Friday, September 26, 2008

"HOW much?!"

Ah, the glory of working at a movie theater. Nothing sticks out in my mind more than the rare times that I would be asked to work at the box office. And inevitably, the question would come up with every few people, "Did the prices go up?" or "This is ridiculous. Way too much." (As they'd hand over their card, as well.) Sometimes the prices had, sometimes they hadn't. Yet, they continued to purchase tickets.

Eventually, though, people stop. Despite the perceived quality of movies being better in 2008 in comparison to 2007, movie attendance is still down 5% according to the Associated Press. But ticket prices continue to rise. What seems to be happening is studios, and by extension individual theaters, are raising prices, and knocking more people out of the ability to see movies. Revenues are similar year-to-year, but attendance is down. Could it be that these rising prices are pricing people out of movies in general? Could it be possible that by keeping prices relatively static, that you would in effect have MORE people coming to see movies? I don't know the answer to that, but if it were me, and I was running the studio, I'd probably want more people to see my movie and have more potential from that customer in the long term, than to get them the one time they go out.

Arguments made when the complaint of expensive movie tickets are brought up over how much more of a value going to the movies is as opposed to going to a sporting event or a concert. Well, yeah, obviously. When you go to a sporting event, whether basketball or baseball or football, whatever, every game is going to be unique. There will never be two games that will be played out in exactly the same way. They are playing live in front of your face. This is an experience that cannot be replicated. Therefore, the barrier to entry is going to be much more expensive.

Movies on the other hand are unique in their own right. They can inspire, elicit emotional reactions, excite, entertain, all of that. But you can replay those effects over and over again. A movie, while often times a dynamic experience, is a static form of entertainment. No matter how many times you go see The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader will always admit to being Luke's father. So of course movies need to be much cheaper. The great thing is that it allows you to see movies again and again. There's always something new to be seen.

And let's not forget the potential of having a ruined experience. Loud patrons, kids running around, poor presentation can all bring something a feeling of rushed excitement to a screeching halt. All things that need to be looked at in the future.

Sure, home theaters, surround sound systems, and high definition televisions are getting closer to recreating that silver screen adventure, but they aren't quite there yet and probably never will be. Nothing compares to having your entire vision engulfed to the point where you find yourself fully immersed in this world placed in front of you.

While movies will probably still continue to go up, along with their delicious counterparts at the concession stand, I hold out hope that one day they will slow up their expedient rises and bring people back to the theater where they can best experience a movie.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eww! Gross!

What fascinates me these days is the obsession with box office that so many of the mainstream media and followers of film have. The most recent obsession seems to be with people wanting "The Dark Knight" to take down "Titanic" in US grosses. Except it won't. And even if it surpasses that $600 million mark, that means nothing. Since, according to Box Office Mojo, when adjusted for inflation, "The Dark Knight" would currently only be hovering around $340 million in 1997 dollars, and Titanic itself is only number 6 on that list.

The problem with the way film measures success is that the benchmark continuously changes. A platinum selling record is one that sells a million copies. A smash hit television show is in the 10s of millions of viewers. The benchmarks in most other industries is one in units. How many units of this item were sold? And through that, one can figure out a long-term success pattern. But this is not the case for movies. In the many years I've been involved with movies, I have never once seen an amount of tickets sold number. When I have searched them out, I can usually find them, but never are they reported.

But people get so attached to these numbers. Dark Knight breaks the Spider-Man record. Great. So what? Does this inherently mean that one is better than the other? Absolutely not. They are completely different movies. I can think of plenty of movies that made very little at the box office that were still incredibly successful overall. The most prescient example that comes to mind is "The Shawshank Redemption." Currently at or near the top of most "Best Ever" lists, it grossed only $28 million total when it was released in 1994.

I believe that film fans all around should begin to put these numbers behind us, and pay less attention to them. The only reason I want films to make lots of money is so that other films like it will continue to be made. I'm glad The Dark Knight has made so much money, because it secures the franchise in the minds of most executives and they will continue making more Batman films. Beyond that, there is no care for me. I was certainly disappointed to see Speed Racer make so little money overall, as I would have enjoyed seeing sequels to that movie, but its comparitive success or failure has little bearing on whether or not I enjoyed that movie on its own merits. My appreciation for that movie would not be vindicated by a higher box office gross or massive DVD sales because I continue to love it regardless.

And then you have situations like the upcoming "Watchmen." Frankly, it's irrelevant whether or not that movie makes $1 or $1 billion. The movie is made, it cannot be a franchise, and it's done. If it's a good movie (which I expect it will be) then I will certainly be happy to see it succeed if it does. But if it doesn't, and I still enjoy it, it will make little difference to me.

All I want is for studios to continue to make good movies or focus on quality again (I'm looking at you, 20th Century Fox). And maybe, somewhere down the road, we can focus on benchmarking through admissions instead of inflated box office numbers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Summer 2008 Retrospective

Well, summer is officially over. And as a result, the blockbusters are ushered out and the award movies are brought in.

To say that 2008 was a better summer than 2007 would be a vast understatement. Sure, one could look at the numbers that have been released regarding box office and notice that attendance is actually down year-over-year, but that has more to do with franchising than any respectable amount of quality.

2007 was sincerely my most anticipated movie summer ever. My favorite franchise of all time, Spider-Man was receiving its third installment, while 5 other movies were given 3-quels that summer and a few other run-of-the-mill sequels as well. My excitement was so high going into last May, only to dash all of my hopes as the weeks went on. Spider-Man 3 was a pretty big disappointment overall. Shrek the Third was horrific. Ocean's 13 was less boring then 12, but still a far cry from the fun of 11. The only sequel that truly appeared to surpass its predecessors was The Bourne Ultimatum. Everything else was mildly entertaining at best.

So coming into 2008, I kept my expectations in check. No longer would I allow my expectations for a film overshadow what it is able to deliver. No, this would be a summer where I would attempt to put all those feelings aside and just enjoy movies for what they are.

And I did.

The summer started out with some serious (and some would say very surprising) quality in Iron Man. The perfect embodiment of the role, Robert Downey, Jr. delivered a believable and exciting turn as Tony Stark that also led to the beginning of a larger Marvel Universe. Having Downey make an appearance in The Incredible Hulk was not only a lot of fun, but helped a lot to tie these universes together.

Unfortunately, Hulk did not see the success that Iron Man did, despite many in the internet community seeing it as a welcome upgrade from Ang Lee's 2003 version. Whether or not Universal, and by extension, Marvel Studios, sees it as a success is something unknown to me as its overall box office was not too different from the original.

The following week, my hopes were still high, as I experienced one of my favorite movies of the whole summer, Speed Racer. This was surprisingly one of the most divisive movies of the year, in that a very small minority (myself included) absolutely LOVED this movie, while the vast majority of the critical press panned it as juvenile and much too long. I was holding out hopes for a sequel, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards anytime soon, given its $100+ million price tag and lack of box office overall. I still want this movie to succeed on DVD and will be singing the praises to anyone who will listen.

Narnia was decent, but nothing great, and it was a good holdover until Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indy 4 was worth seeing strictly on the basis of the fact that it was Indiana Jones and for the first time in my life I was able to see him adventure on the big screen. Since I was a baby when Temple of Doom came out, and only 5 when Last Crusade was released, this was my first (and possibly only) chance to see and hear the excitement for myself. While the actual story I had some serious issues with, it was definitely still worth checking out.

I ended up missing Sex and the City (it wasn't hard for a male to do), but I certainly marveled at the amount of women who went to go see it. I guess never underestimate the potential for a girls' night out.

A few animated movies really stood out from the pack this summer. Kung Fu Panda was a surprisingly solid entry from Dreamworks, who normally seems to rely on pop culture jokes at the expense of story. This time around, they really kept their focus on story first, and the movie was helped tremendously by this. And who could forget Wall-E, perhaps my favorite movie of the year thus far? I'm really hoping to see a Best Picture nomination, but that could just be a pipe dream of mine.

But what this summer was really great for though was comedies. From Pineapple Express, to Step Brothers, to Tropic Thunder, there were so many quality comedies this year that I found it difficult to contain my laughter when just thinking about them afterward. Less successful, but still entertaining, comedies such as Get Smart and You Don't Mess with the Zohan at least offered a few humorous moments. And it pains me to write even the words "The Love Guru." I'll leave it at that.

Overall, this was a different summer. A summer filled with all sorts of different kinds of movies and one that I was able to enjoy much more because I didn't allow myself to get hyped to levels that would only set me up for disappointment. No, I just enjoyed being a movie fan this summer, because it allowed me to spend some good times with friends, having fun discussions, and watching crazy things happen.

So, thanks 2008. And we'll just say that my hopes are even LOWER for 2009's summer, since there really isn't much happening there at all. Except for Transformers 2. I love giant robots.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ghost Town Review

Ricky Gervais is easily one of the funniest men on the planet. I have never seen something that he has put effort into that has come out poorly. Unless you count "Night at the Museum" in which he was the museum curator. But he was only in it for a few minutes.

Regardless, despite the seemingly tired premise, I was anticipating this movie if only for the chance to see how Gervais fared in carrying a movie all on his own. Fortunately, he succeeds handily in a well constructed movie in its own right.

Gervais plays Burtram Pincus, a dentist in New York City who cares nothing else for the lives of others. Content living his own dissatisfied life, he makes no effort to help others in any way. Yet, after a routine colonoscopy goes awry and he dies on the operating table for 7 minutes, he awakes with the ability to see the ghosts that have yet to cross over. One of these ghosts is Frank Herlihy (Greg Kinnear), who convinces Pincus to help break up his widow, Gwen's (Tea Leoni) new engagement with Richard (Billy Campbell).

The story seems pretty straightforward from the outset, but writer/director David Koepp provides enough originality to keep you interested. Sure, plenty of the ghost movie cliches are here, but many are delivered with such humor that it becomes rather easy to forgive the lack of originality in these moments. The story also takes a few rather heartfelt turns, but not at the expense of the humor. Underneath it all lies a story of a man who refuses to see the joy that letting other people into his life can bring.

When all is said and done, the movie does not exactly come close to greatness, but is an excellent showcase for Gervais' comedic talents and a step up from Koepp's previous directorial effort, Secret Window with Johnny Depp. Overall, the film is just a well-crafted, somewhat unconventional romantic comedy that succeeds in being both engaging and hilarious throughout the duration of its run time.