Why Hollywood has it wrong

Image credit: Bob Beecher.

Image credit: Bob Beecher.

I’ve mentioned before how Hollywood movies suffer from a dearth of originality and how the quality control system in the industry is breaking down. But the biggest problem in this “year of the sequel” is not that there are so many sequels. (After all, Iron Man 3 and Star Trek 12 were pretty good.) It’s that most of them are written badly.

The big studios are very concerned about the number of box office flops they are experiencing this year. Even Steven Spielberg’s and George Lucas’s hyperbolic comments about an impending “implosion” of the film industry seem frighteningly prescient after White House Down, The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim, and now probably R.I.P.D. have all bombed in the intervening month or so.

That’s the subject of this Telegraph article, which makes much hay about Hollywood’s “summer crisis”. Unfortunately, I think the blame for this crisis is badly misplaced. Consider this quote from a studio head: “You had too many $100 million-plus movies, not to mention $200 million-plus movies, jammed on top of each other. There isn’t enough play time, and the result has been more movies that wipe out.”

That’s just wrong. Well, okay, overloading the market may be partly to blame, since there are plenty of people who, for whatever reason, don’t see very many movies. But as for me, I would have been happy to see 10 good movies this summer. The problem is that there aren’t 10 good movies coming out this summer. There’s more like 5, at least the science fiction/fantasy territory where I mostly (but not always!) like to hang out.

Simply put, the reason so many big movies are failing is that people don’t want to see bad movies. Why so many bad movies get made is hard to say (my money is on too many cooks), but studios simply can’t get away with mediocre scripts anymore–not when we have easy access to wide surveys of reviews. In the past, when you would get most of your information about a movie from the trailer, which of course had all the best parts in it, lots of people would go see it, and you at least had a reasonable chance that word of mouth about whether it was good or not would get around slowly. Today, I don’t put much stock in the trailers, and I dismiss nearly half the movies I consider seeing because the early reviews are bad.

What’s worse is that you can often tell just by looking. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jack the Giant Slayer, and similar dark retellings of fairy tails from previous years have impressive trailers, but you just know that they’re not going to be done well. You almost don’t even need to check the reviews. And that’s sad because the ideas have great potential if they were only given to a writer who new how to use it.

You do have to be careful because the reviewers aren’t always right. Pacific Rim got good reviews, but I found it to be plagued with a shallow plot (again, with lots of missed potential) and abysmal movie science. Meanwhile, Red 2 is getting mediocre reviews, but I thought it was funny, clever, had at least some depth, and was a worthy follow-up to the original. Even so, the nice thing about a survey of reviews is that it’s much more accurate than just one of them. I believe people are starting to realize this, and are adjusting their viewing practices accordingly. Meanwhile, Hollywood remains sadly oblivious.

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About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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