Thursday, December 18, 2014

The movie industry has two problems.

The movie industry has a problem. Well, its problems are legion but specifically, two problems rose to the surface yesterday, one of which dominated the news cycle and the other has been a steady factor for the past three years.

Problem One.
Yesterday, in a studio conference room where I'm sure all electronic communication of any kind was prohibited, studio execs decided to take the upcoming James Franco/Seth Rogen movie "The Interview" off the release schedule, due to threats from the Sony hackers. Personally, I think most every James Franco and/or Seth Rogen movie should be shelved, but this is different. This is a group of executives who were, ultimately, scared that more of their private info was going to be released and they buckled under an anonymous threat. No matter what is in that stupid movie, I guarantee worse has been said about and done to North Korea on "Family Guy" or "Robot Chicken" - both of which seem to be playing at all hours of the day. When "Team America" was released, no one saw it as a threat. (I will, however, argue that "Team America" had its farce was built into the characters, literally. No one expects any semblance of reality when watch puppets fight one another, no matter who they look like.) I'm sure there's much we don't know about the situation and I'm sure the FBI is very much involved - but as it stands, it reads as "freedom of speech is fallible and farce isn't allowed if someone doesn't like the joke you're telling."

Problem Two.
The other problem Hollywood had this year was an unnecessary problem.
One of the year's would-be biggest films was "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," and although it made $700M globally, it did not fare anywhere near where the studio would have liked. The root of that issue is that it wasn't great. In my opinion, it wasn't even good. But mostly, it was unnecessary. As was the first outing Andrew Garfield made with the Spidey suit. Unnecessary. It's hadn't even been ten years since the last film but the drive to reboot was apparently so all-consuming, Sony was unable to ignore it.
There have been plenty of unnecessary films this year. "Dumb and Dumber To," "The Expendables 3," "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,"/"Transformers," (basically anything Michael Bay had a hand in) - but the most glaring example of uneccesary filmmaking in 2014 (and 2013 and 2012 for that matter) remains "The Hobbit" franchise.
I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I couldn't wait for each film to open, then I couldn't wait to get the DVDs to re-watch it and explore all I'd missed. The announcement of "The Hobbit" coming to the big screen was unsurprising, but when it was announced by Peter Jackson that the planned two-part story was going to expand to a three-part version, I knew this didn't actually mean good things. Jackson is one of the most accomplished filmmakers working today, but he also seems to have an inability to say no in both the writing and editing rooms. The Lord of the Rings films were long and inflated, but because the public is such a fan of the source material, they let it slide. It didn't hurt that the films were all but spotless renderings on screen, a feast for the eyes, ears, and emotions. "The Hobbit" however, didn't have nearly the volume of source material to work with and the added filler stories left fans scratching their heads. Nothing can be exact when it comes to the translation from book-to-screen but this seemed to be a bit much. (The same could be said for stage-to-screen for that matter. This year's "Into the Woods" has garnered raves from musical theatre fans who have seen it to be a faithful telling of their beloved stage show, but when "The Producers" was released as a film that was basically a shot-for-shot reproduction of the stage production, it was maligned.)
I sat through all three of the films that made up "The Hobbit" and I did enjoy each of them. They felt different than the previous trilogy in Middle Earth, but that didn't really bother me. But at the end of what I'm calling, "The Hobbit: The (Incredibly long) Battle of the Five (four and a half really) Armies," I was left with the fact that this story could have been told in two volumes, not three. The first words out of my mouth were "It was good, but it didn't need to be three films." It was unnecessary to expand it in the way they did. Fleshing a story out makes sense, but this was so fleshed out, it was gluttonous and served the interest of a money-grab, not storytelling.

Hollywood has a problem. I fear there's no way to stop the unnecessary filmmaking and those films will usually find a way to saturate the conversation. But the way Sony just bent over and let the hackers have their way is unsettling. Perhaps time will tell the rest of the story, but for now, it seems freedom of speech lost a silly, yet very real, battle.

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