As the sun sets on another blockbuster season, we come to the end of our look at summer 2013’s film offerings. Many critics claim this summer to be one of the worst yet, and rarely has a single season produced such a vast number of critical and commercial bombs.
So what happened?
Blame critics themselves, in part, for shying people away from the Cineplex with jaded, overly harsh critiques of films that didn’t deserve the lambasting they got. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes, which dilute critical analysis into a trivial percentage, are what kept a good number of people home this summer. Their system hasn’t left any room for “okay” or “decent” films to find an audience, no shades of gray to be found within the positives and negatives of a film in their eyes. Take The Lone Ranger, a film flawed but decently enjoyable by most standards. That film should’ve been a breakout hit due to Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski’s continued vision for what a Disney adventure movie is all about, and yet, critics’ moping destroyed the film’s chances of finding an audience.
Moreso however is that many of the films this summer simply didn’t provide anything special or worth talking about. Man of Steel, the big winner of the summer and well liked by most, nonetheless had a very vocal minority that contested the film’s creative liberties, creating enough talking points to get people previously uninterested, or even people who’d already seen the film, heading back to the theater to see it. In contrast, lackluster films like R.I.P.D. or Pacific Rim provided audiences with nothing they hadn’t seen before.
Such is common in today’s highly competitive box office climate – a film will do solid business in its opening weekend, but without enough enthusiastic word-of-mouth, no one will bother with the film in the coming weeks, and by that time the theaters will already be stocked with the next big blockbuster. Deserving films like After Earth or Now You See Me, for example, were quickly buried and forgotten about in the weeks following their opening, an overstuffed schedule of studio tentpoles killing their chances at success.
It’s a sign that perhaps Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the granddaddies of the modern blockbuster, may have been right when they recently predicted the meltdown of the film industry. At a panel discussion, the filmmakers revealed how difficult it was to turn their respective films Red Tails and Lincoln into wide releases, and claimed that someday the theaters would become a costly, $50-per-ticket, “opera” experience, while artier films like Lincoln, which Spielberg revealed was very nearly an HBO film, would only have a home on VOD and TV services.
Clearly, when even the top two most powerful figures in Hollywood are struggling to get a movie off the ground, something is wrong with the system.
In a way, theaters have already responded to slumping box office numbers – IMAX and 3D films give audiences experiences they can’t get at home. And yet, my Erie Reader editor pointed me towards an interesting article on Esquire arguing that this has led to movies becoming more like roller coaster rides. The article cites Pacific Rim’s mediocre storytelling as a prime example of blockbusters shifting their focus from substance to style. I disagree to an extent; while there’s certainly something to be said of studios largely using 3D and IMAX as a mere gimmick to boost ticket sales, Hollywood has almost always favored style over substance. We live in a world where the Transformers series, a trilogy of three-hour-long toy commercials with a fourth on the way, are a billion-dollar enterprise. And like any business, Hollywood is just catering to what the masses respond to.
Personally, I’d like to think that the blockbuster isn’t dying, but evolving. This summer could prove a wake-up call for studios to halt excessive spending ($250 mil for The Lone Ranger alone) and devote more time developing the heart and soul of a movie rather than its action sequences. As any filmmaker will tell you, there’s far more emotional power in a single shot of silence than in a whole lineup of shots boasting continuous, ear-piercing explosions.
But it’s up to us to think for ourselves, see the films we believe to be of a certain quality, and tell studios what we want more of and what we could do without. Art, entertainment, or artful entertainment, the power to choose is in our hands.
This article was intended for publish on the ERIE READER website.