5 Shocking Failures in 2013 We Should Have Seen Coming
American culture is famously amnesiac -- spending a decade in our country is like trying to watch Dude, Where's My Car? with Guy Pearce's character from Memento without the evening ending in an explosion of confused violence. I think the media are largely to blame for this condition, because the media are largely to blame for rap metal, and I still haven't forgiven them for that. The news media would cease to exist if we didn't desperately care about every single thing they report on, so they fuel our curiosity and outrage by treating every story as an unprecedented, scandalous mystery and challenging us to come up with the answer.
For example, a young pop star getting drunk and acting like an asshole becomes "IS [insert soon-to-be-irrelevant name here] OUT OF CONTROL?" even though we already know that half of all famous people are raging shitheads and most of us have been guilty of the exact same type of behavior at one time or another. A relatively minor yet inconveniencing procedural error in some company or government-run institution becomes "[mistake] LEAVES HUNDREDS WITHOUT [non-vital good or service], WILL YOU BE NEXT?" even though we know that the inconvenience is temporary and nobody's life is in danger. But every year we make an unspoken agreement with the media -- they will bring us the news as if they just arrived on planet Earth and have no memory of the previous centuries of human existence, and in turn we will selectively ignore huge chunks of our own knowledge and experience, just so we can pretend that the news is interesting.
Here are five of the most ridiculous questions we were asked in 2013 that we should've already known the answers to.
Who Could Have Predicted That Blockbuster Films Like The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim Would Fail to Find a Mainstream Audience?
Both The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim -- colossally budgeted at around $200 million each and expected to kick off new franchises -- bombed catastrophically, like a fat astronaut in a low Earth orbit. This totally unexpected outcome signals something foreboding about the film industry. Clearly the age of the big blockbuster is over; the only things we can count on now are sequels of proven franchises and Sandra Bullock.
This outcome should have been obvious all along, because 100 years of moviemaking have given us absolutely no excuse to think otherwise. The Lone Ranger and Pacific Rim were blushingly expensive movies in two genres that have never been huge box office draws. Why would bathing each production in a $200 million shower of hubris suddenly convince audiences to go see them?
"What if we throw in the car?"
No Western or giant-monster film in history has ever grossed $200 million domestically. The closest Westerns have ever come were the True Grit remake, which pulled in $175 million on a budget of $38 million, and Unforgiven, with a lifetime gross of just over $100 million on a budget of $14 million. (It's actually tied with Maverick, but Maverick is immediately disqualified due to my suspicion that it was partially funded by Mel Gibson's Nazi gold.) The two most successful Westerns ever made, combined, cost less to produce than Disney spent to shelter and feed Johnny Depp and apply his Glenn Danzig face paint.
There was also a substantial earmark for dead birds.
The giant-monster genre is much more of a wasteland. (Please note that I'm not counting the Transformers movies as "giant monster" movies, because they aren't. They're Transformers movies.) Cloverfield is the biggest success ever -- that movie managed to earn $80 million (a little over three times its budget) based on a hugely successful viral marketing campaign that deliberately told you absolutely nothing about the film except that a bunch of douchebags were going to be imperiled by a Statue-of-Liberty-decapitating mystery beast. That's like handing a kid a present shrouded in Space Tyrannosaurus wrapping paper -- the present itself may end up sucking, but there's no way that kid isn't going to open it and make sure.
The only other monster "success" was the 1998 Godzilla remake, which earned $136 million on a budget of $130 million. Most of that blazing 5 percent profit was based on Independence Day juice -- there wasn't a single preview that didn't make it abundantly clear that the bards behind this spirited retelling of Godzilla were the same two blind squirrels responsible for Independence Day, the 1996 tidal wave of American currency that Will Smith surfed to international superstardom. The movie was so terribly received that TriStar executives immediately cancelled its plans for a Godzilla trilogy and narrowly avoided being executed for war crimes. However, since the obvious decision is to revisit it 16 years later and throw even more money at it, 2014 will bring us yet another Godzilla reboot, starring box office champion and electrifying hit-streak machine Aaron Taylor-Johnson (star of Shanghai Knights and Kick-Ass 2).
Historically speaking, this can do nothing but succeed.
Pirates of the Caribbean is largely responsible for this trend. Before 2003, pirate movies were box office poison. Film students kept copies of Roman Polanski's Pirates on their desks like shards from the Challenger explosion, warning them against the dangers of dreaming too big. Children hung copies of Cutthroat Island above their beds to catch nightmares. If you brought either of those films into a Blockbuster, they would instantly erase every other tape in the store like a haunted magnet.
But Disney poured $100 million into their pirate movie anyway and cast Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush as the two most captivatingly entertaining pirates in cinematic history, and Hollywood mistakenly believed it was the "$100 million" side of that equation that resulted in the film's success (judging by The Lone Ranger, Disney thought the winning recipe was "$100 million and Johnny Depp"). People would've watched those two characters play backgammon on a tugboat through a black and white Kinetoscope if the writing was good enough. Money doesn't create interest -- it just makes interesting things look better.
How Could Sony and Microsoft Release Such Unreliable New Game Consoles?
Sony's and Microsoft's new systems, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, are bricking straight out of the box. People are getting screwed out of their hard-earned cash -- these companies willfully shipped products that were broken because they only cared about their bottom line. They owe every single customer an immediate replacement, somebody needs to lose their job, and they'll be lucky if they don't get sued.
Every television, toaster, VCR, DVD player, video camera, and yes, even video game system ever manufactured has an allowable failure rate, meaning a small percentage of them will be completely functionless the instant you take them out of the box. It's just part of buying and selling merchandise that requires an intricate network of interwoven parts to operate correctly. Think of every mechanical and/or electronic Christmas gift you've ever received as the pyrotechnics team at Madison Square Garden. If even one of those guys shows up drunk, Metallica is going to look like a middle-aged ping pong team instead of a quartet of flame-shrouded rock Olympians. The same is true of your new gadget.
"Why aren't you Metallica?!"
However, according to the Internet, this is the worst human rights violation that has ever occurred. Seriously. Do a quick search for "Hutus and Tutsis" and "PS4 failure," and see which one gets you more results. Never mind, I'll save you the trouble:
In reality, the failure rate of the latest PlayStation and Xbox consoles is probably lower than 1 percent, which seems like a large number when that translates to thousands of consoles, but they sold a million of these things in one day (and 1 percent of 1 million is 10,000). Whether we like it or not, that's an expected (and acceptable) failure rate, and we know it. There is no conspiracy, no disgruntled factory employee sabotage, no CEO that needs to be fired, and no drastic company-wide initiative that needs to be taken.
All of those consoles will be repaired or replaced in time, just like that microwave you had to send back to Samsung the day you bought it because it failed to cook your tater tots. The difference is that nobody has ever sold a million microwaves in 24 hours. That 1 percent failure rate is usually spread out over several months. Also, most people only fill out customer feedback questionnaires when they are angry. Think of how many "rate your purchase" emails from Amazon you've ignored -- you don't leave feedback when you are totally satisfied, you just enjoy your new item and go on with your life. So, you have between 10,000 and 30,000 bitterly dissatisfied customers (per system) leaving frothingly melodramatic 1 star reviews on the Internet in a single day, which makes Sony and Microsoft debuting a new product that no one is required to buy look like a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
"The PlayStation 4 sustains itself with human blood drawn through
palm-boring octopus pincers set in the grips of every controller!" -Sony
How Could the Obama Administration Unveil a Broken Health Care Website?
The Obamacare website's debut was marred by constant crashes and lockouts. It is a shocking display of government ineptitude and a clear sign that the program is doomed to fail.
This is how every single government program has always worked. The DMV takes forever to do anything (and only recently moved to a website), filing your taxes is an archaically circuitous process, and most military contracts go way over budget and schedule, but we're shocked that a website designed to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously through a complicated process wasn't flawless on Day 1? Not even Blizzard can do that, and that is the only function they are required to perform -- their servers crashed the day Diablo III was released from the surge of people trying to play it and World of Warcraft at the same time. Few major systems dazzle right out of the gate like Emmitt Smith, let alone anything designed by the government.
"OK, so we're all in agreement -- we're just going to smash these things together until medicine comes out." -the government
More importantly, every government program is perpetually a decade behind technologically. Every single government institution I have dealt with still charges a "convenience fee" whenever you pay with a credit card, as if it is a baffling new trend that they are graciously accommodating. People have been using credit cards en masse since the nineteen fucking eighties. The only people who carry large amounts of cash nowadays are drug dealers and time travelers, so implying that the "convenience" is anyone's but their own suggests that they have the same view of technology as Brendan Fraser in the beginning of Encino Man. If I try to file my state taxes online, I get charged an additional fee, because the Department of the Treasury is apparently so frightened and confused by the idea of glowing desktop knowledge boxes that they prefer me to cram a laborious stack of papers in an envelope and have it delivered to them by a fellow government employee two days later. We should be amazed that the Obamacare website is more than an Angelfire page with frames and a Web counter that charges you a convenience fee just for accessing it, rather than the fact that it's taking them time to iron out all the bugs.
"The computer somehow knows I'm sick. The website is a complete success!"
Can You Believe Alec Baldwin Quit Twitter in a Homophobic Rage?
Alec Baldwin deleted his Twitter account after launching a slur-filled tirade against a Daily Mail reporter who dared to suggest that he and his new wife were anything less than the greatest people who have ever lived. This was an unprecedented series of events for a respected actor and humanitarian like Baldwin.
"Just a minute, I need to finish yelling at all these fags on the Internet."
Alec Baldwin makes dramatic declarations of quitting things forever all the time. He swore to quit Twitter forever twice last year. He swore to quit acting forever a few years ago, after a voice mail he left on his 11-year-old daughter's phone (wherein he calls her a "little pig" for daring to miss his phone call) was leaked to TMZ. Seriously, search "Alec Baldwin quits acting" and you will drown in the results. He's literally more famous for being a combative asshole than an actor. He gets insanely angry, and his (obviously embarrassed) response when his anger fades is to run away and hide from everyone, like a 6-year-old throwing such a ferocious temper tantrum that he inflates his pants with rage shit in front of all his respected peers at KinderCare. But he always comes back, because Alec Baldwin is a phoenix. A deflated, pants-shitting phoenix.
Subquestion: Does Alec Baldwin Think Cracked.com Is Bullshit?
Alec Baldwin totally thinks Cracked.com is bullshit. He returned from his self-imposed Twitter ceasefire to deliver a random outburst of long-refuted paranoia about the JFK assassination, and when he was directed to this Cracked article, he revealed his personal inner thoughts and declared it to be the most poorly written pile of bullshit that he had ever seen in his life:
This is presumably in comparison to the voluminous stacks of terrible screenplays he has read and agreed to help bring to screaming, malignant life, including but not limited to Mercury Rising, The Cat in the Hat, Along Came Polly, and Pearl fucking Harbor. So several of us immediately took him to task over this idiosyncrasy:
When looking at this timeline, two things become abundantly clear -- we all have an encyclopedic knowledge of terrible Alec Baldwin movies, and I look like the Scar to Soren's Mufasa. Or the Loki to his Thor.
Who Could Have Predicted That Every Single Twilight Knockoff Would Bomb?
By some bizarre stroke of fate, every movie released this year meant to start new franchises riding on the coattails of Twilight's "supernatural angst" success -- Beautiful Creatures, The Host, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones -- all failed to catch on. Audiences must be tired of the genre.
This happens in cycles, all of the time, because producers have yet to figure out that people like stories, not genres. Fans of Jaws didn't pour out to see Grizzly, Orca, or Piranha, because they're not fans of killer-animal movies -- they're fans of Jaws. The swarm of terrible sci-fi movies released in the wake of Star Wars (like Krull, The Last Starfighter, Star Trek V, etc.) didn't catch on for the same reason. People don't like space movies, they like Star Wars. Ditto for Harry Potter -- Harry Potter fans didn't flock to go see The Spiderwick Chronicles or A Series of Unfortunate Events, because they aren't fans of magic children, they're fans of Harry Potter. And buying an "I'm a fan of magic children" T-shirt from Amazon is a good way to get your computer taken away by federal agents.
"No! My fan fiction!"
Hollywood always mistakes successes for trends -- people like good stories and memorable characters. And, in other cases, they like Twilight. The genre is incidental. No one rushes to see a movie just because they love the genre (see The Lone Ranger, above). Hollywood couldn't even trick barely literate goths into seeing The Host by baiting that trap with the hunk of cheese that is Stephenie Meyer, so the impending release of Vampire Academy is unlikely to prove me wrong here.
The cheese stands alone.
Let's call back the Pirates of the Caribbean example from earlier -- what was the first thing Disney did in the wake of the staggering(ly unexpected) success of that movie, besides immediately greenlight enough sequels and action figures to convince future plane-striding alien archaeologists that the currency of the early 21st century was pirate-themed merchandise? Don't bother pestering Google at this hour, I'll tell you what they did -- they dumped everything they had into the impending release of The Haunted Mansion, because they felt this was a sure sign that the world really wanted to watch movies about Disneyland attractions (despite the sobering truth that previous blood sacrifices Mission to Mars and The Country Bears had desperately struggled to reveal to them). That isn't even a genre that exists, and Disney still felt confident it was ripe for exploitation.
"If every square inch of this place isn't a movie by the year 2015, I will haunt the shit out of all of you."
I guarantee we will see different versions of all these questions in 2014, because we live in a culture that encourages us to forget the answers and just click the SHARE button. Which means I can turn this same year-end column into a template and keep recycling it, kind of like what they do with Spider-Man movies.