An article at Salon.com poses the question: are we suffering from “Blockbuster Fatigue”?
Jim Emerson contemplates.
1) Movies aren’t sold like they used to be, and aren’t seen like they used to be. They’re not even made like they used to be. There’s an evolution to cinema: the product, the spectator, the physical building… they all change and adapt. There are trends that come, like the current superhero blockbuster fixation (and Indiana Jones is as much a superhero as Hancock and Batman and Hellboy and Hulk), which will last only so long before fatigue sets in and something else replaces it.
2) This is the first summer, though, where blockbuster season has actually given us a plethora of *digestible* films. If you look at most of the big releases each week, Ebert’s given them 3-stars or better, and that I think is unprecedented. Now, superheroic feats can be brought to the screen with some semblance of tangible realism (and not just cartoonish CGI effects, but a greater mix of practical within the digital to create something that breathes rather than just looks cool), and with that you can tell stories with some semblance of realism. You can give superheroes to talented writers and directors and let them play in the comic book playground with less studio interference. That comes across on screen, making movies about characters rather than properties, something which the audience is going to engage more with and enjoy, and that even some of the cinematic literati will appreciate (although some of them just can’t relax enough to enjoy a good, cathartic explosion). I enjoy small dramas and documentaries etc. often as much if not more than spectacle, but I do so love a good spectacle. With most blockbuster seasons, it’s often just as easy to let a film pass by (can you even remember what the big films were last year? Two years ago?), but this year there are, for the spectacle lover, way too many good ones to pass up.
3) in comics each year for the past 22 years the major publishers Marvel and DC roll out a massive “crossover”… wherein all the various characters (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman etc) come together for some big to do, which then impacts on all their titles for, say a six month duration. They’ve taken to calling these “Event Comics” which are essentially the Summer blockbusters of the comic world, and for about two or three years now the term “event fatigue” has been bandied about comic book critics/watchdog land. I find it ironic that “blockbuster fatigue” is being coined in the summer where superheroes play the biggest part. Coincidence?
4) On the cycle of movies (also referring back to my first point), films are only meant to last for a few weeks now. All that basically matters in trumpeting a film-as-success is getting the #1 spot on opening weekend. If it holds for a second week, gravy (and if word-of-mouth carries it further, bonus). I imagine Pineapple Express might be somewhat of a failure since it couldn’t dethrone the Dark Knight and then got overshadowed by Tropic Thunder this week. But all hope is not lost, for in 3 months time, the hype machine starts up all over again as the DVDs get released, and these days, it seems like that’s where the real money is for the studios/distributors. The fact that posters languish around like an afterthought will play into sales pitch for the film’s second release come “new release Tuesday”.
5) Speaking of, (and something I’ve spoken to before) people have bought into cycles, which includes “new release Tuesday” for DVDs and music, new movie Fridays, and new comic book Wednesdays. The system has given us a schedule on when we can expect our new consumer goods and trained us to buy into these cycles. Once you get into the habit, it’s hard to break (trust me, I’ve been trying). Plus, our consumerist nature makes us want more, and we’re an easy mark, hence DVDs marketed not for the movie but deleted scenes and special features. “If you liked it in the theatres, you’ll love it on DVD”. How many films are worth watching twice? How many of us will watch a film twice (never mind commentary tracks and production featurettes)? And how many of us buy a DVD of a movie we’ve already seen only to have it languish on our shelves in their cellophane, undisturbed? I’ve got a few of those.
6) And finally, there won’t be as many people suffering from blockbuster fatigue as one might think. People who write about movies for a living and the people who read their work are a subset of the masses, and I don’t think the masses spend nearly as much time watching trailers or reading articles/reviews on-line as reviewers and cinephiles do. Most people don’t care to think so much about movies. We’re just special that way.
Just finished off blockbuster season this week with Tropic Thunder and a second viewing of The Dark Knight (triumphantly getting an IMAX viewing). Of the summer spectacles, these two handily top my list as favourites. In fact, I probably like TT more than Iron Man (the DVD for which hits September 30th, in basic and special edition). Now comes the awkward transition of switching gears from blockbuster mode to art-house and dramatic fair.
Actually, looking at the September releases, it looks like “blockbuster season” for people who don’t like blockbusters: movies based off best-selling novels (Blindness, Choke); an Americanization of a foreign film (Bangkok Dangerous); films from popular creators (Alan Ball’s Towelhead, Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna, Coen Bros. Burn After Reading); artsy acting favourites (DeNiro/Pachino in Righteous Kill, Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris in Appaloosa, Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town ); chick flicks (tedious English period piece the Duchess, Dane Cook and Kate Hudson *shudder* in My Best Friend’s Girl, Richard Gere and Diane Lane *double shudder* in Nights in Rodanthe), and escapist thriller fare (Sam Jackson in Lakeview Terrace, Shia LaBeouf in Eagle Eye).
I’m curious to see how Towelhead fares with critics, and Burn After Reading is a must see, while Miracle at St. Anna, Eagle Eye and Choke have me intrigued. Canadian favourite Don McKellar wrote the screenplay and co-stars in Blindness, but it was such a depressing novel that I’m not sure I want to see it acted out.