4 Reasons Hollywood Sucks (And It's All Our Fault)
I don't watch movies.
Which is weird, because I really like movies. All throughout my childhood and teenage years, I absorbed films like a chubby, pasty, dateless sponge. I watched everything -- good, bad, horribly good, hilariously bad; Rashomon to Fist of the North Star, Casablanca to The Rocketeer -- and I loved everything I watched. But now, even though my whole job revolves around pop culture and my wife has a stack of free movie tickets as her work's way of apologizing for all of the violence and poop, I cannot bring myself to watch a new movie. I'm not just bitter and jaded, either. Because I understand something people don't want to acknowledge: Hollywood sucks.
And it's all our fault.
Appealing to Our Stupid Interests
Damn near every movie is successful, in some niche market or another. Whether that's with the nerd crowd, or the sports crowd, or parents dragging hateful children to anything colorful that will get them to shut up for 90 minutes, or foreigners watching American blockbuster garbage because they don't have to understand the dialogue to enjoy it, practically everything seems to be turning a profit. That's why we got three Transformers sequels and a new G.I. Joe movie in the pipes. Do you know anybody, literally anybody, who left G.I. Joe going "Boy howdy, I can't wait to see where the story goes from here!"?
Source."Does Snake Eyes continue punching, or does he switch to kicks? I need closure for his character arc!"
This problem is broader than just Hollywood, though. And I think the Internet is to blame. Back in the pre-Internet days when young boys had to masturbate to clothing catalogs instead of German Pokemon Cosplay Scat Porn, being into anything outside of the mainstream wasn't a hobby, it was an occupation. If you liked anime back in the '80s, you spent every waking moment patrolling the sketchy backrooms of comic book shops, or thumbing through the "beneath the table" bins at the nebulously Asian stall at the local flea market. If you were into the underground comic book scene, you mail-ordered your titles through obscure catalogs found next to free campus maps and STD pamphlets at the college coffee shop. And God help you if you liked indie games: You spent every weekend trading blowjobs for floppy disks behind the town's only computer/vacuum repair store, silently wishing through the tears that you didn't have enough ROM to save this memory.
But you did.
You always did.
"This comes with 4GB, but you only need 128k to carry shame with you forever."
But not now, thanks to the easy connectivity of the Internet. These days, literally any filthy, subterranean Morlock demographic can be easily accessed, informed and exploited. Got a vulgar comedy about a living teddy bear? Twenty years ago, that's a worn cassette in the "cult" section of the video store; now it's a nationwide theater release. Got a disjointed, ranty, philosophical, existentialist character comedy? That used to be called "bombing at the community college fiction workshop's open read night." Now it's a studio-funded, star-studded venture. Sure, nothing is a guaranteed success, but the accessibility of obscure markets makes sure nothing is quite as big a failure as it could have been, 20 years ago.
And that's actually a positive thing, most times.
In theory, a diverse but well-informed audience works to ensure that studios can try risky new properties without fear of catastrophic financial meta-fuckery. But that assumes Hollywood wants to greenlight quality work that appeals to a variegated audience. That is not now, nor has it ever been, the style in which Hollywood rolls.
"I roll three ways, baby: in a pile of coke, over the hopes and dreams of aspiring young actors, and down grassy hills. That shit's just fun."
No, the swagger with which Hollywood staggers is more about rehashed, hastily constructed crap, slapped together out of spare parts and kicked out the door to be devoured by the slavering masses before it even has a chance to curse an uncaring God for giving it life in the first place. That's not news; it's not unique to these modern days or anything. It's always been that way. It's just that the crap used to be a little less fringe, so it skated under the cultural radar. Now we see there's, holy shit, another Madea movie getting a theater release?
Wait, what? Bullshit. Witness Protection? That's the punchline to a joke, right? What's next, Madea Goes to Space?
But no, it's a real thing. It's a real movie, that real people will pay real dollars to see, even though nobody you know has ever seen a Tyler Perry movie, much less any of the 12 that came out this week. There are millio-
Hold on, no. We need to revisit this. Witness Protection? Really?
Jesus Fucking Christ. Is this like the middle-aged black woman's version of Police Academy? Why are there so many sequels to Grown Man Farts into Granny Panties: The Movie?
Ahem. But I digress. The point is, there are millions of viewers out there, wholly separated from the mainstream, who are lining up every other midnight to get them a piece of that sweet, sassy, tranny grandma action. As fringe groups, we used to get one, maybe two movies ever that even mentioned our shamefully specific interests, but now we're guaranteed a slew of cynical attempts to cash in on those interests several times a year. We used to get a Batman movie once a decade, now we get a Green Lantern every financial quarter; we used to get a Tron once in a lifetime, now we get Tron: Legacy every dang weekend.
Our Obsession With Novelty
As audiences, we prize novelty above all things in our modern movies. It's the reason M. Night Shyamalan briefly had a career, before we all woke up and realized that no matter how impressive it is that you can pull a pile of shit out of thin air, you're still ultimately holding a pile of shit. I'm as guilty of this as anybody: Throw an interesting angle or a novel plot device at me, and I start getting all pre-teen-girl excited for any kind of movie. Hell, I was all stoked to see Surrogates, at first, before I realized it was Surrogates just in time to stop myself from watching Surrogates. It doesn't help that science fiction, my particular jam, is most guilty of the gimmick film: Inception, Chronicle, Looper -- they're all new and novel and inventive enough angles to shove money pistons firmly into our nerdgears, but once the novelty wears off, what's left? I truly enjoyed Inception, I did, but for the life of me I couldn't tell you what it was about. Dreams, right? And like, shooting? That sounds good. I'll go with that: Inception was about that kid from 3rd Rock shooting dreams in the face.
Source."Quick, activate the fourth kick before we start p- nope. Too late. I'm peeing now. Peeing everywhere."
And now I'm all nerd-tumescent for Looper, but why is that? Because 3rd Rock looks like he's in the middle of possessing Bruce Willis' body and something something time travel? That's all I know about it. I'm excited on the basis of nothing, on the very teaser of a premise, because novelty is the only hook movies have left. It's like they've completely ceded character and dialogue and plot in favor of something -- anything -- mind-bending. I don't mean to call out these movies as shitty or anything, I'm just saying that I walked out of Inception going "Whoa! That was amazing!" and now couldn't tell you a single thing about it beyond "Gilbert Grape plays Freddy Krueger." But I've seen The Fifth Element like 60 fucking times. That was an objectively terrible movie, I know, but it at least thought about trying to make me give a shit about the characters.
It didn't succeed or anything, because y'know, Chris Tucker -- but it gets points for effort.
Quick, what's your favorite movie? Is it Lethal Weapon 2? Pirates of the Caribbean 3? How about Next Friday?
It's never a sequel, is it? Our favorite movies, the ones that stick with us, are always new experiences. We meet characters, we connect with them, we get drawn into a story from the beginning and watch its resolution at the end. It's a complete experience. It just works. There's nothing more satisfying than being told a fresh story from start to finish. And yet practically the only things Hollywood pumps out these days are sequels and remakes, reboots and reimaginings. Why is that?
Because we asked them to, of course.
"Will you pleeeeaaase make another Superman movie? THIS time, surely, somebody will enjoy it!"
You know that feeling when you finish a really good book, and you're just goddamn empty inside? If you could measure exactly when kids turned the last page of the Harry Potter series for the first time, I could probably extrapolate a pretty mean graph plotting the demise of childhood around the world. Finishing a good story is devastating. Because there's nothing more addictive than a good story, and just like any good high, it's going to be brutal coming down. The longer you spend hopped up on 'shrooms and bouncing around the rocks like a Gummi Bear, the longer you're going to spend sweating on the kitchen floor, trying to decide which is worse -- the existential crisis or the projectile diarrhea.
A good story makes addicts of us all, and addicts will always demand more, even if there's no more good stuff to give. You find a junkie in the middle of withdrawals and he's not going to turn down your heroin because you dropped it in the litter box. He'll shoot that shit into his arm, cat-poop rocks and all. That's why we'll watch Jack Sparrow fuck a squirrel on a life raft rather than say goodbye to him in a dignified manner.
Source."He's such a great character! RAPE HIS CORPSE FOR OUR AMUSEMENT." - The audience.
By pumping out crappy, cynical, slapdash sequels to our favorite properties, Hollywood isn't supplying anything that there isn't insane, drooling, shaky-handed demand for. It's only rebooting the reboot of the Spider-Man reboot because, when it closed the book and tried to leave the room, we all snapped wide awake and collectively screeched "NOOOO! READ IT AGAIN!"
We're Too Media Savvy
How long has it been since we got a fresh, original story to get addicted to, though? If something's not a sequel, it's a reboot. If it's not a reboot, it's a reimagining. If it's not a reimagining, it's a mashup, or an homage, or a series of transparent references. It feels like we've seen everything before, doesn't it? Movies today aren't like new hit songs; they're like house DJ remixes -- more obnoxious versions of classic hits we've all heard a million times before. Are movies getting worse, or am I just getting old, or has the unique combination of exhaust fumes, whiskey, Red Bull and sun exposure that comprises my typical weekend permanently deformed the part of my brain that registers joy?
But ALSO, it's because the last few generations of us all came of age at the highest point of media saturation in human history. When we were kids, cable TV was just hitting its stride, home video was all the rage, video games were first realizing their potential and the Internet was connecting everything together into one all-consuming pop culture blob. That blob hungrily, mindlessly devoured every piece of media it could get its gelatinous jowls around, and inevitably, it started excreting the desiccated remains out the other side.
This is that other side.
We, friends, are living beneath the asshole of the pop culture blob.
Pictured: You. Your life. Covered in blob-shit.
There's nothing new or exciting to people like me, because people like me were thrown body and soul into the media Big Bang. The atoms of everything we love were used to build everything you see today. If you grew up in the '60s, the first time you saw Planet of the Apes, it probably blew your mind. How could you have seen that twist coming? There had never been anything like it. And that's because you spent maybe two hours a week at the movies, if you were a huge fan. Between those times, you did other things like "run around outside" or "speak to other human beings." My generation didn't watch movies in the theater -- we watched them in our living rooms, in our bedrooms, on our phones or in our friggin' cars while driving on the highway. We're not blown away by the reboot of Planet of the Apes, because we not only saw the original -- we watched the first reboot, the sequel to that reboot and the Director's Cut of the reimagining of that sequel, and played the Alternate Reality Game for the pre-release of the reboot on the movie's website.
It's not that Hollywood's out of ideas -- they've never had a ton to begin with. It's that we've simply hit our saturation point. I said I was excited about Looper, earlier -- but I've seen Goodfellas, The Professional and Back to the Future a billion times each. I'm so up on its source material that everything is probably going to feel mind-numbingly familiar. I watched Brave this weekend, but I saw Mulan when I was younger -- I didn't get much out of the Scottish reboot.
I mean, an inappropriate erection in front of some children, sure, but not much else.
It used to be fine to create along the lines of your influences, because most people didn't share the same influences. But now we're growing up connected, watching and reading and listening to the same things -- because we're all watching and reading and listening to everything. I mentioned earlier that movies are using niche markets like a crutch, and you've probably never seen a Madea movie -- but I bet if you did, you'd catch elements of Soul Food and Mrs. Doubtfire, a little Friday and just a touch of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
If you've heard all of the songs a million times before, even the most talented musician in the world can only issue remixes.
Hey, I don't mean to be preaching the end times here. If you're not this jaded yet, great! Go out and enjoy things (your time will come, you rotten little bastards). But if the luster seems to be flaking off movies these days, maybe the problem isn't with Hollywood. Maybe it's because, with people our age, with our knowledge and our backgrounds, all Hollywood can do is pull a nervous Chris Farley routine and mutter "Hey, remember that time with the thing? You do? Yeah ... that was awesome!"
Hey look, there's another little reference that we can all get.
Get the first episode of Robert's Sci-Fi Serial Novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here, or buy Robert's other book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.
For more from Brockway, check out The 5 Most Mind-Blowing Moments from Indian Action Movies and 5 Movie Martial Artists That Lost a Deathmatch to Dignity.