Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Death of Hollywood

Okay, so this is a little off-topic, but I've been hearing a whole lot recently on how Hollywood is losing money, and I thought I'd weigh in.. I originally posted this here.

What happens when Hollywood runs out of ideas? What if they already have?

Like most people, I enjoy watching movies - and growing up I've seen some great ones, and some terrible ones. Now, old enough to really think about movies, I've began to notice a trend that's ultimately made me depressed:

Where's all the originality gone?

Hollywood as an industry has been in business since the early 1920's, and they've endured some hard times and some good times. There was the Breen code from 33-52, the cinepheliacs of the 70's, and the digital onslaught that came into prominence in the 90's - and all the while, Hollywood has been behind or making some of the most successful movies of every living generation.

But now, much like in the 70's, Hollywood is suffering a crisis in audience turnout. And much like the 70's, it almost comes down to the same problem: People are bored with watching the same movies over and over. Luckily, the 70's found a way to get out of their recession because there was fresh filmmakers like Scorcese, Coppola, Spielberg, and Lucas that had new ideas and different talents to offer the industry.

But that was 30 years ago, and this is today. Almost every conceivable genre has been done or attempted, so there's nothing really new that film can offer audiences in terms of genre - but that will one day change, as the technology increases. I call the last one coming into prevalence was the full-length CGI films, starting with Shrek, and being followed with movies like Cars, Over the Hedge, Ice Age, and so on. And while there's some substance there, for the most part those films will appeal to the child audience, which is not the bulk of the market Hollywood is really concerned with.

It's the young 20-somethings that they're trying to catch, and it's just not happening anymore. And with the 'threat' of piracy taking away their business, Hollywood is getting desperate for cash. But I say that it's not piracy that threatens to do them in - it's their own lack of originality.

Think of the past year - there's only been 1 or 2 really memorable films that have come out, ones that are worth watching again and again and talking about over and over. All the others are easily forgettable, and rightfully so. Myself, I can only think of one film that I really enjoyed and wouldn't forget for anything. All the others that immediately spring to mind are either from the previous year, or foreign.

The film I remember clearly is M. Night Shayamalan's film, Lady in the Water. I know, I know. It got bad reviews, and most people hated it - not myself. I loved it on many levels, but I can respect it and it stands out because it's been so vastly different than anything else that came out this year. And although it's not my favourite film, it's up there.

But beyond that, Hollywood simply isn't willing to take risks on films. There's undoubtedly fantastic ideas for films that are just waiting to be approved for financing, but will never see the light of the camera lens. Why? What happened?

Sequels happened, for one. Now more than ever when we go to the theatre we are convoluted with the same theme played out over and over, such as in the case with Saw 3, X-Men 3 (and now coming with TWO more sequel/prequels), Open Water 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 2, The Butterfly Effect 2, and so on. It's the same formula, every time: There's a good idea in the original (Saw, X-Men, Pirates of the Caribbean) and suddenly Hollywood's desperate attempt to cash in commences. I can handle the marketing, the action figures, the weird/interesting paraphernalia, and the usually bad trailers - but honestly, I don't want to go see it happen again, unless the movie was specifically designed to be more than one (like Lord of the Rings, which even then had some shortcomings in the sequels). It's because usually the sequels are trash, just good graphics with an awful storyline. I don't want to drop 10 more dollars on a bad sequel - not when I could just download it, for example.

That brings me to my next point. Downloading and sharing movies has gained momentum like wildfire over the last few years, causing Hollywood execs to sweat - and now they're pouring money into anti-piracy campaigns and ridiculous lawsuits. While it's important to keep things in perspective there, it's not the only thing Hollywood should focus on - what about developing new filmmakers? What about taking some risks that put them back in the fast lane in the 70's? The focus is no longer on making a quality product - it's just protecting their cashflow - god forbid they ever lose a small amount of money amiss their (still) gigantic profit margin. But what else?

Ads and inflation of prices. Ads are annoying as hell - when I go to the theatre, I don't want to sit through 15, 20, sometimes 30 minutes of ads before the film starts. I can handle the previews for new movies - after all, that's clever marketing to an appropriate audience - and those are at least generating justifiable hype. But what do I care about shoes, or Coke, or other crap? I already shelled out 10 bucks for the ticket, if I want to keep going and watching movies I can't afford to keep buying all the stuff they hawk on me before the film. Besides, if you're a purist like me, there's no damn way you're getting up until that film's over. Cause you know you'll miss the best part. Besides, I paid money, and I'm going to get the best bang for my buck. I didn't pay to see the concession stand lines. This is the same reason I've never walked out of a film or fell asleep during one. I didn't pay 10 bucks for a nap or a drive home. No matter how torturous the movie is, I'll be there through the end crawl. And of course, price is a huge factor. Gone are the days you could pay 4 bucks and watch a film. Now it's 8-10 bucks minimum (except at small independent theatres). Why pay that much when you can watch it for free at home? And DVDs... unless you know where to look, some solo DVDs top out at 40 bucks or more - and the majority still takes a 20 out of your wallet. And don't get me started on Box sets (hence, the sequel marketing). And director's cuts, extended editions, special editions, blah blah blah. None are worth it unless the film is fantastic.

I'm sure by now I sound like a hateful person - but no. In fact, it's my aspirations to work in the industry making films, but I'm still just in the beginning (film school). But even here, we're being watered down to be inserted into the industry with little resistance to its setup. And while many fall with ease, there's a few of us that resist. I resist because I believe the industry needs to be rejuvenated. When people start refusing to make such crap movies that have been done over and over, there's a chance for change.

The only question is how far will the industry fall before it starts to realize what it needs is fresh ideas? The industry is notorious for not changing anything until they absolutely have to. So until then, prepare to see a ton of bad movies, poorly conceived sequels, and Hollywood wondering how piracy is ruining their industry still.

-Mark Drewe, student filmmaker

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