Monday, September 16, 2013

The Summer 2013 Movie Season: Other Takes

I got in my two cents on the summer of 2013 earlier than most last month, but wondered how other observers' takes compared, noticing in particular Scott Foundas' round-up of professional critics' views over at Variety, a recap by CNN's Todd Leopold, and a more genre-oriented take from io9's Charlie Jane Anders.

Reading these pieces I realized that I forgot all about RIPD (a huge flop, of course), and The Purge (a success on a more modest scale, if mainly due to a strong opening weekend, after which the movie faded fast)--not insignificant omissions, though they don't change the picture much.

Of course, different observers tallied things differently. I do think it's fair of io9's Charlie Jane Anders to count Pacific Rim among the summer's winners. The movie's North American performance has been only lukewarm, breaching the $100 million mark domestically only near the end of its run. However, it did much better overseas, earning more than that in China alone (it's already up to $110 million there, making it the year's fourth-biggest hit in that market), which helped raise the global gross to nearly $400 million.

By contrast, Anders' numbering Smurfs 2 among the winners struck me as a stretch, as the sequel made less than half original did globally, while Kick-Ass 2 likewise deserves its place in the flop list given its revenue to date (even if the low budget means it did not have to be a big moneymaker).

Still, that doesn't change things all that much either, and in the end it all seems a rehash of the usual--dismayed notes about the prevalence of sequels and "big, dumb" blockbusters and sequels to big, dumb blockbusters (already well established by the '80s, if more dominant than ever); about the robustness of the appetite of foreign markets for Hollywood's brand of spectacle, even as American audiences display a fickleness toward it (the tendency of which to periodically recur is almost as old, and again, more dominant than ever).

Todd Leopold, however, does make an interesting point in his remark about the increasing repetitiveness of the brand of spectacle we are seeing--the same sights (the White House, New York City) blown up again and again and again:
. . . there's only so much destruction audiences can watch before it all starts to blend together. "Man of Steel" destroyed New York -- OK, Metropolis -- yet again, right down to the fancy filigree on the sides of its skyscrapers. "Star Trek" ripped up San Francisco. "World War Z," "Pacific Rim," "After Earth," "Elysium" -- all featured massive, dystopian chaos.

"I think that this is a big problem with the whole summer and with the tentpoles that were made for this summer," says [producer Lynda] Obst. "There was a sense that we've seen it all before . . . They all seem to mirror the same sensibility."
It strikes me that this sort of action film may be approaching a technical plateau as Hollywood bombast bumps up against the limits of human nervous systems, and of filmmakers' creativity.1 It often seems that one simply cannot go bigger, faster, flashier or more intense to any effect worth achieving, while the inventiveness of the application may be running into diminishing returns. And that has significant implications for an industry which has always been organized around the sale of high-concept spectacle, but which has become more reliant on this than ever before for its financial viability.

Skyfall: A Critical View (Postscript)
Do Our Science Fiction Movies Hate Science?
The Film Industry
Seasons and Years in Review
The 2013 Summer Movie Season in Review
A Summer Box Office Update: The Would-Be Blockbusters
The Blockbuster Strategy

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