The following op was featured in iMAGES on Sunday, Sunday January 16. 2011. Below is the unedited version.
Times, They are a Changin’
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
The signs have foretold, and they do not look good – at least for routinely churned out formula-fodders. As cinema unfurls into the second decade of the second millennium, it may be time for the studios to wise-up their game. Did people start listening to movie reviews and decided to steer clear of disastrous flicks or has premium 3-D ticket prices made us a little wiser with our cash? So begins the search for original, or at the least intelligent, entertainment. Film’s are still good business. The tickets – even with premium hikes – are cheaper than Disney land, but no one is willing to go to movies that boast the seminal promise of a timewaster. There just isn’t money to throw anymore.
This is a time when talking animals (“Marmaduke”, “Cats and Dogs 2”) are as bad – or weak – a business as romantic-comedies (eg. $120 million bomb “How Do You Know” starring Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd).
One look at this week’s numbers tells a complete story. The hyped Jack Black retrofit “Gulliver’s Travels”, opened at peak Christmas season and slipped to number 7 at the U.S. charts with a disappointing $15 million.
Other genre-tested casualties were “The A-Team” – macho male action based on popular television series; no-need-for TV remakes, “Sex and the City 2”; spy-thrillers with big-name cast and wishy-washy screenwriting – “The Killers” (Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl), “Knight & Day” (Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz) and “The Tourist” (Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie).
Yet, sometimes stupidity prevails, if only by hype. Two of the year’s worse-reviewed movies “The Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender” have climbed, if cent-by-cent, to over $300 million in worldwide tally. Clash’s sequel, dubbed “Wrath of the Titans” will hit theatres 2012 as part of a trilogy, continuing the sequelitis bug.
The bug also maintained numbers for “Iron Man 2”, “Twilight: Eclipse”, despite universal audience panning.
Suddenly everyone is into “original” or “originally-told” stories.
Heavy internet piracy aside, “Inception” the brain-boggling dream-invasion thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, budgeted at a hefty $160 million scraped almost $826 million worldwide. Mr. DiCaprio’s other release, “Shutter Island”, a darker psychological study of deception and scheme with near-yearly collaborator Martin Scorsese made nearly $300 million of an $80 million budget.
With the obliteration of risk-taking independent-minded specialty units like “Warner Independent”, “Paramount Vantage” and “Miramax”, it has become studio responsibility to churn-out an intelligent work-slate – at least in time for the year’s Oscar season.
“The Social Network” by Sony Pictures on creation and disputes between Facebook’s creators is the rare award-season favorite that struck gold; it is from a near-extinct species of dialogue-dramas that reminds of a time when the spoken words and a grappling account counted for audience turnout. An instant, if distant, comparison is “A Few Good Men” (starring Tom Cruise written by “Social Network” writer Aaron Sorkin) which dealt with big issues – death by cruel army practices – with only words and Jack Nicholson as ammunition.
But it’s not only intelligently written words that break the deal. Big budget franchises are getting headstrong creative choices.
Zach Snyder is gearing up a “Superman” reboot with Christopher Nolan for Warner Bros. Sony’s “Spider-Man” reboot is being directed by Mark Webb, whose lone credit is the critical favorite “(500) Days of Summer”.
Another change in pattern is the blurring lines between live action and animation directors. Paramount’s “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is helmed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”); Pixar is producing Edgar Rice Burroughs sci-fi adventure “John Carter of Mars” for Andrew Stanton (“Wall-E”, “Finding Nemo”) and Sony is setting “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller for a remake of “21 Jump Street”.
As things change every decade, the one we’re currently riding will decide how well these choices had come into play. With almost everyone armed with “Facebook” and “Twitter” – two free social media hubs that have become prime focus for any marketing strategy in today’s almost virtually-connected world, the feedback process has become instantaneous and sometimes overwhelming to the studio machine. It’s just a matter of time and fine-tuning before we start seeing results.
The published version can be found at: