Okay, it’s been a few months since I last stopped by here to write. Anybody who follows me even a little bit knows that this is standard procedure. It’s not that I haven’t seen more movies worth writing about–far from it. Life just seems to have its own way of taking over your time. Kids go back to school, work picks up, I do stupid things like start writing a novel (well, okay, more like a novella, but whatever), and on and on.
This morning during my usual social media rounds I read two articles about what I considered to be at least interesting movies: Cloud Atlas and Rise of the Guardians. Both of these were being labelled as flops, which really floored me. Cloud Atlas was a stunningly wonderful movie, with a story that could truly be described as “epic” and an unparalleled cast doing amazing things with their craft. I almost missed out on this movie, actually, having not heard much about it ahead of time. I may not be the best judge of marketing successes lately, though–I don’t read the papers, I don’t subscribe to magazines, and I don’t watch broadcast television (tv ads having previously been my main source for news about upcoming movies and other entertainment items). But one night, my husband and I were looking for something to do, and I checked out the current movie schedule. The description didn’t grab me, but boy, the trailer did! Plus, it starred Tom Hanks, who truthfully can do no wrong in my book. We went, we saw, we loved. It was absolutely the best movie I’ve seen since Inception, which gives you a LOT of insight into the kinds of movies I enjoy.
The article on Cinema Blend that caught my attention this morning was about the annual tradition of compiling “best of” and “worst of” lists for the year nearly finished. Time magazine had apparently gotten an early start, labeling Cloud Atlas as one of the worst films of the year. Never mind the fact that it had a breathtakingly epic story, beautiful cinematography, and an unstoppable cast: Tom Hanks, of course, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Broadbent among others. And never mind that it was written (well, adapted) and directed by the Wachowski siblings, of Matrix fame. Apparently it didn’t do too well at the box office, so it’s a flop.
Next on my morning list, I was reading about Rise of the Guardians. While I’m not a tremendous supporter of Dreamworks, they’ve been getting better over the years. My family and I really enjoyed Despicable Me, for example, and even Madagascar 3, which is where I saw the trailer for Guardians. I knew absolutely nothing about this movie, having never even heard of it before that very moment. At first glance, the trailer was playing like an animated version of Tooth Fairy–you know, that awful, awful movie starring the Rock? Yay for more mindless “family” fodder. Except it wasn’t just another rehash of your childhood’s imaginary friends; it looked to be a true re-imagining, a behind-the-scenes look at characters you only thought you knew. And then, the name: Guillermo del Toro. I was hooked. Count. Me. In. To have gone from ambivalent to excited in just under a minute is no mean feat, but Guardians pulled it off.
But again, the news this morning painted a bleak picture. Rise of the Guardians May Be A Disaster For Dreamworks Animation. That’s literally the title of the article. Because again, not enough people went to see it. So now all of a sudden people are lamenting that animated family films aren’t the guaranteed money-maker they used to be, Dreamworks is going down the tubes, blah blah blah. Maybe it should have had a Christmas Day release, maybe it shouldn’t have gone up against another Bond movie, or maybe it’s just bad. But it looks wonderful! I have yet to see it myself (I must admit, last time my husband and I went to the movies, we opted for Skyfall, in big part because we didn’t have the kids with us and we knew they wanted to see Guardians), but I’ve had friends tell me it is indeed a wonderful movie. The article here mentioned such ridiculous garbage as Alvin and the Chipmunks, which apparently raked in millions though I have no idea why, as a stark contrast to Guardians which doesn’t appear to be holding its own. [Side note: Hasn’t Guardians only been out for a couple of weeks? How much time does a film get these days before the industry dooms them as a flop?]
I found this news unsettling, both as a producer and as a consumer of entertainment. Yes, the goal is to make entertainment properties that are commercially viable, otherwise artists aren’t making a living. But artistic vision shouldn’t be constrained by perceived public tastes, particularly since the desires of the public are at times so difficult to properly discern, and more importantly are rather fickle. And I’m trying very hard not to walk down that more-often-traveled path of “well, the people just like this crap.” I know so many creative people, who envision such fantastical worlds and experiences that they want to share with a willing audience, but that audience just doesn’t seem to be there. Is it because there aren’t enough new and interesting things to explore? I would be tempted to say yes, but if audiences don’t support those rare and beautiful anomalies, how can we ever hope to get more? Are we really stuck with the lowest-common-denominator tripe that for some reason attracts audiences by the millions? Isn’t there something we can do to push the boundaries of our culture in new and enticing directions?
I don’t know. I just found this news very depressing. I don’t want to have to wait for years before movies like Cloud Atlas earn a new label of “sleeper hit” because the DVD sales outperform ticket sales. I know going to the movies gets more and more expensive, but we must become more discerning as a collective audience if we ever hope to find massive improvements in culture and entertainment. Because The Fast and the Furious 6 is coming next year, and I’m already afraid.
There is a quote from Cloud Atlas that I just rediscovered when looking for the trailer to share:
“There is a natural order to this world, and those who try to upend it don’t fare well.”
I say, we try anyway.