Diminished Expectations and the Movie Industry

Roger Ebert tweeted a link to this book excerpt than ran in the Guardian over the weekend. In it, Mark Kermode, a long time film critic, argues that the reason the movie industry continues to see diminishing returns is because no one is trying anymore:

…the film [Pearl Harbor] was a summer blockbuster, which everyone (myself included) expected to be utterly terrible before they saw it, and so no one was surprised when it turned out to be every bit as dire as predicted. But why pay to see something that you know in advance is going to be a disappointment? The truth is that, like it or loathe it, Pearl Harbor was “an event” – a film that made headlines long before the cameras turned thanks to its bloated budget, and which managed to stay in the headlines throughout its production courtesy of a unique mix of historical tactlessness, fatuous movie-star flashing (Kate Beckinsale reportedly displayed her naked bottom during a no-pants flypast – whoopee!) and, most importantly, enormous expense. Remember that story about Bay and Bruckheimer cutting their salaries? For whose benefit do you think that story was planted? And what about the account (dutifully repeated on the film’s Internet Movie Database entry) that “the after-premiere party for Pearl Harbor is said to have cost more than the production costs for Billy Elliot“. Or that “Michael Bay quit the project four times over various budgetary disputes”. Or, best of all, that “the total amount of money spent on production and promotion roughly equalled the amount of damage caused in the actual attack”.

Some key quotes, after the jump.

Every time I complain that a blockbuster movie is directorially dumb, or insultingly scripted, or crappily acted, or artistically barren, I get a torrent of emails from alleged mainstream-movie lovers complaining that I (as a snotty critic) am applying highbrow criteria that cannot and should not be applied to good old undemanding blockbuster entertainment. I am not alone in this; every critic worth their salt has been lectured about their distance from the demands of “popular cinema”, or has been told that their views are somehow elitist and out of touch (and if you haven’t been told this then you are not a critic, you are a “showbiz correspondent”). This has become the shrieking refrain of 21st-century film (anti)culture – the idea that critics are just too clever for their own good, have seen too many movies to know what the average punter wants, and are therefore sorely unqualified to pass judgment on the popcorn fodder that “real” cinema-goers demand from the movies.

This is baloney – and worse, it is pernicious baloney peddled by people who are only interested in money and don’t give a damn about cinema. The problem with movies today is not that “real” cinema-goers love garbage while critics only like poncy foreign language arthouse fare. The problem is that we’ve all learned to tolerate a level of overpaid, institutionalised corporate dreadfulness that no one actually likes but everyone meekly accepts because we’ve all been told that blockbuster movies have to be stupid to survive.

For all the bleating and moaning and carping and whingeing that we constantly hear about studios struggling to make ends meet in the multimedia age, those with the means to splash money around will always come out on top. So the next time you pay good money to watch a really lousy summer blockbuster, remember this: the people who made that movie are wallowing in an endless ocean of cash, which isn’t going to dry up any time soon. They are floating on the financial equivalent of the Dead Sea, an expanse of water so full of rotting bodies turned to salt that it is literally impossible for them to sink. They could make better movies if they wanted, and the opulent ripples of buoyant hard currency would still continue to lap at their fattening suntanned bodies. If they fail to entertain, engage and amaze you, then it is because they can’t be bothered to do better. And if you accept that, then you are every bit as stupid as they think you are.

I strongly suggest reading the whole piece. It’s worth it.

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