers are being forced to migrate to television and cable, which are both as vibrant as they've been in years. Netflix and the PS3 or other streaming devices make watching recent movies and established classics a pleasure. And who wouldn't rather stay home and watch Nurse Jackie, Justified, 30 Rock, The Pacific, Glee and Treme (and soon, Madmen), given what's playing in theaters? When Hollywood's best summer movies can't compete with television, they should take a hard look at what's going wrong.
Here's the Inception featurette: