Friday, May 25, 2012

We Need to Chat

So, starting this next month I'll be writing a new editorial column for a magazine called "We Need to Chat".  And they told me my English degree was useless... BWAAHAAHAA... My editor at the Reader sent me a job posting for an Editorialist in a movie news magazine asking for something entertaining and new a couple days ago, so I sent in the following article, my writing resume, which is a bit short at the moment, a couple of my book reviews and a proposal for a column where I would basically rant about why movies and TV these days just aren't as good as they used to be.  About twenty minutes after I e-mailed it off, I received a phone call saying that I was hired.

We Need to Chat

Hi, Hollywood, it’s Eric.  We need to chat.

So, it looks like you’ve been pretty down on your luck this year, eh?  Yeah, you had those two massive budgeted movies that flopped, setting the record for worst opening weekend ever, and then breaking that record a few months later.  Would you like to know why they flopped?  Well, sit down my friend, and I will tell you in painful, brutal detail why these two movies bombed.

At first glance, “John Carter” and “Battleship” look like typical fare for movies these days.  Loud, obnoxious, lots of CG, people we’ve never heard of before in the leading roles, trailers that tell us absolutely nothing about the movie in lieu of showing us as many CG explosions as possible, etc.  So why did these movies fail, where movies like “The Avengers” succeeded?  Well, let’s take a look.

First of all, we have “John Carter”.  The reason this movie failed is simple.  Whoever ran the advertising campaign on this movie is under the mistaken notion that people watch movies for CG special effects, and advertised accordingly.  I hope that whomever was in charge of that no longer has a job, because his or her ineptitude is rather startling.  The trailers for this movie showed us NOTHING of what the movie was actually about, and instead showcased the CG effects that we could expect to see in it. 

Guess what Hollywood, CG effects are cool and all, and they can be used to great effect to enhance a story.  CG effects are NOT a story in themselves.  They dazzled people for a while, but we’re starting to realize that you care more about cool special effects than connecting with us on a real, human, emotional level with a good story and good characters.  Sure, when there’s absolutely nothing else to watch and we want to go out for a movie, we’ll pick one of these CG explosion-fests because there’s nothing else to watch, but when there IS something else to watch, guess what we’re going to do?  Go on.  Guess. 

Movies used to be magic, putting practical and CG effects to good use to further the story.  Part of the fun was seeing something that had never been done on the screen before.  CG effects can add an element to a movie that is otherwise impossible to add.  The T-1000 effects in “Terminator 2” or the dinosaur effects in “Jurassic Park” come to mind.  The thing is that when you stop using the effects to augment a story, making it more magical and wondrous, and instead use them to excess just to dazzle the audience into submission because you really don't have much in the way of anything else to offer, what are you doing?  Too much of a good thing is bad.  You’re cramming so much magic into the movie that it’s not magical anymore and forgetting about everything else that makes a movie good.  Characters.  Story.  Emotion.  Suspense.  Tension.  Etc.

Now, I’ve seen John Carter, and, you know what, it wasn’t all that bad.  It was a completely different movie than the one that they advertised it to be.  After the advertising campaign I DID NOT want to see it.  First, they went and changed the title from the original source material “A Princess of Mars”, alienating fans of the book, which I happen to be amongst.  I didn't even realize that it was supposed to be based on "A Princess of Mars" until I watched it, that was how little of the story made it into the trailer.  Secondly, allow me to reenact for you my reaction to my first time seeing the preview for this movie.

“Oh hey, a Sci-fi adventure movie.  I’m interested, tell me more.  Who’s in it?  Taylor Kitsch and a bunch of cartoon aliens…?  Who the hell is Taylor Kitsch?  Oh hey, is that Willem Dafoe’s voice coming out of that cartoon alien?  Has he ever done any voice acting work before?  Ah, nevermind, it’s not like he’s ever been in a bad movie befo . . . oh . . . right . . . it’s more like he’s never been in a GOOD movie before.  Wait, now he’s jumping around like Spiderman?  Why is he jumping around like Spiderman?  Is it because Willem Dafoe turned into a CG Green Goblin there?  Isn’t he supposed to be some average guy?  I mean, isn’t that what the title “John Carter” is implying, that he’s just a normal dude, completely unremarkable in any way?  Huh . . . swords?  Why are they using swords when they’ve already shown us cool alien deathrays?  Star Wars this is not.  Well, maybe the prequels, look at all that CG.  Explosions.  Explosions.  Lot’s of CG.  Slow down preview, what’s this movie about, you’re just throwing as much crap at the screen as you can in hopes I’ll be impressed by it.  Seriously preview, slow the hell down!  Wait, hold on.  This movie takes place on MARS!!!  Oh no you don’t, movie.  I’ve seen “Total Recall” I know what happens when you go outside on Mars with no space suit.  More CG crap flying at the screen.  Enough with the CG crap exploding in my face already!  Yeah . . . don’t think I’ll be going to see that one.”

And I can guarantee you that almost the same thing was running through the heads of each and every person that saw that trailer.

You see, Hollywood, the reason this movie failed is that you seem to think that we, the moviegoing public, want more and more CG in our movies, and that we don’t care about anything else.  You keep throwing it at us like it’s going out of style, whilst completely neglecting the fact that you’re still supposed to be telling us a story here.  We go to movies to be entertained, and explosions without a story, or any sort of emotional attachment are not entertaining.  When we see a trailer that is made up of nothing but CG effects and explosions, and light on the details of ANYTHING else in the movie, we’re going to assume that there IS nothing more to the movie.  You get what I’m saying here?  These movies fail to engage us on the simplest of emotional levels, because they’re so badly written, badly acted, badly directed, and are basically just vehicles to show off your awesome computer animated effects.  "John Carter" tanked because this is what the previews made it out to be.

After seeing the movie, I feel rather insulted by you, Hollywood.  The trailer for "John Carter" was basically you telling me that I'm not smart enough to know a good movie when I see one, and instead will be drawn to dazzling explosions, and cartoony CG violence.  You didn't even try to tell me what it was about, and that was your biggest mistake.  You implied that the public is too stupid to decide whether or not they want to see a movie, so here's some explosions, ooh, aren't they pretty.  Let me give you a little tip here, Hollywood.  People don't like to be insulted.

“Battleship” where do I even begin?  Look, Hollywood, I don’t know if you realize this, but if you go outside you’ll find people.  These people have opinions.  They have likes and they have dislikes.  If you ask them what they want in a movie, they’ll tell you.  This is called marketing research.  You might want to Google that, because you don’t seem to have any clue what it means.  If you had done ANY marketing research AT ALL before you started making this movie, you would have learned two years and 200 million dollars ago that people do not want to see this movie.  It’s not because “The Avengers” came out three weeks ago that “Battleship” sank.  It’s because you made a movie that was so incredibly unappealing to ANYONE, that when they went to the theater to see a movie, instead of going to “Battleship” they decided to go see “The Avengers” again because hey, it was just that good.  “The Avengers” had NOTHING to do with how badly “Battleship” opened.  Had “The Avengers” not opened three weeks ago, “Battleship” still would have tanked.  Why?  BECAUSE NO ONE WANTED TO SEE IT IN THE FIRST PLACE YOU IDIOTS!!!

Okay, let’s break this down.  I’m going to explain in great detail why, exactly, “Battleship” is so unappealing to moviegoers. 

First of all, this is what goes through the head of anyone when they see a new movie preview.

1.) What genre is it?
2.) Who is in it?
3.) Who made it?
4.) What else has it got?

Firstly, the genre is important.  Everyone has their likes, be it romantic comedy, thriller, science fiction, action, etc, that’s the first thing a person is going to look at when they see a movie preview.  “Battleship” is a mishmash of science fiction, action, military, and Michael Bay without the Michael Bay.  It can’t even decide on what type of movie it is, so why should I care to see it?

Secondly, it’s sad to say, but a lot of people only go to see movies because they like the actors that are in it.  Who is in this movie?  Liam Neeson, sure, I like him, but his role is basically just a cameo.  Who else is in it . . . uh . . .well . . . there’s that guy from “John Carter” . . . not really a big draw there.

Thirdly, the director/producer often influences a person’s choice on whether or not the movie looks good.  This is why you will see “Brought to you by the people who made so-n-so” so often in a movie trailer.  People know what they like.  When they liked a movie by, say, Tim Burton, they think that his next movie will be more of the same sort of thing. 

And last of all, if a person does not really identify with the genre, doesn’t see any actors they like, and it wasn’t made by anyone they’ve ever heard of before, they will look to the things shown in the trailers to tell them if they’re going to like it or not.  All the trailers for “Battleship” show is people screaming military jargon at the camera, and a whole lot of cartoony CG crap flying around with explosions.  That was the extent of the preview.  There was nothing else to it. 

Therefore, it is safe to assume that this movie is nothing but a bunch of cartoony CG crap and explosions.  And it was.  There were no characters in “Battleship” only douchebags.  There was no story in “Battleship” only explosions.  This movie completely and utterly failed at the most important aspect of making a movie, connecting with the audience on an emotional level.  The characters all act like people we want to punch in the face, so we couldn’t care less what happens to them, the story is bland and generic.  There’s no tension because we don’t care what happens to anyone, and we don’t feel any excitement because we’re not emotionally invested in any of the characters.  We all know what the movie is going to be like before we even sit down to watch it.  THAT is why this movie was so unappealing to people.  It was not because “The Avengers” came out three weeks ago and killed the market for any other movies.  It’s because “Battleship” is just more of the same mindless CG explosions and action that we’re all so sick of now.

People want more.  People want a good story.  People want to feel a connection to the characters, something other than utter loathing.  People want to feel the tension of the situations, and root for the heroes.   People do NOT want to sit there for over two hours watching things explode to little point or purpose while wooden actors read their dialog from off-screen cue cards.  It was very evident that this movie was going to be just that from the trailer, and so, no one was interested in seeing it.  It didn't fail because "The Avengers" was so popular.  It failed because it was a bad movie.  We could TELL that it was a bad movie from the preview.  We could tell that it was poorly acted, poorly directed, poorly written, and not entertaining in the slightest simply by watching what you thought was going to entice us to pay money to see it.  That you honestly thought these things were going to entice us at all only goes to show how out of touch you are with what the public is looking for in a movie. Let this be a lesson to you.  PLEASE take something away from this failure, and start making quality movies again.

I think that it’s a funny coincidence that both of these movies starred Taylor Kitsch in the leading role.  Now, I’m not saying that casting him in a leading role is the kiss of death for your movie.  But when you cast someone that no one has ever heard of before as your lead, with all the charisma of a bowl of oatmeal, and none of the acting talent, it's probably going to be the kiss of death for your movie.  Who is this guy?  Where did he come from?  And why is he in the leading role in two massively budgeted films this year?  Arnold Schwarzenegger—ARNOLD FREAKING SCHWARZENEGGER—could look at this guy and truthfully say that he’s a better actor.  So why is he cast in two of this year's largest budget films?  It makes no sense.  I realize that there aren't many talented young actors around these days.  This just means that you need to start looking for new talent.  You want to know where you SHOULDN'T look for new talent?  In someone that has previously shown herself to be completely untalented in other areas of the entertainment industry. *cough*Rihanna*cough*  Oh, that's right.  I went there.

In the end, these films bombed because they failed to engage the moviegoing public.  When you set aside characterization, storytelling, and emotion and make moviemaking more about seeing how much cartoonish CG garbage you can cram into each frame, you cease to be entertaining, and that is what movies are all about.  Being entertained.  People are sick to death of movies that are just vehicles to show off the skill of computer animators.  They want something more, and you’re not giving it to them.  You haven’t been giving it to them for a really long time, and they’re starting to get fed up with it.  The reason "The Avengers" is doing so well is that it GAVE us that something more.  It gave us story, characters we like and identify with, great acting, great writing, great direction.  When we have all of those things, we, the moviegoing public can sit down to the ridiculously over the top, CG animated explosion-fest of a climax and be entertained by it.  Why?  BECAUSE WE CARE ABOUT WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WHO IT IS HAPPENING TO!!!  So that, Hollywood, is why you failed.

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