Talking Movies

July 14, 2019

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XVI

As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

 

Oh Disney, oh dear

Ahab has not any comfort while Naboth hath still his vineyard. Back in early 2016 I noted that we were being lied to, repeatedly and with purpose, by massive entertainment corporations using a media all too happy to shill for the sake of Hollywood glamour driving traffic numbers, and that I had been critiqueing this for almost as long as I’d been writing the blog. I was commenting then on Andrew O’Hehir’s attack on the nonsense surrounding The Force Awakens, and now Disney are at it again; re-releasing Avengers: Endgame, while it’s still playing, in a desperate attempt to beat Avatar’s ‘all-time’ record. O’Hehir said of The Force Awakens, “it’s not quite as ginormous and culture-dominating and universally beloved as Disney wants us to think it is … the idea of its bigness, is a central element of the Mouse House strategy to spin … a marketing, merchandising and entertainment empire.” Thank God for Morgan Friedman and the West Egg inflation calculator. The British National Lottery has a campaign at the moment promising to set you up for life with 10k every month for 30 years. Well, my first thought was that inflation will corrode that very badly. So to West Egg I went. Plugging in a 30 year period of relatively low inflation (1988-2018) I found that what cost $10k in 1988 would cost $21,427.27 in 2018. That is to say inflation at a low level would make 10k a year worth less than 5k in real terms by the end of 30 years. In just 8 years inflation made Avatar’s 2010 takings of $2,787,965,087 worth $3,284,278,512.18 in real terms. And yet Disney is insistent that Avengers: Endgame, with a year’s grace of inflation statistics that can’t be computed right now, and standing right now on Boxofficemojo.com at $2,774,567,541, is within spitting distance of catching Avatar. No, it’s not. It’s not within $13 million dollars, it’s over $500 million dollars away. And Avatar isn’t the most popular film of all time, because nobody wants to adjust for inflation for it either; because Hollywood can’t handle the fact that people are historically uninterested in cinema-going.  I think it is the mania of monopoly that drives Disney to such desperation and such mendacity. It’s not enough to dominate cinema takings in North America to the extent that the 5 biggest films of 2019 are Disney or part-Disney. It’s not enough to digest 20th Century Fox, now Fox cannot be allowed to have had any record; there was no success in cinema before there was Disney. Every time you hear Disney trumpeting how uber-successful everything is, remember you’re hearing a desperate plea for relevance rooted in monomaniac nervousness and think of Sally Field.

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February 3, 2016

The Great Star Wars Lie

You are being lied to, repeatedly and with purpose, by massive entertainment corporations using a media all too happy to shill for the sake of Hollywood glamour driving traffic numbers.

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I’ve been writing about this truth for almost as long as I’ve been writing this blog. A series of articles in February – April 2010 ruminated on Avatar and its reception, and I posed one very simple question back then which is even more relevant now: why is it that every blockbuster that’s released seems to break a new box-office record?

Summer 2007 was a nadir for sustained mendacity: almost a case of “Shrek 3 has the biggest ever opening weekend, beating the previous record-holder Spider-Man 3, which beat the previous record-holder Pirates of the Caribbean 2”. But now we have a new whopper on our hands: The Force Awakens. Back in 2010 I noted that banner headlines about record-breaking opening weekend box-office grosses become hilarious if you do the unthinkable, and adjust the figures for inflation. Titanic is the only film made after 1982 that makes the all-time Top 10 once you adjust for inflation.

Yet right now we are being repeatedly whacked over the head with the notion that The Force Awakens is the most popular film in the history of popularity and film. And thankfully Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com has weighed into the fray with a truly irrepressible combo of sarcasm and statistics:

If you squint and fudge in just the right light, The Force Awakens is now sorta-kinda the biggest hit in United States history, and has maybe a 50/50 shot of catching Avatar for the No. 1 global spot.

Actually, a further word on Disney’s loud crowing this week about SW: TFA having reached the status of Biggest Movie Ever. That word would be “oh no, you don’t.” If you adjust for inflation — which is, y’know, how actual economic comparisons are done — it’s not even close. According to Box Office Mojo’s seemingly reasonable calculations, The Force Awakens is now roughly the No. 21 movie of all time, well below such titles as The Lion King, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Exorcist. It will certainly climb a fair bit higher, but I’m not convinced it will earn the extra $300 million required to catch Doctor Zhivago at No. 8. And I would bet Donald Trump’s bottom dollar that it won’t get anywhere near the all-time champ, Gone With the Wind, which made almost $200 million in 1939 dollars, in a nation with less than half our current population where the typical movie ticket cost less than a quarter.

The new Star Wars is a big movie, for sure. But it’s not quite as ginormous and culture-dominating and universally beloved as Disney wants us to think it is. The bigness of TFA, or at least the idea of its bigness, is a central element of the Mouse House strategy to spin Star Wars into a marketing, merchandising and entertainment empire.

death_star_trench

 

Since he wrote that piece The Force Awakens has climbed up to reach 11 on the all-time list, but is still nearly 200 million shy of catching Doctor Zhivago. It would need to double its gross to date to topple Gone with the Wind… But what does it all betoken?

O’Hehir sees deep cynicism in The Force Awakens’ marketing style of lying constantly about record-breaking popularity. Back in 2010 I wrote that the obsession with opening weekends was a betrayal of proper cultural criticism, never mind the lasting quality of the film feel the quantity of its inflated takings, and was actually lobotomising cinema. 2007’s summer of the threequel proved enough eye candy and CGI could, combined with a huge PR push, generate a staggering opening weekend; which word of mouth would then collapse precipitously. I hoped Avatar had firmly thrashed the media and studio obsession with opening weekends by starting slow, not breaking any records, being almost dismissed as a failure for that, but then, when its takings didn’t collapse but remained constant week after week, being trumpeted as a phenomenon. But then Shutter Island was hailed as Scorsese’s most successful opening weekend, and Tim Burton’s Alice the most successful 3-D film opening weekend.

Now I think that nothing is ever going to change this hyperbolic approach, because, even more than the cynicism O’Hehir identifies, I believe it betokens desperation. Adjusting for inflation raises the extremely uncomfortable truth for Hollywood that people are historically uninterested in cinema-going, no matter how many sensational headlines about record box-office business are fed out like so much pigswill.

I called for a ruthless insistence that Avatar’s box-office gross be discounted for inflation, because it hadn’t even dented the actual all-time Top 10. But now I think the best approach is mockery. The Force Awakens’ need to scream from the rooftops how popular is it is no less pathetic than Betamax’s plaintive advertisement in the 1980s reminding people it was still in the game. If you were really ginormous, culture-dominating and universally beloved you wouldn’t need to tell people you were quite so much.

Cinema is no longer as important as it once was. The archetypal Saturday night movie memorably recounted by Gus Van Sant on the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, where the entire high school rocked up to the cinema because that’s what you did on Saturday night before anything else you might get up to, is long vanished. No amount of hype will bring that world back, just like no amount of fraud can hide the fact you can’t buy a house for the same price your parents did because of inflation, and that inflation didn’t magically not affect cinema tickets too.

Every time you hear The Force Awakens being trumpeted as uber-successful, so much winning it would make Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen tired of winning, remember you’re hearing a desperate plea for relevance rooted in insecurity. And think of this.

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