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The Drain of Original Thought in Hollywood

Anthony Chatfield
It's all too easy these days to drain a dead idea for more money in Hollywood, whipping out two, three, or four sequels from a long withered husk of a franchise.
Every year, around the same time we sit back and start to watch as the film industry ramps up its biggest summer offerings, throwing over-budget sequel after over-budget sequel at us, in an attempt to snag all our hard-earned dollars (in a single movie if possible). It's a sequence that begs the question―what exactly are we doing?
I don't want to start complaining and tearing apart the film industry yet one more time. I've done that a lot of late. No, what I'm thinking is that the industry born of its own self-aware, glitzy appeal to the masses has forgotten that film is technically, on a basic level, considered art. And art is not something entirely devoted to making money. Unfortunately, something else has occurred in recent years that makes it nearly impossible for art to garner the respect and admiration it once did―the blight that is technology.
When society evolved in the 19th century, so did everything humanity knew as art and culture. Instead of the commonly held belief that we were not good enough to enjoy the fruits of artistic endeavors as common folk, mass production and printing created pop culture, and everyone was allowed to sit and enjoy the next great Dickens or Austen novel.
Not that I want to compare Dickens or Austen to Fantastic Four 2. The point is that when people everywhere were given a chance to access the art of the day, the division between high and low are grew much larger than it had ever been. Instead of the shallow gap between classical music and popular literature, there was the stark contrast of painted galleries and radio programs, or James Joyce and Raymond Chandler.
When technology makes it easy to reach out and share your work with everyone, the prospect of making vast sums of money arises as well. The problem with money though is that most people are willing to sell every whim of their artistic integrity for the right payday.
By my calculations, Hollywood finished selling off its artistic integrity in the 1950s, and has been flirting with the prospect of bringing it back on a part-time basis ever since. When the blockbuster season was minted in the 1970s, at least half of the year was thrown over to the cheesy Hollywood fluff that we're all witness to today. The biggest problem with that fluff is that it makes for great sequels.
Instead, Hollywood bundles up all the films that manage to slip through the radar and actually be quite good, and pushes them into the same two or three months of limited release at the end of the year, so as to look good, come Oscar season. For anyone living outside New York and Los Angeles, it's nearly impossible to find these films, and when they do finally spread and appear in other theaters, the deadest months of the year are upon us, and no one goes to see them.
I'm not breaking new ground by stating that Hollywood is over-commercialized. It's not a secret, and as long as we keep frequenting the sequels and remakes, and doling out $151 million in three days to see the third (and most mediocre) Spiderman film, they'll keep making them. It's just how big business works.
No, my point is not that Hollywood sucks, but that Hollywood seemingly cannot make the changes it wants to anymore. People are content with the formula that they've been cast into, and despite some actually interesting moves in Tinseltown of late, the films that people see are still quite awful.
As with any war, there has been something of an influx of intelligent political films in recent years, all of them Oscar worthy, and all them largely ignored at the box office.
There have been numerous biopics and stories of woes and horrible historical happenings in Africa, which despite their amazing breadth and story telling strength are being ignored. There has been an influx of incredibly well-made film from the Spanish-speaking world and Europe, all of it largely ignored.
Instead, a movie like Wildhogs is able to take the top spot at the box office (with a substantial draw) for two weeks in a row. It's not entirely the fault of corporate executives, when people just plain have bad taste. And so, the summer movie season is essentially the equivalent of the Louver for those people, getting occasionally well written, returns from familiar characters and interesting new storylines.
Recycling characters that were massively successful in the past (regardless of how well written they were) is incredibly successful, because there is immediate recognition and appeal. Now, if only Hollywood would throw at least one or two new ideas in our way.
Even during the years when Batman Forever and Wild Wild West were being touted as major summertime releases, there were occasionally new, fresh ideas like Jurassic Park or Independence Day.
Those films are not necessarily any more intelligent, but they're surely more unique and less tired. We've seen what happens when a franchise is milked too far, as with Spiderman or the early Batmans. A little bit of careful writing wouldn't hurt either.