Being a movie fan places the viewer into an odd relationship with Hollywood: on the one hand, Hollywood is the place where your favorite art is produced and released from – cinema would not exist without it – but on the other hand, there’s an undercurrent of contempt that lingers beneath every studio and executive. To us on the outside, this manifests itself as a prevailing sense that the people responsible for movies existing could not care less about the movies themselves. It seems that almost every filmmaker who has spent time in Tinsel Town has emerged with stories about insane notes, impossible studio executives, and the labyrinthine development process, or in other words everything that gets in the way of them making the movies they want to.
But you don’t need us to dig up interviews to learn that Hollywood thinks that you, the viewer, are stupid – you just need to look at the movies.
Important Note: Just because a film is mentioned in this article doesn’t mean that the film is at all bad. You’ll see a bunch of Marvel movies pop up, and I am a raving Marvel fanboy who has enjoyed every movie they’ve produced as a studio. It’s just that, when placed in the larger context of ALL Hollywood product, patterns emerge that are troubling, even in movies that work from start to finish. So please don’t rush to the comments to yell at me because you see The Avengers or one of Nolan’s Batman’s embedded in an example – it’s all about context.
1. The Obsession With Youth
Everyone wants to feel like a kid again. We all have some happy memory of a time in their life before the pressures of the world clamped down and the dark shadow of maturity swept down. Desiring to re-experience those youthful highs is natural, if sort of unhealthy if left unattended, so naturally, a large portion of the market will be devoted to that age group and to the people who wish to be reminded of their own time in that age group.
But we’ve crossed a line in pop culture where instead of having a sub-set of movies aimed at that audience to having ALL blockbuster films designed specifically for the pre-teen and teen demographic. Right now, there is huge currency devoted to covering Young Adult fiction, toy adaptations, comic books, etc.
While we can argue about the quality of each individual film and franchise, the prevailing attitude is still troubling: Hollywood has become more and more divided, with films that seek to deal with adult themes and narratives being relegated to micro-budgets and awards runs. It seems that the only way to secure a large budget for your film these days is to cater to the toy people.
This speaks to the homogenization of the look and feel of so many movies, and why so many films, of wildly different subjects matter, seem bent on chasing the same visual style, regardless of larger considerations. How many times have you seen the grime-‘n-gritty shaky-cam look applied to action scenes? Even when the action is giant robots punching each other, the camera is shaking like a Youtube video of an alley fight. It’s all this juvenile obsession with being “dark” and “edgy” and “kewl,” which means that all films need an ironic detachment and glossy coat of malice, no matter how ludicrous or campy the initial concept. There is no reason why a film about talking cars that turn into robots that then punch other robots should have scenes of characters getting spines and faces ripped out, or have characters calling each other names you’d expect to hear over a Call of Duty live game.
But it happened. Because that’s what the kids want.
Even a raunchy comedy like this past summer’s Ted, while very funny, had nothing in it that could not be easily dubbed over for future syndication runs. More and more, movies are not designed to be good movies, they are designed to appeal to one specific market group, let all other qualities be damned. While quite a bit of it is well-made and entertaining, there’s still a sense that a new ceiling has been built in terms of thematic content and narrative types, a ceiling which cannot be burst through without sacrificing production values.
Speaking of stories…
This article was first posted on November 24, 2012