Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Summertime Boo-Hoo-Hoos

My new issue of Premiere magazine arrived in today’s mail. On the cover are, in the remaining moments of their disposal fame are Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott and Jessica Simpson, all smiling without a care in the world or a single thought in their collectives heads as they promote the big screen adaptation of The Dukes of Hazzard.

It made all warm and misty-eyed in nostalgic memories of the good ol’ days…when Nero played while Rome burned.

The American movie box office is facing the biggest slump in the last twenty years.

“Box office? A pox office is more like it! No wonder people are staying away!”

There’s no need to play the funeral dirge just yet. The studios are not hurting. They are making money…just not as much as they would like. The bottom line is that there has been no growth at all in this year’s ticket sales at the movies. The awful truth is simple: The salad days are over. (Remember when everyone was rich and prosperous and we did nothing but eat salad all day?) The industry has peaked. Theaters filled to the brim with butts in seats are becoming a thing of the past.

Naturally, there are denials from the industry. They think that there will be a big turnaround at any given moment, ignorantly pining their hopes on a single miracle movie to rescue them from doom and, most of all, save their phony-baloney jobs.

Return of the Sith will bring ‘em all back, you’ll see. Oh. Okay, then Batman Begins.
Right...War of the Worlds! Ha! Ha! Spielberg won’t let us down! Wait a minute… What the hell is Tom Cruise doing? Oh my God! Somebody shut him the hell up, for Chrissakes! He’s killing us! Oprah, tell him to sit down!”

Just as in politics, there are excuses, back pedalings and fingers-a-pointin’ in every direction as everyone is running for cover for the executions, showbiz style, are definitely on the horizon. Oh, blood is going to flow all right and no one-not one goddamn single solitary soul is going to admit their mistakes. The firings, management restructurings and cutbacks that are going to occur are just the beginning of the end of the American cinema as we know it today. Everyone is going to suffer except for those in charge. Like I said, just like in politics.

It doesn’t take Steven Hawking to figure this mess out.

For one thing, the product is absolutely piss poor. This summer’s schedule is filled with supposedly “sure things” and “proven formulas”, which are bringing down the industry as a whole. By playing it safe, the studios believe that audiences just want the same old thing over and over again. No less than 15 movies released this season are either sequels, remakes or adaptations from TV or comic books. Sure, it’s summer and lighter fare rules this time of year. But the public is being barraged with the tried and true and, for the most part, they ain’t buying it.

These TV adaptations have got to go. The rule of thumb is that these movies are old pre-sold as they ride in on the coattails of the original series’. But the well has run dry. Sight unseen, I can tell you that Bewitched is going to stink up the place and Nicole Kidman with be 0 for 2 after last year’s wretched Steprford Wives disaster, not to mention the potentially fastest career slide in recent history by Will Ferrell. Who is the Brainiac who greenlit The Honeymooners with Cedric the Entertainer? Did anyone ask for this at all? What’s next- Ralph Fiennes and Steve Buscemi as Amos 'n Andy with Stellan Skarsgaard as Kingfish? Even worse has to be the aforementioned Dukes of Hazzard, a rotten TV show transformed into an absolute waste of money, celluloid, time and, more importantly, gasoline. Again, I’m just projecting. I do know that the three “stars” of this dungball are the absolute nadir of the entertainment industry. Thank you, MTV for helping ruin society as we know it. If it wasn’t for you, this trio would be in the porn industry where they belong.

The public is burning out on talent faster than ever. (See the Will Ferrell snide remark above) Anybody remember Jude Law? I’m sure even Sean Penn’s forgotten who he is by now. There are other thespians in the directory, you know. (No, not Rosie O’Donnell…)
And the time is NOW for a goddamn salary cap.

Perhaps the most grievous crime the Hollywood community commits on itself is the reliance on the short term, mainly the first weekend’s grosses. Let a picture build, oh, I don’t know…word of mouth perhaps and let the audience discover it on its own. Ever hear of a little movie called My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Relying on the opening blurs everything else. Cinderella Man had the potential to be this year’s Seabiscuit with some of the best reviews of the year, but once it opened to only halfway decent attendance, it was immediately written off as a disaster and the studio backed away from it like it had leprosy. (Of course, it didn’t help when Russell Crowe threw a phone at that hotel clerk’s face either. Bad boy, Russell. As punishment, you go sit on the couch next to Tom.)

Pardon the pun, but the industry has to start looking at the big picture. Releasing a film to DVD and video immediately damages the product. Ray was in stores less than three months after release and it did reasonably well in theaters. It probably would have made just as much if the home release was delayed a few more months. Audiences aren’t as stupid as they think. They took notice, especially those who paid big bucks at the multiplex when saved money by owning a copy for themselves.

Unfortunately, there’s no going back after this. Some studios have announced they will release some of their pictures in theaters and DVD the same day. They are screwing theater owners even more than they are now. They are the reason why everything cost so much at the movies. The theaters make barely anything from tickets since the studios take such a big cut. This is why popcorn costs an arm and a leg. Two arms if you want butter.

But there are too many screens out there as it is. Multiplexes with up to 18-24 screens cannot keep up at this rate. There’s not enough product and too much empty space Closures are eminent. Audiences are staying home because the experience isn’t what it used to be. Technology is better than ever for the most part and there is no bleed through from the cinema next door (unless you live in a crappy apartment building like moi.) Sadly, the images are getting acceptably smaller too with DVD players in SUVs and the like. Soon you’ll be able to download Lawrence of Arabia to your phone. Wouldn’t David Lean be proud? Oh, Brave New Suckass World.

The world is changing and the movie industry isn't. So let the death knell be sounded. The end has just begun.
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