Original Material? Be Careful What You Ask For, Hollywood
So, it appears that Hollywood has finally realized that there’s only so many old toys, cartoon shows and comic books worth making into movies (And somewhere, Marvel and DC are aggressively disagreeing with that last one, I’m sure), and is looking for the movie machine to start churning out original material. Which raises the question: Is anyone really ready for that?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m as eager as the next person – Well, as long as the next person is Grumpy McFedUpWithCinemaRegurgitatingMyYouthBackAtMeson – for moviemakers to concentrate on coming up with new ideas again, but I can’t help but feel that the supposed call for all-original material is doomed to failure, and it’s all Hollywood’s fault.
The problem, as I see it, is twofold. Firstly, I’m not sure that audiences really know how to deal with characters and stories they’re not already familiar with. We’ve been trained, in a sense, to gravitate towards the familiar, with focus given in terms of both marketing and budget, and it’s taken. Given the choice between, say, The Dark Knight or Hancock, audiences eagerly picked the devil they knew, even thought Hancock featured the most successful movie star on the entire planet, and it’s not just because they thought that Heath Ledger looked scarier than Jason Bateman (Although, let’s face it, he did. Mind you, Bateman wasn’t really giving it his all at the time). I’m tempted to say that this is, in part, because the people in charge of advertising movies these days have lost the knack of actually introducing new concepts to people; consider the trailers for Inception, for example, which are visually stunning but, in terms of actually giving out information about what the movie is about, not so impressive. Maybe it’s like a muscle that has atrophied because it’s been so much easier to offer explosions, spectacle and a familiar name or two when the logo appears at the end.
Secondly, new things need time to grow. It’s really, really unlikely that something that no-one has ever heard of will have the kind of opening weekend that, for example, an Iron Man 2 or Dark Knight or whatever will have, if only because people are going to be less likely to spend their hard-earned dollars on something unless they have a strong feeling that they’re going to get something approaching their money’s worth. On the one hand, that’s not a problem; letting something find its audience, build its reputation through word of mouth, is a great thing, and is likely to make its fans love it even more because they won’t feel as if it’s been crammed down their throats, but instead “discovered” by them. On the other hand, that’s not the way that the movie industry works. Now, it’s all about the opening gross, and if a movie starts slow, it suddenly has the reputation for underachieving, disappointing, and all manner of words that shout at the unconvinced “GO AWAY! THIS IS NOT AS GOOD AS YOU’D WANT IT TO BE!”
There’s a counter-argument to all of this, of course, which goes like this: Avatar. But that’s a freak, a happy accident; yes, it was original material that wasn’t adapting any known property, but on the other hand, it was James Cameron’s first movie since Titanic and had an insane reputation based on that alone. How many other movies could really have that kind of pull at all, never mind on a regular basis?
Like I said, I want to be wrong about this, because… Well, I’d like mainstream cinema to do more than just tell me stories I already know. I grew up with Star Wars and Indiana Jones and Back To The Future, and while none of them were entirely, 100% original, they all had their own take on things that I couldn’t really find anywhere else, and that was exciting, and new and different in a way that I don’t think mainstream movies know how to do anymore. But in order to get back to something approaching that (undoubtedly clouded by nostalgia) heyday, both audiences and the movie industry will have to unlearn the lessons of the last few decades and start to redefine what “success” means… and as long as there’s fast and big money to be made making Stretch Armstrong and MASK movies, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.