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Movie Studios Can't Dictate Taste

2 Aug, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

A couple of recent events have gotten me thinking about the box office slump and the gaps between what people want to see, what they have available to see and what they should see.

One thing, of course, is the box office slump and the widespread debate about what's behind it. It's the first time I can recall that DVD has been cited as at fault, rather than the boon that it has been and remains for studios.

DVD sales and rentals are hitting a plateau partly because the industry is maturing. This is a predictable stage in any rational product life cycle. “Rational” is the operative word here, since Hollywood is given to irrational exuberance. Heck, Hollywood often manufactures irrational exuberance, then drinks its own Kool-Aid.

That seems to be the case with a lot of young directors, who make self-indulgent movies like Kill Bill and Sin City. The latter was a visually stunning movie, but it also was a complete sacrifice of substance at the altar of style. While I want to be transported away from the real world when I watch a movie, this is not the world I want to visit. I'm glad I didn't spend $10 to see it. It's really little different from watching a porn movie about flying solo, if you get my drift.

Movie studios try to dictate taste (that's why so many companies clamor for product placement). Lately, it seems they are taking advantage of the copyrights they already have to remake movies from old films and TV shows. The problem is, too often they are making movies out of films and shows that stunk or, at best, played to the lowest common denominator when they were on the air (“Charlie's Angels?” “The Dukes of Hazzard?”).

USA Today movie critic Michael Medved recently opined that people are staying home because movies don't reflect their values. I don't agree with the suggestion that there is a homogeneous set of American values, and the box office reflects that. Some people are going to see these movies, but the people who don't care about them are the ones spending their money somewhere else, and that is what is making headlines — the folks who refuse to drink the Hollywood Kool-Aid.

I wouldn't pay to see Sin City, and you won't be able to drag me to the remake of The Poseidon Adventure. I didn't go see the first one, and I was a kid then. So, while I admit I have long been an infrequent theater customer, I do agree with Medved that more people are joining me in voting with our feet and wallets for reasons ranging from crying children and cell phones in theaters to lousy movies.

If you want to see The Motorcycle Diaries, Born Into Brothels, A Day Without a Mexican or Murderball, you have to drive for miles and miles to find a theater that's showing it. Maybe there is more to the “I'll wait for the video” phenomenon than the industry is acknowledging.

A week or so ago, our local stations were airing news stories about the series “Over There,” which gives a fairly realistic view of life in the trenches on Middle Eastern battlefronts. One interview subject, the wife of a soldier in Iraq, was incensed. She said that with loved ones fighting overseas, families at home don't want or need to see that.

I would argue just the opposite. In a country that is daily sending soldiers to near-certain peril and intense risk of death, we need to know what we are sending them into. The government has made a declaration that U.S. news outlets are not allowed to show the flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq and other fronts in the war on terror. If this makes the war more real for decision makers and a placid public, I say show it every night. For those of you with relatives in the fighting forces, that's why your TV remote is equipped with buttons that change the channels and turn off the blinkin' one-eyed monster. It's also why you can buy a season of “Friends” instead of a season of “Over There.”

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