Parlor Talk: Renovating Hollywood
Hollywood used to be the biggest game in town. Now, it’s being threatened by upstart revolutionary television on platforms like Netflix and Hulu and, in order to regain its power and stature, needs to seek novel content to compete with the upsurge of streaming. Storming to the movie theater is often a vindication of creative license rather than an excuse to pander to aged nostalgia. We should invent new franchises rather than cashing out because of licensing agreements that lead to an endless cycle of permutations on the same theme. Often there are ways of making old ideas neoteric. Simultaneously, the lack of fortitude and courage to market original projects is a harbinger of a self-fulfilled cycle of hackneyed degradation of the entire industry. Some examples of adventurous projects that failed at the box office because they weren’t appended to an existing franchise include Alita: Battle Angel among others and mild disappointments such as Ready Player One. In this cutthroat climate where the bottom dollar is the top dog, it is inevitable that the mélange of franchises that already exist overpopulate the scene because it fetches a guaranteed return on investment rather than an endangered originality that might not sell. Nevertheless, just marvel at the success of movies like Avatar and Titanic--two of the highest grossing films of all-time--because they involved huge expenditures on concepts that were not battle tested and didn’t originate from any provenance of former revenue. The longevity of these two James Cameron pictures and the success of upstart franchises like The Matrix showcase that the right kind of originality catered to critical acclaim and bolted to a merchandisable product with a zesty plot line could be the future of box office bonanzas.
Wouldn’t it be a welcome sight in Hollywood if the ethos of the 1990s and early 2000s were resurrected and the most creative science fiction ploys or historical dramas upstaged the perennial presence of the intermittent Fast & Furious retreads that ingeminate the world with more flashy action scenes to appease an international audience without being bold enough to create something perdurable in the imagination? Hollywood often doesn’t gamble with blockbusters anymore much to the chagrin of many people who grew up in the heyday of inventive cinema. At some point, just garbling the world with an explosion of CGI and a candid attempt to recreate the stories of our youth might endanger the vitality of the industry. Although box office revenues remain stable, this past year has been paltry for Hollywood in terms of domestic ticket sales because of a dearth of fresh offerings beyond the clenches of the behemoth of Marvel. This is not an objection to Disney in particular, which is known for its extensive content licensing. Among the major studios, however, they have the most to gain from Star Wars, Marvel and Indiana Jones while some studios like Warner Brothers have shelved many Batman movies instead of pushing them to the front of the long line to usher in new conceptual movies. From a business standpoint, Disney might outfox its competition because of content licensing. Eventually, some studios that might not have as many titles to play with should greenlight audacious auteurs that seek to rivet with blockbusters rather than just the sluggish dramas that seeks accolades from critics rather than a supernal outcome to enrich the human imagination.
Should we produce films for lucre? Or should we push people to make films that make slightly less money so that the stream we can shoulder becomes more variegated and enables the film industry to avoid inevitable domestic declines in revenue because of Netflix? Hollywood might endanger its own profit margin by being too conservative with its offerings and — besides the bonanza of Avengers: Endgame — the rest of the domestic movie industry is lagging behind its former trajectories witnessed at the peak of box office sales in the mid-2000s by about 20% of the retinue that formerly lionized the theaters for the heady rush of new wave content. With Netflix, we face the peril of obsolescence of the movie-going experience for the convenience of at-home box office services and of course the parlous piracy that rampantly embezzles a huge share of the box office gross from the shelves of many industrious titans that seek to swoon a now global audience.
One thing that needs to remain clear to all moviegoers is that Hollywood is an international enterprise. The introduction of the Chinese cinema market puts restrictions on creative license because of the Mandarin political censorship of cinema. Hollywood is facing a potential crisis if they don’t stop pandering just for one market which will one day exceed the United States market if the current growth of the box office continues at the same pace it has this year. We shouldn’t truckle to the ideas of muttered tropes of the hackneyed variety just to appease the Chinese. We should try to be audacious like the Wachowski Sisters with their collection of upstart hits such as The Matrix Trilogy and V for Vendetta. Both of those franchises took major risks including the bowdlerization of content faced in a globalized sphere of commerce and succeeded valiantly in their mission to trailblaze a revived ethos of Hollywood. We need courage rather than timidity and we need to applaud Hollywood for their service to humanity in proselytizing the world to the Anglophonic language. Simultaneously, however, we must admonish them that China’s heavy-handed censorship might result in subpar messaging in the newest batch of films greenlit for worldwide distribution while pursuing the lucrative game of trying to clamber the charts of critical acclaim for originality rather than use the overwrought pastiche of the former games that have become wearisome because they are too often replicated.
The laziness endemic to Hollywood—especially the studios that have a huge menagerie of lucrative licensing agreements—needs to find remediation by the thrust of inventive filmmaking by encouraging new auteurs to experiment with the business of the blockbuster to make films more sizzling rather than vapid. To achieve this laudable enterprise, we should petition the film industry to be inventive with blockbusters rather than just gamble with low-budget saturation of slow lugubrious drama films that often harp on the same themes of social justice just to appease the Academy in order to win awards. Although the number of original dramas continues to proliferate, there is some part of me that yearns for the barrage of childhood action thrillers and science fiction movies that soared above pedestrian expectations with methodical calculation and supererogatory investment in cinematography to achieve the highest standards of filmmaking. Wouldn’t you like to see more watershed movies like The Matrix pivot Hollywood in competition with shows like Black Mirror and other vanguard content rather than seeing another remake of an older film with a loyalist audience that ensures financial viability but simultaneously guarantees a relative dearth of innovation? I believe many people look back fondly to the gambit of originality behind some of the most successful and critically acclaimed blockbusters of all-time. We should encourage more gambles in the art of blockbusters rather than just feeding a bunch of sententious dramas for a histrionic stage that underwhelm because they are lowborn and cheap to make. This has been a year predominated by Déjà vu at the box office with scores of remakes and reiterative franchises and that is a clear signal we are headed in the wrong direction. We should be more resourceful in finding new content rather than become lazy with guaranteed loyalty to subpar films that are in subtle decline because of international pressures. Overall, we need more originality in Hollywood so that the movie-going experience can survive the onslaught of Netflix.