Over the years, I’ve grown rather tired of blockbusters. I feel like we choose to give these money machines a pass just so we can continue to see our favorite characters in new stories (or re-hashes, but let’s not tackle that yet). We have an old SOTNU (State of the Nerd Union) podcast where we thoroughly explored the topic of prequel, reboot and sequel quality. But I want to tackle what I feel is the root cause of it all: the modern or “summer” blockbuster movie model. I put emphasis on the word “summer” since that version of the blockbuster didn’t take off until Jaws hit the scene in 1975. There had been other hits, high grossing movies, but it wasn’t until Jaws was released that studios were more willing to pour money and ad dollars into a summer film. Along with another summer juggernaut two years later, Star Wars in 1977, the summer blockbuster was here to stay.
This is certainly not to dog out the two films mentioned above. Because of those films, we received some quality gems throughout the years like the Indiana Jones series, Terminator, Jurassic Park, E.T., Back to the Future among some other greats. But let’s consider for a moment what crap we have to deal with in order to get to those amazing films. For every Jaws, there’s a Shark, Orca, Tintorera, Blood Beach, Great White, and even more blatant rip offs (That’s just a sampling of the killer shark genre, there was plenty more where that came from). And these are just the B or C movies. We haven’t even covered original movies that were complete and utter crap even though they were trying to create something new.
Do you remember Leviathan? There were a lot of underwater sci-fi movies that year so I’ll understand if you had trouble sorting through the garbage (DeepStar Six, The Evil Below, Lords of the Deep, and The Rift). They dragged Peter Weller, (hmm…maybe dragged isn’t the right word given his film work history.) Daniel Stern and Ernie Hudson into this stinker which was like a combination of The Abyss and it’s deep sea exploration with the horror of Alien, but done poorly and set on fire. As of this post, this film is so bad, Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t even have the correct information up for it, check it out here and then compare that synopsis with Wikipedia.
If the poor performance would doom these films in, that would be the end of it, but the crap just keeps rolling in. The plots continue to use the same clichés to cheat and cut down on time without giving us well rounded characters or a good understanding of why we should care. The acting is usually pretty cardboard cut-out with these films, although: it can be a combination of bad writing, actor performance, and a good dose of apathy. Production values are usually rushed in quite a few of these rip-off films just to make sure they can release during the summer schedule. Again, you could still lump the movies I listed above in the B or C movie category. These films would be in my crap pile, but not because they are bad, but simply because we didn’t expect much from them in the first place.
If those are known offenders, let’s talk about the more subtle ones; the mediocre: this list could get pretty extensive. Suffice it to say, most of these would be one-shot films, like most of Roland Emmerich’s flicks (The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla) which had a few successes with Stargate or Independence Day, but those flicks largely survive because of their impressive CGI and technical achievement, not because they are blowing you away with their dialogue.
These films are still championing major studio money and they do so because we keep going to watch these travesties. (Seriously, I feel like I’m going to run out of adjectives to describe these horrid pictures before I complete this series) Disaster films, for example, thrive off the fear of the current generation, like the aforementioned Day After Tomorrow and add in 2012, San Andreas, and so on. These movies only have to exist to make money. Don’t believe me, okay, consider this step by step guide to create a mediocre blockbuster:
Pick the right headlining actor, like say Tommy Lee Jones. Next, make sure you cover a general fear humans have, like a volcano in the middle of LA. Throw in some scientific mumbo jumbo from a scientist chick or dude who is opposition to the lead or slightly attracted to them. Finally, and this is most important, place one of their family members (Lead or supporting actor? It really doesn’t matter) in jeopardy along with exposing or confronting marital or relationship issues and you will make $100 million easily. So, I’m not sure if you noticed, but I just described the plot of Volcano and at least 50 movies released in the last 10 years, if not more. That volcanic disaster was made on a budget of $90 million and made $122 million gross. Not the best example, but there are better ones: Like the two Emmerich films I mentioned above. Tomorrow was made on a budget of $125 million and made $544 million gross. 2012 was made on a budget of $200 million and made a whopping $769 million.
Think about that for a second….these horrendous ideas that are not worth the paper they were printed on made hundreds of millions in profit….these are not jewels of the cinematic world. We will not be calling these actors names up to the Oscar stage for these films. They will be forgotten as soon as they leave the multiplex or at least until we find a reason to rag on them. But for that brief period of time they existed or held the spotlight, they made money and boatloads of it. We continue to allow ourselves and others to be duped by these flash pan money grabs. It’s rather hard to critique the failings of some beloved or okay films when we are still throwing money at bad films.
What incentive are we currently giving Hollywood when we complain about the quality of one film, but others are chomping at the bit to see the newest Transformers, knowing darn well that the last one had no discernible reason to exist other than to make some new lip moving Optimus toy? Until there’s more backlash over the quality of these films, nothing is going to change. I still have a whole list of problems with the current state of Hollywood and the modern blockbuster. But we’ll get into that more next time.