Movies Made to Satisfy Expectations

19 01 2012

We rented Cowboys & Aliens. My experience was much the same as with many Hollywood blockbusters: the first act is quite good, suggesting interesting characters and unique situations to come. In the second act, everything quickly devolves into familiar clichés. By the third act I don’t care anymore. Cowboys & Aliens followed this pattern with a vengeance, weaving tired stereotypes in with the familiar clichés and piling on the unearned dramatic payoffs in the final scenes. This movie was not made to challenge or surprise, but to go exactly where the viewer expects it to go. I guess people like that. It’s certainly a good formula for making money. But, no one will remember this movie in five years. The memorable movies are always the ones with surprises.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been thinking about the disproportionate effect a small number of billionaires has on our politics. This movie got me thinking, could the same be said of big-time producers and our culture? A handful of names crop up over and over in producer credits; Brian Grazer, Jerry Bruckheimer, Steven Spielberg, etc. Could there be a tiny cabal of producers who constantly give us the same movie, dressed up with different actors and sets?Are they restricting us to a diet of easy, familiar stories, when we could be consuming inspired, challenging surprises?

Well, not really. I looked at the top grossing movies of 2011, and didn’t find any big prevalence of my producer cabal. Most of the movies have half a dozen producers I’ve never heard of. If I was a diligent researcher I would look at top earning movies of the past 10-20 years, and track producers, directors, and studio executives, but I prefer to guess based on my initial shoddy search. My guess is, there are too many people involved in making movies to assign all the influence to the top dozen recurring names.

Anyway, there’s a big difference between politics and movies. Surprising, challenging movies get made all the time. Quality movies are out there for anyone inclined to do a little searching. (For sci-fi fans, I suggest Primer, Ink, Monsters, and Attack the Block, to start with.) They don’t tend to get big-studio funding or mainstream promotion, and maybe that’s wrong, but they also aren’t made to appeal to the lowest common denominator, which seems to be the focus of the big studio mechanisms. Anyway the big studios will only become less relevant as digital streaming continues to shrink their profit margins, and the technology of movie making becomes cheaper and more accessible.

So, a moviegoer can always go look for a better movie. Politics don’t work that way. We all have to live by the same laws of the land. We don’t all agree on what those laws should be, but no one gets to pick and choose which ones apply to their own life. So in a free, civil society, we negotiate and compromise. Unfortunately the bad billionaires are busy distorting those laws in their favor.

I can hear David Koch right now: “If you don’t like it, move to France!” No David, you’re the one who should move away if you can’t abide the little people having any influence.




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