Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Lather, rise, repeat

I gave a rather long and rambling response to a comment by Greg Ferrara in the post Is he or isn't he?

The part I'm concerned with here, however, is simply the question of Hollywood's continuing determination to attempt to follow every success with overly similar, or at least similarly marketed, movies. As I said, I understand how Roger Corman did and The Asylum does get away with the low-budget remake strategy. There's a specific number of people who will go to "Alien with more boobs" or "cheesy version of Transformers that I don't need to go out to the theater for". But it can be cut off well before they make sense for a major studio to do on a large budget.

Are there any good examples where a pirate movie was successful and someone made anything close to the same kind of money on the next pirate movie? I mean, in the whole long history of commercial cinema, has this worked. Not counting direct sequels, which are still generally a game of diminishing returns themselves.

There is a built-in audience for nearly anything. The various fantasy genres and sub-genres can look especially strong on the surface. But they still aren't nearly enough once the budgets for these things are looked at. And yet people are still trying in vain to produce the next Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Frankly, I'm a little skeptical that even The Hobbit will recapture it, but certainly not movies based on novel series that most people have never even heard of!

The studios have thousands of market research people and studies and facts from a hundred years worth of movies and yet it seems this basic but immutable fact escapes them time and again, and I can't for the life of me see how.

It's too bad Eastern Promises didn't do better. Even though I haven't gotten a chance to see it yet myself - the reasons aren't at all about lack of interest and all about having a complicated year - and the fact that the involvement of David Cronenberg already put it on my "must-see" list, because I'd like to come out and start a guaranteed niche audience for movie with naked fights.

Sure, I'm a heterosexual man, so I'd like there to be chick fights, like the awesome naked swordplay in Sex & Fury, but I've certainly watched Women in Love more than my fair share of times. I promise to see them all, as long as you include that in the marketing.

C'mon, Hollywood. Let's see it!


Jonathan Lapper said...

As for Pirate movies, off the top of my head I know that Captain Blood was a huge hit for Warners in 35 and they got director Curtiz and star Flynn back together for The Sea Hawk in 38 to even greater success. But that's about all I can remember right now. Certainly Polanski's Pirates and the lifeless film version of Pirates of Penzance or Geena Davis' Cutthroat Island inspired no one to follow up with anything else.

Hollywood HAS TO KNOW by now what works and what doesn't and yet they continue to appear clueless. Although I suppose we can be thankful that some ideas such as "dead lover returns to protect still living lover" in Ghost are so limited in scope as to make even a success not worthy of trying to copy. Thank the maker!

As for 82 I think Blade Runner succeeds in the long term because it is thought provoking whereas E.T. is not. I admit I don't know how successful E.T. is in the DVD market now but I do know that from my own kids no one talks about it and they do know Blade Runner. I also know that I am biased in this area because I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE E.T.. I despise it so much that when I read the opinions of people I respect like Roger Ebert and Jim Emerson who think it's just amazing, I confess I am utterly bewildered as to their response. I can see that it is a technically well-edited, well-shot film but the arch sentimentality and grade school allegorical elements of the screenplay with the Jebus story just make me want to vomit endlessly in the front seat of Spielberg's car.

Okay, now I'm the one who's rambling. Anyway, a great post and a discussion that can go on forever (just the kind I like). Oh and just to make myself clear because I think I was fairly vague and ambiguous about it: I don't like E.T.

Cinebeats said...

We need to start a champaign to celebrate naked fights in the movies! There's something incredibly primal, brutal and honest about them. I hope you enjoy Eastern Promises when you finally see it. Even more then A History of Violence, the movie seems to divide audiences between those who want Cronenberg to repeat himself and those (like myself) who appreciate the new areas he's exploring now.

There's a lot of areas in commercial cinema were repeating popular formulas work. Hell, thats why we have "genres." Look at the history of westerns, horror films, etc. The examples (besides pirate movies) are countless really.

Ona side note - I do have to disagree with you both about the best gangster films being made in the '30s. I'd personally take a Japanese gangster epic or a French policer from the '60s over anything made in '30s. Directors like Suzuki and Melville were masters of the gangster film and elevated it to never before explored heights.

I am happy to find out that I'm not the only person who HATES that damned E.T. movie.

Neil Sarver said...

First of all, to both of you, I acknowledge that pirate movies was a bad example. It is definitely much more a genre than a weird subgenre, just one we don't see much of... sadly. It just popped into my head as I was typing.


Jonathan, I'd be very curious to know the differences in revenue from each as time passes. I figure that 2002 with the theatrical re-release and big DVD release and this year with much the same for Blade Runner being matches... I'd definitely be interested.

And while I'd think Hollywood should "have to" know what works in these terms, but seems very strangely clueless a good amount of the time, to my eyes.

Kimberly, I completely agree regarding naked fights. And from that, I'm reasonably confident I'll enjoy Eastern Promises. While I love the Cronenbergian Cronenberg movies, my admiration for his work extends well beyond that, and I've enjoyed his recent work very, very much. Spider and A History of Violence are both among his best works, in my opinion.

And, while it's a tough one to put one's finger on, I'm less trying to resist movies that follow-up on a general kind of movie, because it definitely can be true that sometimes the general audience is a mood for a general style. But Hollywood often spends a lot of time following up with movies that very transparently are trying to cash in on the specific success of another movie, such as the continuing rash of J-horror remakes or all of the fantasy movies with identical fonts.

I'll concede, however, that like in the pirate movie example that Jonathan listed, it's easy to forget the ones that work because they just go down in history as a good movie rather than a good follow-up or rip-off.

As the side note goes, I don't think either of us specifically said we prefer the '30s style, and, for what it's worth he did specify Hollywood, although looking back at it, I'm not sure if that was his intention there or not, but it was my thinking while I was replying. To answer it, however, I do indeed have a preference for the '30s style of Hollywood gangster movies over the modern Hollywood style. Outside the US, however, I will absolutely join you in your preferences in that department.

Cinebeats said...

I guess my point was that I think it can be easy for people to forget that the early success of the Universal Monster movies for example was based on following formulas that the studios thought were successful and a entire genre was born from them. Same goes for early westerns, crime films, musicals, etc. Pirate movies were really just another similar genre when the studios started making them in mass.

As the side note goes, I don't think either of us specifically said we prefer the '30s style, and, for what it's worth he did specify Hollywood, although looking back at it, I'm not sure if that was his intention there or not, but it was my thinking while I was replying. To answer it, however, I do indeed have a preference for the '30s style of Hollywood gangster movies over the modern Hollywood style. Outside the US, however, I will absolutely join you in your preferences in that department.

I totally see what you're saying now! I read through the comments too fast the first time and got tripped up. Sorry for the confusion.

Jonathan Lapper said...

Damn you for your confusion! But we can all agree, no matter what gangster movies we prefer, we do not prefer Richard Grieco gangster movies, right? Okay.

And how could you have confused what I wrote about E.T.? I love that movie! That cute little fucker saying shit like, "I'll be right here" when he points to that little douchebag's heart. Oh man. I can't get enough! Seriously, when I've got a little stomach upset after a bad meal, there is nothing that gets me kneeling over the toilet faster. It's like a wonder drug!

Or if you're really bored and thinking, "Being in a murderous rage right now would really liven things up," baby just pop in the DVD and watch those kids magically flying on their bikes with the painterly moon as their backdrop. Works for me every time.

Neil Sarver said...

From now on, I'm going to blame all confusion on Jonathan. Hooray!

Kimberly, thank you, and it is an excellent point. Obviously each of the Universal Monsters movies were cashing in on the success of the preceding one, as were things like White Zombie, etc. And Hammer certainly used that cycle as a guide in creating their own cycle. The truth is definitely more complicated than I painted it.

Jonathan, as I said, it's all your fault!

Jonathan Lapper said...

[pointing to Neil's chest using creepy Debra Winger voice]
"I'll be right here"

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