Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hating the Hand That Feeds You

Mark Steyn writes up, as only he can, the latest round of war bombs – not those dropped by the U.S. military, but those coming out of Hollywood. There has been a series of movies depicting American military personnel, corporate and government officials, etc. as pure evildoers, and Mr. Steyn notes that, unsurprisingly, this is not the kind of thing Americans are keen to plunk down nine or ten dollars for.

As they say on Broadway, the audience doesn't lie, and, when they're trying to tell you something, it helps not to cover your ears. For all Mr. Berg's pains, The Kingdom was dismissed by the New York Times as "Syriana for dummies." That's to say, instead of explicitly fingering sinister Americans as the bad guys, it merely posited a kind of dull pro forma equivalence between the Yanks and the terrorists. It came out, oh, a week and a half ago and it's already forgotten in the avalanche of anti-war movies released since. There's Lions for Lambs and In the Valley of Elah and Redacted — no, wait, Rendition. No, my mistake. There's a Redacted and a Rendition — one's about American soldiers being rapists, one's about American intelligence officials being torturers. Every Friday night at the multiplex, Mr. and Mrs. America are saying, "Hmm, shall we see the movie where our boys are the torturers? Or the one where our boys are the rapists? How about the film where the heroic soldier refuses to fight? Or the one where he does fight and the army covers up the truth about his death?" And then they go see Fred Claus, which pulled in three times as much money as Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs on both films' opening weekend.

He later goes on to note the rise of corporations and their officials as conspiratorial bad guys in their own right, something I write about in my book. The Manchurian Candidate was about Frank Sinatra as the captive of sinister communists the first time, but the second time around it was a big transnational corporate monster pulling Denzel Washington’s strings.

To me the obvious question this phenomenon of Hollywood fat cats continuing to slam their own culture and society raises is, how can they make money doing this? Mr. Steyn asserts that they make it up “through the great churning trough of DVD revenue and cable licensing and overseas sales to Turkmenistani TV networks,” but that seems unpersuasive to me; continuing to crank out lousy anti-American movies that sink like anvils to the bottom of the culture seems like a very expensive indulgence. That leaves only the possibility that Hollywood decision-makers continue to believe, in the face of all the evidence, that one of the movies will succeed. That means that studios are run by dopes. That in and of itself wouldn’t surprise me, but it doesn’t say much for the efficiency of mass entertainment as an industry. It is one thing for individual artists to take shots at the culture that sustains them – that has been going on since the early Romantics. But for it to be affordable as a strategy for a giant multinational entertainment conglomerate is, I confess, an economic mystery.


Iowahawk, as usual, does this up better than I do in "BoxBux Sux as Stix Hix Nix Xmas Flix." Among the excerpts of his satire on Hollywood's mystification over the lack of success of anti-Christmas movies:

Star power was also unable to save Sundance Films' "Dialog On 34th Street," Writer/ Producer/ Director/ Star/ Costume Designer/ Makeup Artist Robert Redford's take on the Christmas quagmire. Just last month the film had a triumphant debut for Redford at Redford's prestigious Sundance Film Festival, where it brought home Best Picture and earned Redford the Golden Redford for his portrayal of a young, gauzily-lit rugged dissident intellectual cowboy filmmaker who exposes the lies told by a department store Santa Claus (Tom Cruise) to a cynical 7-year old girl (Meryl Streep). During its national weekend opening, however, it was only able to generate $7,425 in tickets sales, a figure which some industry analyst said would not cover the film's advertising budget, let alone the CGI and spackle cost for Mr. Redford's closeup scenes. The film may have also suffered from lukewarm reviews that faulted its overly cerebral tone, and 68-minute laptop dialog between Cruise and Streep.

Faring even worse was "The Midnight Polar Express," Searchlight's $250 million computer animation tale starring Reese Witherspoon as a mother whose children are falsely accused of naughtiness, abducted to the North Pole on a magical rendition train, and taken to Chrismo Island where they are iceboarded by a sadistic Santa's Helper (Sean Penn). Its five-day weekend take was an anemic $3216, or $1.47 per screen. While clearly disappointed in the results, Searchlight studio spokeswoman Renee Sachs said that the film would make up some of the shortfall through merchandising tie-ins, like the new MPE torture toy Happy Meal at McDonalds.

Read the whole thing.


Blogger Joshua said...

There is a simpler explanation for Hollywood's willingness to do this: They believe whatever money they lose domestically they will more than make up for in overseas markets, particularly Europe, where anti-Americanism still sells.

Put another way, Hollywood, like so many other corporate and cultural entities, has embraced globalization, and it's showing in their business decisions, national loyalty be damned.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

That suggests that foreign audiences are much more receptive than Americans to this kind of thinking. I wonder what kind of business these films do overseas.

It also requires that the foreign market be a more important source of revenue than the US one, which I can see, although I'm far from certain.

3:13 PM  

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