Are They Stupid or Something?

By David Glenn Cox

When I was a kid, I could turn on any one of the three television networks and watch anything at all in glorious 19” black and white splendor. Anything at all, provided that you liked Westerns. Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel. Cimarron Strip, The Virginian or for something completely different Wagon Train. The list goes on and on, but eventually the public grew tired of Westerns.

It is a battle that has been going on since the invention of television. Movie makers developed Panavision and Vista vision, Technicolor giving the audience the color that was lacking at home. Rocking chairs, food options and multiplex theaters. It’s troublesome to go to the theater when the movies at home start, whenever I say they start.

Before television, going to the movies was the equivalent of watching TV. A cartoon, a short subject, The Three Stooges, a newsreel and then a second feature after the marquee attraction. You didn’t have to be on time. if you were ten minutes late or so, you only missed the cartoon.

Regal Cinemas will be closing 39 theaters in a bankruptcy reorganization. The company blames Covid-19 and Streaming services for their money troubles. And Covid -19 sure, but streaming services are also struggling. Netflix lost the largest number of subscribers in ten years last month. (including me) Disney, the mouse that bored is also having money troubles.

After spending butt loads of precious cash buying up Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel, as well as other franchises. Disney has suffered a string of box office disasters and streaming bombs. Maybe the audiences are losing interest in superhero movies. But there are other issues which are driving the public away. What do you do with a cash cow besides milk it? They used to say that Pixar couldn’t make a bad film, until Disney took over.

Amazon’s billion dollar “Lord of the Rings” sequel has been panned by fans and critics alike, who say it is disrespectful to the original Tolkien version. That it disregards the carefully crafted Tolkien world and replaces it with nonsense for nonsense’s sake. It coincides with the rise of the all-powerful film director. It all comes down to THEIR artistic vision. What does some old linguistics professor know about Middle Earth, just because he invented it? We can improve it and make it run faster and jump higher.

Writers or the lack of writers speaks volumes. Stories don’t have to make sense anymore. If the studio says, cut thirty minutes. You cut thirty minutes. Ignoring that those thirty minutes of film performance is probably several weeks of work and hundreds of thousands of dollars and might leave gaping holes in the plot. The time to get the story straight is before the filming starts. Cutting it up later trying to fix it is a recipe for disaster.

With superhero movies the superheroes can do anything. So, where is the dilemma? Why should the audience care? The superhero can reverse time so that the event never happens. The dead can be brought back to life. And if thousands of innocents are killed in the process? Wow, did you see those special effects?

HBO’s “Velma” takes the light hearted goofy Scooby Doo franchise and makes it dark and loaded with social commentary and the only character missing, is Scooby Doo. The Rotten Tomatoes audience gave it a seven. It’s like a remake of Forrest Gump without Forrest. Or for every hundred people that watched 93 of them didn’t like it. But everything must be dark today, dark equals edgy and serious. In the film “Devotion” all the scenes are all filmed darkly even scenes outdoors are dark.

The characters become stereotyped; every superhero has an overweight nerdy friend. Or the superhero is the nerd before discovering their superpowers. The cunning conniving, heartless corporate executive is portrayed as depraved. Kill them all! Kill everybody! Taken directly from Simon Legree tying the young damsel to the railroad tracks or foreclosing on the orphanage. Hit em again! I don’t the audience got it yet. This a real bad guy!

And the good guys?  Why sugar wouldn’t melt in their mouths. They are gooder than aire angels. Internal conflict? Naw, just personal insecurities. Gee, I love the girl next door. But she never notices me because I’m such a nerd and she’s dating the captain of the football team. But as sure as Matt Dillion wins the gunfight and Pa Cartwright dispenses wisdom. The nerd wins the girl in the end. She’ll finally see that the football player is empty and vapid, meanspirited and cruel. Because she needed her eyes opened, but she’s much better now!

Because films cost so much to make every studio is afraid of that dirty word, risk. So don’t try anything new! Do a remake or a sequel to some other film. Don’t try anything with risk involved. But I remember a film that was not considered mainstream, until it hit big! It was called, “Star Wars.” They didn’t even have a merchandising deal in place, let alone any plans for sequels. Nobody in the cast were considered big stars at the time. It was a new idea that caught the public’s imagination. So, repeat as necessary until you run it into the ground.

Amsterdam  (Disney) cost $90 million to make and took in $31 million.

Bros (Universal) cost $22 million to make and took in $12 million.

Death on the Nile (Disney) cost $90 million and took in the $45.6 domestic haul.

Devotion (Sony) $90 million to make and brought in $17 million. (Ouch!)

Lightyear (Disney) $200 million to make ($200 million!) and brought in worldwide only $226 million. Barely broke even. Not much of a return on a $200 million dollar investment.

Moonfall (Lionsgate)  $140 million to make and brought in a paltry $67 million worldwide and a disastrous $19 million domestically.

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (Paramount) the budget was $45 million, and it took in only $41 million.

She Said (Universal) Cost $32 million and took in a mere $10.2 million.

Strange World (Disney) $180 million to make and brought in a disastrous $53 million. Holy Shit! No wonder there has been a management shakeup at Disney.

The 355 (Universal) with a budget of $75 million the film brought in an astounding $27.8 million worldwide. And with such a captivating and intriguing title too!

The Bob’s Burger Movie (20th Century) $38 to make and brought in $34 million worldwide. How could that one miss?

The Northman (Focus) budget $90 million and brought in $69.6 million worldwide.

Three Thousand Years of Longing (United Artists) $60 million to make and did $20 million at the gate.

As bad as the numbers look, they are even much worse. Those numbers don’t include advertising and promotional costs which of course add more millions to the good money thrown after bad category.

Why isn’t the answer obvious? It’s those damn streaming services! What’s wrong with the motion picture audiences of today? Are they stupid or something? Well, somebody around here must be stupid.

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