Monday, October 6, 2014

Why most summer (and sci-fi) movies suck

As we prepare for Interstellar, I think it would be smart to talk about why Nolan is the exception to the rule. So in this post I’d like us to discuss the “reality on the ground” in Hollywood, as described by Scott Mendelson of Forbes. His blog is called the Ticket Booth. His article on this subject:

This will be important reading as Interstellar comes out, and for those of us who will spend the next few years discussing and debating the 3rd Bad Robot Star Trek Movie. I want to get into the specifics of what Payne and McKay (mostly McKay) said in their TrekCore interview about Trek 3, but first we need agree on some fundamentals that will guide our discussions, debate, and especially our counsel to the Bad Robot Team.  

Mendelson’s premise is simple: Blockbuster movie writers and directors have a more pressing goal than pleasing the fan base: “It’s about convincing the general audiences to check out your comic book adaptation or fantasy property that makes it a hit…. It’s not that Hollywood doesn’t care about or doesn’t appreciate the geek fandom. It’s just that said geek fandom doesn’t make up very much total box office for a given film.”

Mendelson has a great analogy: “The passionate comic book fan is the equivalent of the hardcore left in the Democratic Party. They know you’re not going to stay home, so why bother placating you in the first place?” The party candidate doesn’t want to alienate the base, in fact they have to court you heavily in the primary. But the candidate who wins is the one who all along, no matter what he says on MSNBC or FOX News, is the one who was always building a product that is designed to sell big on Election Day to the whole country.

We Trek fans are in the primary phase now. I’m not saying that the Bad Robot team is blowing smoke, but we can’t delude ourselves that they are not primarily focused on making a movie that will open big on their opening (election) day. What does that entail?   

As the sfdebris’s Chuck pointed out in his Transformers review, summer sci-fi movies cost so much to make and market, they have to be written and produced in a way that will ensure media hype, and that general audience masses show up, especially on opening weekend. Thus we have what I like to call the Algorithm. You know, the reason why most summer blockbusters are basically the same movie with differently named and costumed characters.  

This Algorithm, more than the many different film makers, is the reason that the past 15 years of Star Trek movies have basically been the same movie with differently named and costumed characters. We can quibble over this and that creative decision. But the fact remains that a summer blockbuster filmmaker is allowed only so many colors in his paint box. We all know what those colors are by now: 

1) super villain 
2) super weapon
3) Earth in danger 
4) nonstop 30-minute third act destruction... 
5) wherein a city is usually destroyed
6) female "love (read sex) interest" for the lead actor        

The fear of many fans—including this one—is that the next Trek movie will repeat this trend. (It is a hopeful note that the one thing we have basically been promised is that the setting will be away from Earth, in deep space. This goes against the Algorithm, which says that the Asian market will not turn out for a sci-fi space film that does not involve Earth).  

To close, I’m going to implore that we not make this discussion personal by myself making it personal. Imagine you are Orci, MaKay or Payne. You have just been given a job, asked to perform at a level that you never have before—the highest of your career. As a Star Trek fan, you have a choice: do you channel your inner Roddenberry and write a movie that the fans will adore, maybe a cross between The Motion Picture and The Voyage Home (or even City on the edge and Balance of Terror)? Or do you follow the Algorithm, all but guaranteeing that you have the best chance of being re-hired for next summer, fulfilling your life long ambition of being a film maker, and so you go write The Wrath of Kahn Part 6? Or, do you somehow thread the needle?    

What would you choose? Think about it.

Oh by the way, it doesn’t help that Scott Mendelson is predicting Summer 2016 will be the most crowded blockbuster season in the history of cinema. God (or “Q”) help us all.

We need to push them to thread the needle, but we shouldn’t talk like it’s gonna easy. Even though Nolan makes it look easy. 

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