So by this point my disdain for the summer of 2016 has been made abundantly clear. While that is not to say there were not a few bright blockbusters in the form of ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ‘Star Trek Beyond’, on the whole I’d say that if you wanted a worthwhile experience in the theatres this year you would have to be seeing an independent feature. On the surface it would seem that Hollywood were still on easy street for their profit margins however when you examine the fact that most of their tent pole movies had a budget of at least $100 million and only a fraction of the top films this year grossed beyond $200 million, a good portion of the films this year can be deemed as a commercial disappointment.
But what about the actual quality of the movies? Well look at things this way, in 2013, to mark the 20th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s seminal blockbuster masterpiece ‘Jurassic Park’, we experienced a wide scale re-release, 3D conversion and a general celebration of the much beloved film. Now can you imagine, in twenty years’ time, anyone carrying out the same level of admiration for ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’, or ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ or any of the big blockbusters of 2016. One is reason is the sheer mediocrity of everything that has been released, movies are no longer about pushing boundaries or being provocative. Instead they are settling for being, just fine. They are films that we may have enjoyed but at the end of the day did little to leave us with a lasting experience.
Certainly ‘Jason Bourne’ and ‘Finding Dory’ were decent successors but neither of them felt necessary. The films that spawned them felt imaginative, involved and creative but here we are treated to films that simply repeat the same formula, and while they certainly do a decent job of it, they rarely find themselves exceeding our expectations.
This stems from the second problem that has permeated our summer. That being that filmmakers seem to have forgotten how to speak to their audiences. The characters of our blockbusters are no longer relatable, they’re always a team of super powered mutants, giant orcs and even the humans of certain films seem more otherworldly than the aliens invading them. I sited Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’ earlier so I could bring this point up, when summarising the film I would describe it as such, ‘Jurassic Park’ is not a film about dinosaurs as it is in fact a film about people that just happens to involve dinosaurs.
Films like ‘Ghostbusters’ became less about the people who occupied the films and more like the ideologies they represented. ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ was concerned purely with trying to remind us of why we enjoyed the first one. ‘TMNT 2’ was a desperate plea to our childhood nostalgia. There is genuine reason why being released this summer may have propelled the TV series ‘Stranger Things’ to such stardom, because not only did the film touch that nostalgic nerve audiences had been craving but it understood what made those nostalgic moments so special. It was the people experiencing them, people whom audiences could relate to because we were going through the same emotions and the same sense of adventure.
Then of course you had the most sinful movies of all, the ones that relied more on an established brand than actually attempting anything special. Did ‘Suicide Squad’ plaster another character that only had ten minutes of screen time if they knew it wouldn’t guarantee them as much preconceived attention as having the Joker in their movie? Would ‘Ben-Hur’ display its updated chariot scene with such bravado if it wasn’t for the automatic association already lying within audiences familiar with the original? There is nothing inherently wrong with sequels or existing properties when crafting a blockbuster and you have every chance to carft something genuinely worthwhile out of it (as proven by ‘Captain America: Civil War’), but when it becomes the main crux of your filmmaking technique you can’t be surprised when things go pear shaped.
But that begs the question, where were the audiences who were supposedly craving original stories when films like ‘The Nice Guys’, ‘Sing Street’ or ‘The Lobster’ came out? The main reason is that Hollywood are unwilling to finance a large scale advertising campaign for any independent films and as a result they have to rely on word of mouth to turn a profit, and in this day and age word of mouth will only get you so far. The saddest part of all of this is what I am about to suggest here. To remake ‘Ben Hur’ a studio parted with $100 million to fund its production and a further $60 million for its advertising. Now suppose instead of making a pointless remake, the studio gave 100 independent filmmakers a million dollars each and used the $60 million to give them all a wide release. How much more money would they have made? Well each of those films would only have to gross upwards of $3 million and the studio would already be raking in the money. Maybe there’s something to learn there.