Tuesday, August 03, 2004

What makes a movie worth while?

Traditionally, film has been considered a realm of the arts. The criteria by which they used to be judged reflect this. The Academy Awards still gives a surface appearance of those criteria by their categories: Best actor, screenplay, etc., which mostly feature the artistic aspects of the film.
But those films, with few exceptions, generally have something else behind them besides good artistic quality.

That's right …$$$

Historically, the artistic criteria and relevance to the people, place and time the art is presented in have always determined the popularity of the given work of art. If a book has a sufficiently good story and well-thought out characters, if a painting uses lighting and contrast successfully in depicting its subject, if a musical piece is innovative and imaginative while conforming to rules of art, it can become popular. If it continues to be popular over a long period of time (at least a couple of generations - 50 -100 years - it comes to be called a classic. (Interestingly enough, Disney came up with the oxymoron "modern classic", as a line to sell its recent films with (such as Aladdin and Hercules.)

What if seventeeth century art were judged by the amount of money the artists spent on making the paintings? Or books by how much was spent on writing and publishing the books? Or music...? Or on the sales that they generated in the first week/month/year of their existence? Daniel Defoe, Mozart and Rembrandt might be unknown to the world today, that is, if people were stupid enough to use such ($) criteria.

And yet the method used, in a willing alliance between the owners of the movie studios and the news stations* is to gage a movie's quality by its box office take. Nobody is going to care whether Spiderman 2 makes a profit of $32 million or $332 million (except for Sony/Universal) - we are going to care more about whether the admission fee is $6 or $11, and most of all, whether we really enjoyed the film or not. And yet, rarely is more than a sentence or two spent on the quality of a film, which is reported as "news" (few people seem to realize the ominous meaning behind the term "infomercial" - as if a business would present unbiased information about its product).

What follows can be quickly scrolled through - or read thoroughly. This from Yahoo news (they scrub their links quickly, as does AP and other news organizations. If you want to prove they wrote something you have to save it fast. This article has not been edited in any way.

Shyamalan's 'The Village' Leads Box Office
Sunday August 1 1:03 PM ET
Its surprise ending may have underwhelmed some critics, but writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's latest scary movie, "The Village," got off to a strong start at the weekend box office in North America.
The film, which revolves around the good folk of a bucolic 19th century hamlet and the creepy goings-on in the nearby woods, earned about $50.8 million in its first three days, becoming the third film in as many weekends to open at No. 1 with more than $50 million.
Shyamalan's previous effort, "Signs," boosted by the star power of Mel Gibson, opened at $60 million in August 2002 and finished with $228 million.
The new movie, reportedly budgeted at a modest $60 million, represents one of the last chances by the film's backer, Walt Disney Co., to salvage some respectability from a dismal summer, which saw it release such duds as "King Arthur," "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Home on the Range," while refusing to allow its Miramax Films unit to handle box office titan "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Indeed, "The Village" set a new Disney record for a July release, beating the $46.6 million bow of last year's "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
Last weekend's champion, "The Bourne Supremacy," starring Matt Damon, slipped to No. 2 with $23.4 million. The spy thriller, released by Universal Pictures, has earned $98 million to date.
Three other wide new entries also debuted on Friday.
Paramount Pictures' $80 million remake of the political conspiracy thriller "The Manchurian Candidate," starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, opened at No. 3 with $20.2 million, on par with previous Washington releases.
The stoner comedy "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," about two pals with the late-night munchies, rolled in at No. 7 with a disappointing $5.2 million. The New Line Cinema film was budgeted at just $9 million.
Universal's family adventure "Thunderbirds," a live adaptation of the cult British TV show with marionettes, misfired at No. 12 with $2.7 million. The film was budgeted at $57 million.
Universal Pictures is a unit of General Electric Co. -controlled NBC Universal. Paramount Pictures is a unit of Viacom Inc . New Line Cinema is a unit of Time Warner Inc .

This article is typical of what movie talk on the news sounds like these days. (If this isn't enough, just go turn on the TV and wait until 6:25 or whatever.) Count the number of references to money. Divide by the percentage of relevance to "consumers" (yes, that's what you are, not people, but consumers) and add your level of interest in those figures and you get the true value of the movie for you and your family.

* (who are mostly now the same people - as a case in point, Disney owns not only its own film studio, as everyone knows, it also owns ABC, and Universal Pictures and NBC are both owned by G.E. and Viacom - CBS, etc. Hmmm…)


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