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Summer Fizzle: Audiences Avoid the Blahs, Inception Pops (Video Featurette)

by Anne Thompson
June 9, 2010 1:06 AM
11 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

If Chris Nolan's eagerly awaited Inception scores at the box office this July 18, it's partly because moviegoers are responding to something that they haven't seen before. Check out the new featurette with Nolan and Leonardo DiCaprio below.

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:

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11 Comments

  • Koto | June 11, 2010 4:38 AMReply

    @Brian...Thank you for the sincere response. And there is no need for you to apologize.Sorry for my poor English.Probably I'm a worst English speaker on the Net.I can’t say well my thought or feeling in English and sometimes I even couldn’t understand what native people try to say(I was not sure if you wrote your post jokingly or not).But now I understand what kind person you are.Genuine,insightful and kind.And I think you understand the essence of your Japanese favorites.

    By the way,I think your previous post has very good point.
    > . . great analysis Anne, and this is exactly why DVD sales are down - who on earth would want to keep a copy of these mediocre films? Studios are concerned about lacklustre sales of DVDs, but their own weak, formulaic productions are coming back to bite them in the ass. Best thing i’ve seen this year is The Ghost Writer, and it disappeared without a trace

    I think Studios rely on blockbusters too much.And at the ends,they couldn’t get rid of that situation and people who love quality films lost faith and interest in Hollywood films.

    P.S.Thanks for the YouTube info of Kago’s performance.She sounds very good.I wish her best.She was bashed too much in here.

  • Koto | June 10, 2010 11:16 AMReply

    Great article,Anne.

    Hollywoond films used to be very popular in here Japan.But unfortunately in these days,not so much.People only see some blockbusters.I think there are several reasons for that.But some of biggest reasons are probably lack of quality of Hollywood films and too many sequels/reboots or comic hero blockbusters(and probably release date problem.We used have our own release date for films.It was good thing.Because there were plenty of time to create buzz and excitment for anticipated movies.) American comic films are normally not so popular in here.(Spiderman films are exception) And it seems like Hollywood "Star system" are not working anymore.

    At the end,it seems people just lost interest in Hollywood films.It too bad though...I think still many Hollywood films are better than many local films in here.

  • Brian | June 10, 2010 9:05 AMReply

    Oops, I'm sorry, Koto. I thought you were male because we had an intern from Japan in my office once named Koto and he was a guy. My tone wasn't meant to be serious, I was just using your post simply to promote some of my Japanese favorites. And I was quite sure you hadn't seen any Pokemon movies. I don't know any grown-ups, aside from myself and my daughter, who have. I just happen to find them more interesting and engaging than any comparable animated films for children made in the U.S. (with occasional exceptions). They're also quite visually imaginative in spots. But it is hard to get people to take them seriously.

    Thank you for your patient and tolerant response to my wild post.

    (P.S. There's a clip up on YouTube of Kago's performance at Birdland Monday night. It's called, "Ai Kago performs 'How High the Moon' at Birdland in NYC.")

  • Koto | June 10, 2010 5:17 AMReply

    @Brian..Glad to hear you love some Japanese culture.Unfortunately I didn’t see any films you mentioned. Aya Matsuura,Rika Ishikawa and Ai Kago were all popular Japanese female idols.SUKEBAN DEKA is sort of "idol movie" .The target audience are male audience.But I'm female. "KUNG FU CHEFS" is not Japanese film and not released in my country. Pokemon movies are for the kids in here.

    Btw,glad to know Ai Kago is doing fine now.I thought she was retired from the industry.I'm sure she was really pleased with your kind words.

  • Brian | June 10, 2010 3:25 AMReply

    Hey, Koto! Re: "local films" in Japan. Did you make a point of seeing SUKEBAN DEKA: CODE NAME SAKI ASAMIYA, starring the great Aya Matsuura and Rika Ishikawa when it came out in 2006? I didn't think so.

    Did you see KUNG FU CHEFS starring your national treasure Ai Kago? No? That's because she had to go to Hong Kong to make it since the Japanese pop music industry expelled her for the "crime" of being photographed with a cigarette in her hand. (She's also come to America to pursue a jazz singing career and I got to see her perform a song at Birdland here in Manhattan this past Monday night. I spoke to her afterward to make sure she knew she was always welcome here. And KUNG FU CHEFS is screening in New York this month as part of the New York Asian Film Festival. Your loss is our gain.)

    Have you seen any of the twelve Pokemon movies? They include some of the finest animated adventure movies for children I've ever seen. I would gladly trade every Pixar/Dreamwork CGI hypefest for the Pokemon movies.

  • ginger Liu | June 9, 2010 10:05 AMReply

    At last. Very cool Anne, very cool.

  • Patrick Riedy | June 9, 2010 6:12 AMReply

    Considering There Will Be Blood was based on an Upton Sinclair novel called Oil!, that is another film based on something proven in another medium. I think part of the problem is not "fanboys" taking over the medium, but a lack of blockbuster talent in hollywood as well as the rise of the media age which allows so many people who enjoy very specific things to connect and discover things together, making it very hard to produce a "blockbuster". People can absorb so much more information now because of the internet and discover new books, comics, and video games that could and in some cases should have been made into films first, but due to a lack of determination on the creators part and/or an unwillingness to take a chance on something, had to settle for a comic book or novel. Overall, attention span has shortened as well as technology enhanced, so those two together cause the spectacles you see in many popcorn movies, and it is natural to present material a viewer is familiar with because if they miss part of it they "know" the story anyway.

    But, on the other hand, the average person is unaware that certain films were first made into a comic book. For example, the average person who went to go see A History of Violence or Road to Perdition was unaware that it was based on a comic. The more enlightened movie fan will do detective work and find this out, but the average person will not. So, part of the problem is the unwillingness of people to all go see THIS one movie. Star Wars will most likely not happen again because so many people do not WANT to like what their parents and grandparents can also enjoy.

  • Crow T Robot | June 9, 2010 4:30 AMReply

    It's not just this summer. Movies are dying a fast death. In the past five years Hollywood invention has all but dried up. The geeks have won... cinema is all fanboy nostalgia. It's deja vous all over again.

    There are a few bright spots. A handful of fresh magnetic actors & crackling moments peppered throughout a movie year. But very rarely an undisputed great American film.

    (Was the last one 2007's There Will Be Blood?)

    It's not enough to justify day to day interest in the art and industry.

  • mary | June 9, 2010 4:28 AMReply

    What is the meaning of 'mediocre films'? I know that "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" sells better on DVD/Blu-ray than "Slumdog Millionaire" (even though "Slumdog Millionaire" grossed higher than "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" theatrically). Does it means that "Slumdog Millionaire" is more mediocre than "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor"?

    Truth is that adult-driven original films not only generally tend to underperform at box office; they also tend to underperform on DVD/Blu-ray market. it is why studios make fewer and fewer of them.

  • brian | June 9, 2010 3:34 AMReply

    . . . great analysis Anne, and this is exactly why DVD sales are down - who on earth would want to keep a copy of these mediocre films? Studios are concerned about lacklustre sales of DVDs, but their own weak, formulaic productions are coming back to bite them in the ass. Best thing i've seen this year is The Ghost Writer, and it disappeared without a trace

  • mary | June 9, 2010 1:59 AMReply

    Based on what I read, many hollywood studios' execs like to analysis things in very simple and conservative ways. (According to Terry Gilliam, studio execs told him that "12 Monkeys" enjoyed box office success ONLY because of Brad Pitt.)

    For the logic of hollywood studios' execs, the reason why "Iron Man 3", "Prince of Persia" and "Sex and the City 2" underperformed may only be because they are not 3D films.

    David Poland also said that Summer 2010 always looked soft from a distance because of a lack of sequels.... I guess most of studios' execs would agree with him.

    What will hollywood studios' execs learn from Summer 2010? I think they will just focus on making more sequels/reboots in 3D. (In fact, after the box office slump in 2005, Hollywood also made much fewer and fewer adult-driven original films.)

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