Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mockery = Failure

With an opening weekend that was only a few dollars better than Battleship, White House Down is a certifiable flop. So is The Lone Ranger. After Earth was a financial turd too. So what happened? Well, I saw an interesting dissection of why White House Down failed and I think it makes some valid points that apply to all three.

As always with these kinds of postmortems, the analysis I read took great pains to talk about competition, blah blah. But the truth is that movie dollars are not limited. If five great films come out at once, audiences will see all five. So “competition” really is just an excuse which translates into “people didn’t think ours was worth seeing.” So let’s ignore that.

There was also the issue of the movie being hard to describe to us peon audiences. Was White House Down a political thriller? An action film? A father-daughter drama? Whatever. Audiences don’t look at a single trailer and dismiss a film because they aren’t sure what it is. To the contrary, some of the greatest marketing campaigns involved total confusion... teasing. The real marketing problem is that even a glitzy campaign can’t hide a bad film. Not to mention that once the word of mouth kicks in, the advertising means nothing. And let’s be honest, while I do believe that the marketing hurt Scott Pilgrim by warping people’s expectations, White House Down is clearly nothing more than a generic action flick and the possibility of confusion is pretty close to zero.

So what did hurt White House Down and how does that relate to the other films? How about this: alienation.

Look at who is involved in White House Down. First, you have anti-American director Roland Emmerich, who was last seen pissing on conservatives, Fox News and Dick Cheney in The Day After Tomorrow. Emmerich is also a Hillary Clinton fundraiser who likes decorating his home with murals of communist figures and who likes collecting art that mocks Jesus, the Pope and Princess Diana. The film stars Jamie Foxx, whose stock and trade now is black racism, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is an open advocate for leftist causes.

Then it gets worse. Foxx plays a Barack Obama-like character who finds himself under attack in the White House. Choosing to model your hero on a divisive figure like Obama is simply foolish. He’s one of the least popular presidents ever, and even suggesting his name is enough to turn off about 50% of the country. What’s more, the audience for this film should have skewed toward white males, the very group Obama lost by around 65%. Adding insult to idiocy, all the villains were conservative white men.

When a film sets out to offend its core audience, it will fail.

Now look at The Lone Ranger. Westerns are a specialized genre with a sizable audience, but little crossover from the general public. In other words, fans of westerns like westerns, but the rest of the country doesn’t. So the last thing you want to do when you make a western is to insult fans of westerns. Yet, that is exactly what this film apparently tried to do. A Texas Ranger who doesn’t like gun violence? A sidekick who spends the film mocking the hero? Those are not things fans of westerns will take kindly too. Add in what are apparently attacks on American industry and the American military, again the target audience for westerns, and you have a problem. Unless you can swing enough other people into a genre they generally don’t like, you will fail. They couldn’t and they failed. By comparison, serious westerns like the remake of True Grit respected their core audiences and they got rich.

Finally, consider After Earth. Right before After Earth came out, there was a lot of talk that this film was Scientology propaganda. Science fiction audiences tend toward agnosticism or the light version of something like Christianity. The last thing they want is a film based on dogma – not Christian dogma, not Muslim dogma, not Scientology Dogma. And they really don’t like the idea that a film was trying to slip such dogma past them.

This is the lesson Hollywood needs to learn: people don’t like being mocked. And if you can’t look your audience in the eye and tell them honestly what your intent is, then you probably aren’t going to win them over with the finished product.

By the way, as an aside, this same lesson applies to pretty much any industry, including politics.

96 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

As soon as Jamie Fox was mentioned, White House Down was gone forever to me. The Lone Ranger sounded intriguing, but got shitty reviews, and sounded like a commercial for a Disney Theme Park attraction set up next to the Pirates of the Caribbean. And, to be honest, I haven't heard of of After Earth. Hollywood is too political.It rewards leftist activists too much. More importantly, as you point out, the films just suck

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I view Foxx and Channing Tatum as lightweights who can't support a film. And Foxx has lost me with his recent racist garbage. Will Smith I like and I was, but I was disappointed to hear he's involved with Scientology.

Anonymous said...

I'm admittedly not much of a moviegoer these days (half of it's me not liking to go alone, yet now having enough of a social life to go with friends, and half irritation from Hollywood's politics) but none of those movies struck me as worthwhile either. Emmerich was enough to put me off of White House Down, I'd been following The Lone Ranger debacle at another blog and figured it would be a turkey just based on the behind-the-scenes drama documented there, and similarly once I heard about the Scientology angle After Earth didn't seem all that appealing, either. You have identified an interesting common thread, though, Andrew. Hollywood's dysfunctionality never ceases to amaze (and sometimes amuse) me.

- Daniel

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Daniel. I really do think this is a problem. In each case, these films specifically did things to poke their target audience. That's just not something you can do if you still want to attract those people.

Now, obviously, films fail for a lot of reasons, but I think that showing contempt for the people you are trying to attract really is a serious mistake.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. You'd think people would understand that you can't win people by insulting them in all areas, but sadly it seems to escape those in charge of these things. The blog I was referring to documents a lot of the business dysfunctionality of Hollywood and blames a lot of it on the insular bubble world in which the executives and stars live...which sounds a lot like Washington as well when you think about it. It's here if you're curious. While politically neutral he does mention how Hollywood's obnoxious leftism hurts it a fair bit as well.

- Daniel

tryanmax said...

Having seen Lone Ranger, I don't think it's as mocking as the reviews have made it out to be. Don't get me wrong, this is no great, serious western. It's a western in the vein of Wild Wild West and Back to the Future III. In that very broad sense, I suppose it could be considered mocking westerns, though I would characterize it as extremely careless with the genre. In any case, the Disney/Bruckheimer/Verbinski/Depp/Skynet coalition clearly underestimated the height of the bar this film needed to clear in order to resonate with audiences. Also, I think it was a mistake to market Ranger on the back of the Pirates films when the last entry was such a disappointment.

As to White House and After Earth, those just look preachy and dogmatic in the promos, so word-of-mouth has an easy job.

AndrewPrice said...

Daniel, That's actually a key point which seems to be lost on so many people these days: you can't win people over by insulting them. Yet, so many in politics think that insulting everyone on behalf of their base is how you win, so many companies think they can insult and lie to loyal customers (Microsoft), and Hollywood thinks it can mock the very people who see its films. It's ludicrous. You just can't insult the people you want to sell your ideas/products/services to. That seems so basic, yet so many don't get it.

As an aside, I too think bubble-living is the problem. Hollywood is the classic example. The decision makers there simply don't mix with average people, so they lose track of what average people think. Ditto on Washington and Silicon Valley.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, On Lone Ranger, you might be right, but I think audience expectations were set with the choice of Depp as Tonto, which reeks of "hipster western", when the trailers looked ridiculous (which reeks of "No Grit"), when it wasn't clear if the film was serious or not, and then when the reviews all said that the film tried to mock the genre conventions. I think that's more than enough for western fans to give it a pass, which means they needed non-western fans to see the film, and they didn't come.

Further, Wild Wild West was a film several articles actually mentioned as offensive to fans of westerns and I kind of agree. It was a western only in the vaguest of senses. That wasn't a western by any serious definition, it was just another Will Smith movie in cowboy-face. Moreover, I think the difference between BTTF 3 and LR/WWW is that BTTF 3 really did embrace the conventions of westerns and worked them into the time travel story. By comparison, WWW ignored them and (from the reviews) LR acted smugly toward them.

Anonymous said...

The blog I linked has a good term to describe crap like that... Self-Fulfilling Idiocy. It does seem like common sense not to insult, abuse, or try to screw over the people one needs for success.

Microsoft and the Xbox One is a good example all right... When I first read the things they were requiring (the always-on connection and Kinect camera and the used game policy) my reaction was along the lines of "Who in the @#$%ing Hell thought any of this was a good idea?!" Even a lot of Xbox 360 fans I know offline were stunned by how brazen it all was, and even when MS finally backed down the damage was done. I had been leaning more towards the PS4 anyway personally, but that was just a truly appalling amount of stupidity all around.

I don't doubt the bubbles are a huge part of the problem all around and all of those places are terrible offenders. Seeing stuff like this I can't help but think something's got to give sooner or later, but I'll be damned if I know what or how it's going to take place.

- Daniel

tryanmax said...

Okay, bad example. Swap Wild Wild West for Shanghai Noon. As to LR, it may be difficult to separate, but I contend that it isn't smug toward westerns in particular, but smug toward cinema overall. Which is to say, it still absolutely deserves mention in this article.

AndrewPrice said...

Daniel, the Xbox One debacle was the perfect example. I'm sure that no one who works for Microsoft (or their friends) has a problem with having an always-on connection. Nor do they care about used games because they make a lot of money so they always buy new. And I suspect they were intensely shocked when they got so much anger directed at them because "nobody could have seen this coming!"

But an even better example is what they did with Windows 8. They basically tried to force a mobile operating system onto desktop users... their core customer audience. And when people rebelled, Microsoft first denied people were upset, lied about their sales, and then mocked their concerns. They finally had to surrender with 8.1, but even that ended up being more mocking of their customers.... "Here's your damn start button, it doesn't do anything, but you brainless chimps can push it." Seriously, all of their interviews and their press releases drip with condescension. And I think 8.1 will fail because of it -- people are furious. So they will stick with 7.

But you see this all the time. You get a company with a very tight set of employees who lose touch with the outside world. They make some decision that works for them, but not their customers and then they get really pissed off and insulting about their customers when the customers demand changes. Then the whole thing blows up and they don't understand why. It's arrogance and blindness.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's an interesting distinction that probably makes the condescension point even stronger if it leaves you with the sense that the actors/crew are basically looking down at movie goers in general. Acting condescending toward people is the surest way to upset people. It's even worse than outright name calling.

As an aside, that was one thing the Pirates movies definitely did not do. They were crazy, but they were earnest, though Johnny Depp because increasingly less earnest as the series went.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if that's how some of the people at MS thought as far as the Xbox One goes. I also wonder if some of it wasn't a bit of cockiness from the 360 getting a solid lead on the PS3 early on, which suffered from Sony making some similar mistakes when it came to pricing and getting a bit condescending in its press conferences. The thing is Sony learned, eventually making the PS3 a success and getting off to a great start for the PS4. MS, it seems, still has a lot to learn.

I missed a lot of that about Windows 8 (I'm admittedly not as informed as I could be) but I can't say I'm surprised. MS always seems to go through at least one big screw-up per Windows update, but this one really takes the cake in terms of technical mess-ups and a bad PR response. The people there really need to get out more...

- Daniel

tryanmax said...

Armie Hammer seems earnest, I'll give him that. All the rest feels rather choreographed.

goldvermilion87 said...

Excellent analysis!

K said...

It may well have been thought that doing "White House Down" as a right bash fest was a good bet ticket wise. When the movie was likely greenlit, Obama had excellent job approval numbers. It's only recently, now that a Republican has been kept out of power, that the left is realizing that Obama = Bush, maybe worse.

ScottDS said...

When I read your title, I assumed that your thesis would be about how a movie can't be a box-office success if it's already being mocked online before it's released!

I'm NOT totally disagreeing with you, but sometimes a bad movie is just a bad movie. Battleship should've been a success with this criteria. (I.E.: it didn't mock anyone.)

------------------------

Re: White House Down - the presence of Foxx and Gyllenhaal didn't hurt Django Unchained or The Dark Knight, respectively, and most people know Emmerich as "that guy who made those other shitty movies." And even his presence didn't stop 2012 from making an obscene amount of money.

As for Foxx playing an Obama clone, I totally agree with you. And as for the villains, yeah it's just a cliche at this point.

Also, this movie was beaten to the punch by Olympus Has Fallen, so audiences may have had their fill of "White House taken over" movies. And it's not like the bar had been set too high - the reviews for that film were no better.

(I know two movies about the same subject matter can both make money - bugs, asteroids, volcanoes - but they both have to be good first!) Or, to quote a friend of mine, "Olympus was simply less bad."

------------------------

Re: The Lone Ranger - this is an interesting Catch-22. On one hand, every big movie needs to have a brand name, yet no one under 50 cares about this one. BUT for a 10-year old kid, Lone Ranger might as well be a NEW brand name… and it still didn't work! Plus I think the public is getting leery of Depp playing "Oddball" in seemingly every other movie. It didn't work for Dark Shadows either.

And I've read that the corporate stuff is overblown (h/t Threedonia)… the problem is that it wasn't needed in the first place. This movie is less an anti-corporate screed than an example of everything Hollywood does wrong (bigger = better, forcing origin stories where none are needed, etc.). And come on, plenty of heroic figures prefer not to use guns unless necessary. (Another bit of wisdom from Dragnet.) :-)

------------------------

Re: After Earth - Some of us tend towards Judaism too! With this movie, I think it's simple: Shyamalan is beyond redemption. It's funny… FX aired The Sixth Sense and The Happening back to back the other day. A career fell in the span of one commercial break!!

ScottDS said...

P.S. It's a shame re: White House Down because I do like Channing Tatum. Not nearly as much as my female friends like him but he seems like a good guy and I'm still shocked that 21 Jump Street turned out to be surprisingly good.

In the case of Foxx and Gyllenhaal, their other films I mentioned both had other things going for them, namely Tarantino and Nolan/Batman.

shawn said...

White House Down- never looked more than a rental to me. Then Foxx had to show his racist backside and I lost all interest.

The Lone Ranger- I liked the Pirates movies, but I didn't see them in the theater, I just bought the dvds, which is the same price as tickets for me and the wife. I'll probably rent this one first.

After Earth- I saw the previews and was underwhelmed. Then I learned it was from M. Night Shyamalan. Usually people get better as they gain experience. Sadly, this hasn't been the case with him. Never saw any commmercials saying it had been released. Might watch when it hits the SyFy channel.

AndrewPrice said...

Daniel, The issue with 8 was one of Microsoft deciding they needed to get into the mobile business so they decided to force a mobile interface on their loyal users in the hopes they would start buying their phones. It's the equivalent of a car company putting bicycle tires on your car in the hopes you start buying their bikes. It was arrogant and stupid and then their response has been even worse.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I don't really know him. I don't think I've seen him in anything. So I'll have to reserve judgment.

AndrewPrice said...

K, Obama has never had good approval ratings and he's really never had good approval ratings with white men. I think this was just an attempt to put their hero into a film and to take some shots at the evil Republicans who stood in their way... and it flopped.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks goldvermilion! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Of course the inverse is not true, but I'm not claiming it is. Mocking your audience is guaranteed to fail, not mocking them is not a guarantee of anything.

Django Unchained was done by Tarantino and Tarantino has a reputation of never going political. Dark Knight showed no signs of being political (nor was Gyllenhaal really mentioned in the trailers) and when it came out it was seen right away as a conservative film, i.e. it aligned with the ideology of its target audience.

Yes... or light Judaism. But again, nothing dogmatic.

On the LR, there can be many things that contributed to the failure, but there is a common thread with these films. And it goes beyond that too. Show me the last successful war film and you'll see one that tried to honor the soldiers. Compare that to the Iraq war films, which all failed because they were seen as anti-military. Ditto on political thrillers. Skew political and lose your audience, e.g. George Clooney.

As for Shyamalan, you can't really pin this on him because his name barely appeared and because he wasn't what people were talking about -- they were talking about the hidden Scientology angle.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I don't know Tatum and he doesn't impress me with the little I've seen. I was going to call him Ethan Hawke because of the way Hollywood seemed to be going gaga over him "leading this action thriller" despite a total lack of credibility in action roles.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I had very similar experiences. I'll watch them all when they get to HBO, but I'm not going to pay to see them.

Jason said...

The ads and trailers for White House Down just made it look goofy and a tad confusing. After Olympus Has Fallen, which treated the premise with a certain amount of seriousness, WHD came off as a bad Lethal Weapon-rip off. Did I really want to see that with a movie dealing with an attack on the highest level of American government? I don’t think so.

I really wasn’t aware of the Scientology angle with After Earth, so I went into the movie without that thought in my mind. I thought the movie was better than its detractors said, but it was not suited for the summer at all. It ought to have been pushed to the fall. As it was, it’s just a better-done Syfy Channel original movie.

The Lone Ranger was okay but unwieldy, with the jokes hit or miss and perhaps not as much respect to its source material as it deserved. The framing device of an old Tonto was completely unnecessary. The love interest, again, not needed. I compare it to a similar movie, The Mask of Zorro. Zorro was a fun, light-hearted romp with just enough seriousness to be credible. TLR needed to be that, and it really wasn’t.

KRS said...

As soon as I saw a picture of Johnny Depp with a dead bird on his head as Tonto, I knew all I needed to know to avoid the movie.

It seems to me that, the way to resurrect TLR would have been to use a full-blooded Souix, Crow, Navaho (pick a nation) with acting chops and a serious lead, put together a script in the "Justified" style (just saw the pilot for Justified on A-prime last night - holy cow!) and go whole hog western. We took the Lone Ranger seriously when I was a kid - it's just that the styles for serious were different.

I know this comes up a lot, but I really don't understand why Hollywood fails to look at their work as commercial products that have to be sold to a buying public. Good story telling and goodwill both matter. Hollywood seems to have this weird idea that everything they do has to have an educational mission to make the great unwashed more civilised.

With the rise of new media and the ease at which average joes can get into the market, one wonders how much longer the studios can survive.

mycroft said...

I agree with Jason. The trailers made me think of Zorro with some unknown guy as Zorro and all the focus on a silly Anthony Hopkins.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, I think those were elements too. I have no desire to see the White House attacked and I suspect most Americans don't.

After Earth doesn't sound like a good movie to me. I guess we'll see when it hits video.

PikeBishop said...

One thing about Roland Emerich, where did he go off the tracks? He did do "Independence Day," which had a very pro-American, everybody work together, we save the day attitude in 1996. He followed that with "The Patriot," which I enjoyed and felt was pro USA (its obvious PC mishandling of the slavery issue, not withstanding but what are you gonna do).

I think I have the answer. 1996, Patriot in 2000! What happened in between? Yep George w. Bush.

Roland joined the Hollywood idiot left and never looked back with "Day After Tomorrow," BC (Ugh)and the rest of his crap.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I wonder if that image killed the film actually. When I saw it, my first thought was, "Well, they aren't going to be nice to Westerns."

On Hollywood, I don't understand it either. On the one hand, they are purely commercial in the way they assemble films. Yet, they sneer at their audiences constantly -- and not just politically, but in other ways too like how they blame their most asinine stuff on "we're only trying to give the [borderline retarded] audience what they want!"

AndrewPrice said...

mycroft, I actually thought of Dark Shadows. I assumed it would be a fairly straight film with a ridiculous, out-of-place Johnny Depp character.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I think Emmerich went wrong when he became "Roland Emmerich" and no longer needed a partner. At that point, I suspect he started doing projects the way he wanted.

ScottDS said...

Pike -

I see Andrew beat me to it. Even though they did that bad Godzilla movie, Emmerich was better when he was partnered with Dean Devlin.

White House Down was not written or co-written by Emmerich (unlike most of his previous films)... but we'll never know who influenced what and when.

ScottDS said...

Andrew and KRS -

To borrow William Goldman's old line about Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." And while even I have a hard time believing it, I've heard from more than one person that no one in Hollywood consciously tries to make a bad movie. I'm sure Bruckheimer, Depp, et al thought they were making a good movie that people would be interested in seeing.

Ultimately, no one knows what they want. (All the good storytelling is on TV anyway.)

Besides, politics aside, Hollywood can be a very paranoid place and no one wants to lose their job and as the saying goes, "You're only as good as your last picture."

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I would assume that nobody sets out to make a bad picture, but that's where the bubble living problem arises. If everyone you know shares the same political views and the same level of disdain for people outside the bubble, then you end up not understanding the audience at all.

This was the problem with the Big Three automakers circa 1960-1980s -- they all lived and worked in the same city. They only promoted from within and they were all immersed in the culture. Not one of them knew anyone who would ever buy a foreign car. They didn't hire women except as secretaries and didn't listen to their opinions. The end result was that they totally missed the appetite women had for smaller, more fuel efficient cars like the Honda Accord. And even when they finally realized that the market had changed, they still didn't understand it because no one they knew thought like that, so they reacted poorly... and they bled customers.

Microsoft is doing the same thing now. They live in a techie bubble and they have no idea that the public doesn't use computers the way everyone at Microsoft does. And their response is to mock the public for being stupid... when they are the ones who are blind.

Hollywood is similar. Hollywood is full of people who don't like or understand Americans and who take shots at them every chance they get. So when they sit down to make a film, the things that appeal to them are not things that appeal to us and they fail to see all the little digs that will upset us.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent post, Andrew!

You know, I get the bubble thinking problem Hollywood types and big businesses like Microsoft get into.
Or, rather, I understand how it can occur, not that I'm a fan of it.

What I don't get is why these bubble thinking bumblers insist on using bubble focus groups that never think outside the bubble.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ben!

I suspect the problem with focus groups is they pick groups that will tell them what they want rather than what they need to hear. Look at the presidential debates. Each network has their guy who will tell them exactly what they want to hear. Sure, they sound earnest and independent, but yet somehow Fox's groups always affirm right-wing thinking and the others always affirm left-wing thinking.

I think what Hollywood does is that they get comfortable with companies based on their interactions with them, and those companies know that to be seen as comfortable, they need to skew toward the prevailing opinion.

I see similar things in the NFL where coaches keep hiring guys who do great in practice and who the coaches all love, but who the fans see simply don't perform on game day. The issue is that they are looking at "am I comfortable with this person" rather than "do they really perform the task I need."

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I also don't see why many of these imbeciles (but not all) never seem to learn from their mistakes.
Inflated egos I guess and a disdain for inconvenient truths, because there's certainly no good reasons for it.

Irt TLR, it's like they used the same formula The Green Hornet remake producers used.
Let's make the characters nothing like the originals...and unlikable...and so hip we mock the audience, because everyone likes to pay to be mocked.
Yeah. Makes sense to me, lol.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Good point about the NFL, Andrew.
man, I'm sure glad the Seahawks coach gave Russell Wilson a chance instead of going with that other guy...can't even recall his name, lol.

KRS said...

Andrew & Ben

The points you're making about execs in echo chambers takes me back to some stories my Dad brought home when he was working as a flavor chemist for P&G. (Thanks for making me think of my Dad!)

At some point in the development of a new product, they'd have to run panels and tests that told them all kinds of weird things. On more than one occasion, when running a comparison between two potential products, a statistician would ask Dad which product he wanted to win. Dad would tell the guy to just collect the data and report it. The statistician would always come back with, "yeah, but which one do you want to win?"

Dad wound up yanking out his old statistics texts from college (yeah, I have mine, too) and relearning stats so he could do the job himself and know what the results really meant.

So, perhaps we're just a tad too hard on Holloywood - they're no smarter than anyone else. Still, it seems like GM, et all,
managed to learn their mistakes eventually. If they were stupid, the Government would be ... oh, never mind.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Sadly, I think it's very easy to not learn from mistakes. It's actually the rare person who does learn from their mistakes. The problem is that it's too easy to find another cause for the failure to use as an excuse so you never need to challenge your own personal conduct or your own biases.

There are always multiple causes for anything, the key is being honest enough to evaluate what really mattered and what didn't. Most people can't do that, they just accept the ideas that fit with their biases... "oh, the public is too stupid to understand my GREATNESS!" Ideologues and creative types are particularly prone to this, as are the lazy and the angry. But if you want to be successful in anything in life, you need be able to put all of that aside and re-evaluate your wins and your losses and figure out "the why."

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I'm not surprised. I've seen the same thing time and an again as an attorney with experts. They can get you whatever result you want and they know that they won't get hired if they don't give you the answer you want. So you have to be very careful if the guy is really telling you what is true or just what you want to hear.

I also see it with lawyers who advise corporations. There is serious pressure to approve of whatever plan they have, even if there are warning signs. So you need to really watch yourself.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I don't think Hollywood is full of people who are dumber or smarter than anyone else. I think they are very much like other people, they just have a serious bubble problem and they don't seem to realize it. That makes them more like GM than IBM.

KRS said...

Andrew, agreed.

Pure speculation on my part, but inertia is a powerful force that may be in play as well. If an industry is going down a certain path, it must be very hard to change course, even when the benefits seem apparent. Could that account for recurring tropes - such as the "punchline Dad" - in television and movies. Seriously, there has there been a strong, smart, loving and popular Dad since Cliff Huxtable? Great dads have disappeared.

tryanmax said...

I have no desire to see the White House attacked and I suspect most Americans don't.

My girlfriend, who is the antithesis of political, makes a point of saying how awful thinks White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen are every time she sees some advertising for either. Although I don't believe it to be the case, I think she speaks the minds of most Americans when she says "we shouldn't be giving the terrorists any ideas."

Donning my generosity hat (and robe), I can see the appeal of making an "attack the impenetrable fortress" movie. Both WHD and OHF are basically Air Force One taken to the next level, albeit poorly. Still, I think there other, much more cool, hard to get at places that would make better "break in" movies. Like that Army base inside a mountain.

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, I think there is a lot to that as well. Inertia is a truly powerful force within people. We fight change LONG past the point where we know change is needed. Moreover, in the corporate world, it's easy to get punished for taking risks, it's hard to get punished for doing what everyone else has always done... corporate inertia in action. I don't doubt that there is a lot of this in Hollywood.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I think there are certain things people just don't want to see. We love a little fun seeing things blow up at a distance, but we don't like the idea that people are actually hurt and we don't like to see things we are proud of get destroyed. In the right context, e.g. Independence Day, we accept seeing famous places destroyed because it's all so fake. But the more realism you add to film violence aimed at things we do like, the more people recoil.

T-Rav said...

Refresh my memory. Was White House Down the one with Jamie Foxx and the male model, or the one with the Scottish guy?

Anyway, I just figured it flopped because it was so openly gimmicky.

BevfromNYC said...

For me, th ads for "White House Down" were just plain disturbing. Really, how is it that Hollywood thinks they can blow up the WH on film and it would NOT be disturbing, post 9/11 speaking. Furthermore, if Palin gets skewered and blamed/condemned for putting a bull's eye on Gifford in an website ad, why is there a such a disconnect with Hollywood that these disturbing visuals of DC blowing up are okay? Though I would never WANT to see this film because of the above (and apparently I am not alone in that), Jamie Foxx won't get any of my money ever. Period. Exclamation point.

The Lone Ranger - The reason I think this is a huge bomb. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are iconic fictional heroes from television like no other. And you just don't screw with Baby Boomer's iconic fictional heroes...ever!

After Earth - Produced by Scientologist. It is going to be preachy and post-apocolyptic drivel...'nuff said.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, It was the one with Jamie Foxx and the male model! LOL! Nicely done! :) Tell me that doesn't spell failure!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, No, you are not the only one who doesn't want to see that. I don't think Americans are in the mood to see their iconic places blown up anymore. Yes, it was fun when aliens did it that one time, but once this stuff starts to feel real, it's just not right.

On the Lone Ranger, you boomers! LOL! Actually, there is something to that. It's just not a good idea to screw with things that people remember fondly, especially something like "The Lone Ranger" who really was an ideal to which we aspire. This isn't like poking fun at something campy, this is like poking fun at something people really do love.

Agreed on Jamie Foxx.

Agreed on After Earth too.

Voz said...

I haven't seen either of the "attack the White House" movies and at some point will rent both but I always wanted to see Olympus Has Fallen more so than White House Down. It just seemed more realistic as in the President would not be using an RPG out the window of the Presidential Limo...plus the fact that Channing's character isn't even Secret Service while Gerard Butler's is already...there is more suspension of disbelief to watch WHD than to watch OHF...plus Gerard Butler is 2 or 3 times the actor that Tatum is. I immediately thought and hoped that OHF would be like Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn (RIP sadly)

K said...

I have no desire to see the White House attacked and I suspect most Americans don't.

So you must not have been in the audience when Emmerich's "Independence Day" premiered. When the WH got nuked by the aliens there was lots of applause. Of course, that was pre-9/11.

Commander Max said...

Thanks for posting this Andrew, I wasn't planning on seeing any of those films.

It not only illustrates Hollywood's attitude toward us. But it displays something else, just how small Hollywood is.

Their attitude is like the old news media, people complained about the lib bias in newspapers. What did the papers do? Called the readers stupid. It's the readers fault for not loving the lib garbage. So what did the readers do? They left, I think the same thing is slowly happening to other lib dominated media. People have more entertainment choices, they are exercising those choices.

Having some idiot/s saying f-u to my face for 2 hours isn't what I call entertaining.

AndrewPrice said...

K, At the time, I enjoyed it. But that was back when Hollywood still trafficked in pure fantasy at the time. These days, they walk too closely to reality on these things. Things that were once comical are now dangerously close to snuff films. Things that were once entertaining simply for their novelty are closer to sadism. That was before 9/11, before torture porn, and before the kind of sadism seen in disaster films like 2012.

AndrewPrice said...

Voz, Butler is much more believable in an action role than Channing. Channing really is like a male model more than an action star.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, Newspapers are another good example of people who heaped scorn on their audiences rather than listen to them and the result has been a steady collapse of readership. That may have been inevitable given the net, but the exodus of subscribers began before the net.

There really is a lesson here, to treat your audience's concerns with respect.

T-Rav said...

Indeed, Andrew. Indeed. :-)

As for Lone Ranger, I have no idea why it bombed; I know I never had much interest in seeing it. I will say this, and I don't think it's why it failed, but--it vaguely annoyed me that Johnny Depp, playing Tonto, got top billing in a movie called "The Lone Ranger." I get that no one's heard of Armie Hammer, and the studio wanted to use name recognition to draw the big bucks (which worked out so well), but it seems so backward. If you want to puff this guy up as the next action star, shouldn't you put his name up top? And this isn't the first time, either--Depp got top billing in Alice in Wonderland, too, while Mia Whatchamacallit, playing Alice, came at the very end of the credits. Actually, maybe that does have something to do with it. The studio didn't bother making the movie good, they figured they could get ahead by trading on Depp's name, just like the makers of After Earth thought they could by trading on Will Smith's, etc etc.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I think there is something to that as well. Studios often seem to think that putting a particular actor in the credits is enough to carry a movie, but as we see time and again, it takes a good movie for that to work. And Depp is really not that bankable of a star.

Will Smith normally is a bankable star, except After Earth apparently was a film staring his son, so that's not good for people who wanted to see Smith. Moreover, I think Smith's star power is fading as he ages because he still relies on presenting a young and hip persona, which doesn't work as he comes to look increasingly like George Burns.

Jason said...

Speaking of flops, the sharks may be circling for Pacific Rim:

http://variety.com/2013/film/box-office/pacific-rim-looking-grim-with-25-million-35-million-opening-1200560676/

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, It sounds like we are in the middle of the summer of the bomb!

Personally, Pacific Rim doesn't interest me. It looks like Battleship and I'm not a fan of Guillermo del Toro. So I figure I'll probably eventually see it on HBO, but if I don't, I won't miss it.

tryanmax said...

RE: Pac Rim, I don't care. Fighting robots = tryanmax opens his wallet. I can't help it. A wicked witch put a hex on me. Could be worse. I could be a frog, instead. (And Real Steel was quite good, actually.)

AndrewPrice said...

I'm that way with donut boxes.

I liked Real Steel a lot!

tryanmax said...

Way OT, but I ran a mile in 10 min. I felt like bragging.

Kit said...

Well, The Dark Knight featured video footage (in the trailers) eerily reminiscent of hostage videos.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Congrats. Did the cops catch you? ;P

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I'm not a mind reader. How about some more clues?

Kit said...

Well, I think you can channel post-9/11 fears as long as you are doing it w/ a sense of respect towards those fears.

I guess.

AndrewPrice said...

Oh, ok. Gotcha.

Yeah, I think that's true, but I think attitudes have changed. Prior to 9/11 there was a sense that the worst thing in the world was that you wouldn't get to retire to run a winery. After 9/11, a lot of the things we saw on film didn't seem all that entertaining anymore once we had real memories to compare them to.

I don't know where the line is exactly, but I think that so long as you stay on the side that people can see it as pure fantasy, then people accept it. But some things seem to cross the line.

Commander Max said...

Could you imagine sitting in a theater for two hours, and having the film actually suck up to the audience.

Real Steel is proof they can make a special effects movie and still tell a story.

tryanmax said...

Cmdr. Max, that could be a little trying, as well. I'll settle for simple respect of the audience. Steel definitely showed respect. In all fairness, I think most films do. But when it comes to summer blockbusters, not so much.

T-Rav said...

Congrats, tryanmax! That is only three and a half minutes longer than the P.E. state requirement for high school males!

(Okay, okay, it was mean, but I couldn't help myself.)

AndrewPrice said...

Are you serious? When I was in high school, we had to run a mile in 12 minutes. Of course, miles were longer back then... and uphill the whole way.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I don't really want to be sucked up to, I just want then to tell good stories.

tryanmax said...

T-Rav, are you sure? That's just under a 10 MPH pace, which is pretty brisk. Obviously, it'd be good if everyone could run that mile, but that's got to be above average, let alone the minimum requirement.

Besides, I'm in my mid-30s, which I believe entitles me to a slower mile. ;-)

Anthony said...

Andrew,

I'm not sure Americans are any more adverse to disaster movies post 9/11.

I never cared for them much myself but I remember how after 9/11 Fox cancelled a showing of Independence Day the following Sunday, but Independence Day reappeared in (maybe on top of, I forget) Blockbuster's rental charts.

I think the problem of the three movies was that they were wildly over the top CGtastic crap which lacked interesting characters or stories and which didn't even try to do anything interesting with the aforementioned special effects.

There certainly are a lot of websites which catalogue the political sins of actors and directors, but I've never gotten the sense that most moviegoers care. Most moviegoers avoid paying for sermons, but most don't seem to care if a movie has a point of view.

Patriot said...

Andrew.....OT here again....but I'm liking Michael Fassbender more and more as the "next Bond." If you've seen the movie "Haywire" you could definitely envision him. Also, his British character in "Inglorious Basterds" was on the mark.

Again.....off topic. Yet I'm sure Bev and the ladies appreciate the visuals.

Writer X said...

I have no desire to see White House Down for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

I will watch The Lone Ranger, however, when it comes out on DVD.

KRS said...

True story: my 17 yr old daughter went to see WHD the other day and declared it a great movie. I asked her what it was about and she couldn't really come up with the plot. So I said, "Channing with his shirt off for most of the movie?"

And she answered, "yeaaaaaaaaah...."

I think a lot of the messaging we see in movies never gets across to the viewers. My daughter is a big time conservative and never got the liberal vibe. Once the pretty boy took his shirt off, she was watching a whole different movie.

It's like that, I remember Springsteen singing, "Born in the USA" and everybody fist pumping and shouting the refrain in patriotic pride, absolutely clueless as to the actual lyrics of the song. And, who cared anyway? It was great fun being in a huge crowd loving on American to otherwise unintelligible lyrics. Springsteen fired his anti-American round and missed by a mile.

I do think a lot of the messaging stuff never gets through. We notice it because we're looking for it now. But I think most of the time, the rythm or the image or the style is so cool it smokes the message.

tryanmax said...

Good analogy on "Born in the USA"

Messaging has to hit the sweet spot to actually resonate. Too heavy-handed, and it gets dismissed. Too subtle, or packed in w/ too many bells and whistles, and it gets drowned out.

The trick is to present things in a way that makes the receiver think they discovered something on their own.

Individualist said...

I have seen After Earth and The Lone Ranger when they came out without reading the critics.
:
I liked the movie After Earth somewhat but I found that the main problem was it was stoich and without real action which made the movie feel ponderous to me. The whole Danger is Real but Fear is a Choice thing to me was interesting but I did not get how that was scientolgy, course I know little of Scientology. I give the movie a C+. I don't think it was a bad film just not great.
:
Lone Ranger had a lot of action and the action sequences were good but the movie did so many wierd things that I got bored with it. The whole Kemosabe meaning "Wrong Brother" thing was interesting. Andrew the Lone Ranger was deputized a ranger by his borther to go on the posse hunt even though he went back east to become a nonviolent lawyer idealist that did not get reality. That was not bad except they really never went anywhere with it. His successes were luck at first and there was not even a become a professional montage to justify his skill at the end of the movie.
:
The relatuionship with Tonto was also strange. Tonto continually betrayed him even though supposedly he was brought back to life by the spirit horse. The movie to my mind failed in this. If he was chosen by the Great Spirit to fight the Wendigo why was Tonto alweays an ass to him.
:
Tonto was even weirder. He starts out as the wise medicine man in tune with the spirits with a mystic dead raven on his head and this would be Ok except they then bring him to the Indian tribe where we find out he sold out his tribe to two crazed white guys for a harminica when he was 8 and then invented all this spirit warrior crap because he had a revenge psychosis. They turned him to JAr Jar Binks and so his helping the Ranger in the end made no sense.
:
The villians made no sense at all. They knew where there was enough silver to buy a railroad yet waited 20 years to get it. One brother went on to be the railroad CEO and the other a maniacal murderer in an elaborate plot to build the railroad line there to get the silver and then buy the railroad. But there is a hidden railroad line already there despite the fact the coolies are still building a main line out there.
:
Yeah there was a lot of the white man evil stuff but no more than any other hollywood film. The mainproblem to me was the plot was too ridiculous.
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White House Down.... trailers showed Jamie Foxx as Presdient, the White house is attacked so he is driving around in an unmarked car with a local cop that ends up his buddy. He has a Rocket Laucher that he attempts to aim from the car..... this was too much of an 18 out of ten on the WTF scale for me to bother to see.
:
Just my thoughts

El Gordo said...

What happeend to Emmerich, someone asked? Most likely this: He came to America. He became rich and assimilated.

I once read an interview with the director of Flight Plan and R.E.D., also a German. He told how when he came to Hollywood circa 2002 he imediately bonded with his hosts over a round of Bush bashing. I heard many stories like that. Now imagine you are a foreigner, perhaps already on the left, you come to Ameria, expect people to be patriotic and discover that "even Americans" badmouth their country and half its people. What are you supposed to think? That they are right, that´s what.

The same happens to foreign correspondents in Washington. They go native, and the natives are liberal Democrats.

It is to be expected that German filmmakers or journalists are as leftwing as most of them are in the western world today. But anti-Americanism could never have gotten this big without the active help of Americans. It´s a major export.

Emmerich was never really a good filmmaker but at first he didn´t think of insulting America. After all his entire work is built on the American movies he grew up on. Not coincidentally, his first movies were dumb fun. Very dumb fun, but even so. Ever since Godzilla, they sucked.

You might say he put the ass in assimilation.

Individualist said...

You know thinking about Lone Ranger if they went with the original story. The bad guys were really mystical Injun mosters called Wendigo, Tonto was a medicine man warrior avending his tribe against the monsters and the Lone Ranger was the iconic Dudley Do Right Innocent Paladin thrust into the role of hero learning to deal with violence and still retain his saintly ideals who then hunt the monster down and kill it this might not have been a bad movie.

tryanmax said...

Indie, that actually is the movie storyline, with the exception that Tonto merely believes the villains to be Wendigo, but determines otherwise at the end.

Individualist said...

Tyranmax

Tonto is deluded from his childhood experience and believes the guy to be a Wendigo.
:
The other native americans kicked him out of the tribe becuase he was nuts which makes not sense cause supposedly he sold his tribe down the river and the bad men killed everyone.
:
At the end Tonto says "I thought you were a spirit demon but now realize you are just another white man".
:
Mind you supposedly the evidence this guy is a Wendigo is he ate the leg of a dancing girl.

PikeBishop said...

"Are you serious? When I was in high school, we had to run a mile in 12 minutes. Of course, miles were longer back then... and uphill the whole way."

Andrew, yeah, and we had to run barefoot and backwards too, in the snow.

PikeBishop said...

El Gordo, "the Patriot" did not suck, but that was 2000. After that you are right.

tryanmax said...

Indie, I guess I'm seeing those interpretations as modest tweaks given that most films don't adhere to the source to the letter. Think every superhero movie ever made. Also, consider that they could have just gone off the rails given the general unfamiliarity with the Lone Ranger these days.

Commander Max said...

I should have worded that differently. When I said sucked up to, I meant the story is entertaining without the usual how bad everything is. It's all our fault.

One thing to note they sure suck up to libs.

Koshcat said...

I have been out of town then having trouble with computers so I am way behind. I agree with your essay, Andrew, but I still think the primary problem with these movies is poor writing. Perhaps we can give it a name? Lucasitis? They all have poor writing which can't be fixed with cgi. The writers, actors, and directors are talented enough to make it better than a B-movie, which is amazing when you consider it.

I haven't seen the Lone Ranger but from what I have read and heard, it sounded like a turd. I don't mind that they may have focused more on Tonto but why change the overall story? The Ranger treated Tonto as close as to an equal as was allowed in that day. Focus on their relationship and make them equals. I recently watched 3:10 to Yuma. Occasional action scenes but most of the western focused on the two men; their differences and similarities. Both True Grits are very well done. The western isn't dead if the writing is good. Science fiction isn't dead if the writing is good.

Individualist said...

Tyranmax
:
My problem was not with the changes they wanted to make as the plot line was senseless.
:
The brothers start out as bad villians. One goes on to become CEO of the railroad and the other a bandit leader who among other things is a cannibal. They stay close and work together in a plot to get the silver which us left there 20 years and buy the railroad.
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They need to clear out the Indians so they attack settlements as indians so they can get to the silver yet the story line tells us that when Tonto was 8 and showed them where the silver was they killed the entire tribe.
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It makes no sense whatsover.

tryanmax said...

Indie, I think that's where the Pirates Formula (if you can call it that) factors in--overly complicated and convoluted storytelling. It may be senseless, but it's not much less senseless than most summer blockbusters that do well. I don't think a more coherent plot is the difference between success or failure for Lone Ranger. I think it's that the Formula feels stale and thus the whole project feels phoned in. "Here, audience, have another helping of the last project. We put the actors on horses, so now it's different."

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Is Andrew OK?

AndrewPrice said...

Floyd, I'll be back soon. I'm just getting over an infection to my leg which made me feverish for the past few days, but it's all under control now. There will be a Wednesday and a Friday post this week, then regular schedule next week.

Thanks for asking!

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