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Indie Producer Blog

August 2009

NoBudgetFilmSchool Written by NoBudgetFilmSchool
Aug. 5, 2009 | 2:06 AM

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Say Goodbye To Good

GI Crap!Is this the beginning of the end of “good” movies? Paramount Pictures arrogantly announced this week that it will not make its huge tentpole movie “G.I. Joe” available for critics before it opens this weekend.  Usually that’s a move studios reserve for clunkers that they intend to wam-bam opening night audiences with and then leave them high and dry, not a strategy for $175 million dollar mega-action films.  But after the success of the sequel to “Transformers,” which opened six weeks ago and has already earned more than $388 million in the U.S., studios are realizing they don’t need critics for their biggest movies.  You see, the “Transformers” sequel got pitiful reviews—a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes—and that didn’t seem to do a bit of damage to its box office gross.  “Joe,” which Paramount must imagine will experience a similar critical fate, doesn’t need the critics, according to the studio.  They’re doing special screenings at Army bases and targeting the Heartland with their special-effects laden, sword-and-machine gun toting spectacle, (WTF?). 

The Good JoeAside from the fact that the G.I. Joe I played with as a kid, (admittedly, a million years ago), didn’t have a sword—he was a G.I. for gods sakes! he fought in the good war with a plain old rifle, and went to space in a Mercury capsule—what we’re starting to see more and more of is the studios getting exactly what they’ve always wanted:  risk-free movies.  Making movies is an incredibly dicey proposition.  There’s so many elements that are put into play, so many variables that can go wrong, and it’s just so difficult to make a good one.  It’s nearly a miracle every time a really good film comes together.  That’s not the kind of foundation enormous multi-national corporations want to bank billions of dollars on.  This is a business, you know.  They’re not in “business” to create art—that’s for poets and painters.

Only, the studios of the past somehow figured out how to do both.  If you look at the films that were nominated for Best Picture over the last 80 years, you’ll see studio movies nominated all throughout that time, at least until the last few years.  The films that studios used to risk the most money on were also the films—in many cases—that they thought were their best, and that they imagined would win over critics and garner awards at the end of the year.  But that was the old business model.  The modern studio film is a merchandise tie-in, pick the best summer opening weekend date, sequel/remake/comic book extravaganza that is calculated to play to international audiences as much or more so than to domestic, (dialogue? the less the better!).  They’re commonly made for over $150 million dollars, even over $250 million. They’re not designed to be “good” in the way you and I might define that word. The way critics or the Academy might define it.

Wait! Except that the Academy, that bastion of motion picture quality, has cratered to the studios, and for the first time in like 60 years, has doubled the number of best picture nominees to 10.  In 1939, when there were 10 best picture nominees, there were actually 10 really “good” movies—movies that aspired to something more than appealing to a 15 year old’s need to watch something blow up.  It will be interesting—and I suppose a little depressing—to see what the bottom half of the 10 best picture nominees will be this year.  Sure, there are still a couple of very talented directors out there who make big movies that are meant to be something more than loss leaders for action figures at Toys-R-Us—Chris Nolan’s “Batman” movies come to mind—but those are the exceptions that define the rule.

As the quality-minded independents get squeezed out of the marketplace, and the current wave of big-dumb movies condition new audiences to want the next wave to be even dumber—like fast food and reality TV—what’s a cinephile to do? Well, aside from perusing this website for great old movies from Hollywood’s golden years, (at places like the American Cinematheque), we can all vote with our pocketbook.  Make sure we go out—yes, leave our homes—to see indie films when they play in the theaters, while they’re still able to play in theaters.  Go see films like “The Cove,” “In The Loop,” “Humpday,” “500 Days Of Summer” and “The Hurt Locker.”  It’s not too late to keep the “good” movie alive for the next generation!

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