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The declining state of Hollywood

October 19, 2010

For many regular movie-goers, the title of this blog might come as no surprise. Over the past decade, Hollywood has ‘transformed’ (how I deplore that word now!) into a separate entity of deflowering its characters into cheap, ‘fun-factor’ commodities with the aid of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) effects and poor characterisations.

Recent research has indicated that there has been a rapid decline in adult drama films over the past few years. And those studios which were brave enough to put out politically-correct films on the silver screen have been shunned by movie-goers across the US. Films such as The Soloist, Australia, Revolutionary Road, Invictus, The Road, Up in the Air, A Serious Man, Precious have three things in common: they all did poorly at the box office, they all have been critically acclaimed films and lastly, these films are all quite relevant to the times of today. This is based on the domestic total gross (DTG) of the film and not the international gross (IG). However, films are more reliant on on IG than the DTG.

Seems like the audience of today flock more towards films that have a large amount of star value in it (Expendables, Red, Avatar), accompanied by action/CGI sequences. Of course, these mindless films have always existed since the creation of blockbusters and are as permanent to life as death and taxes but where we had Jurassic Park (1993), we had Schindler’s List (1993) to counter it (both films directed by Steven Spielberg). And where we had the super box office hit like Die Hard III (1994), we had non-linear narrative films like Pulp Fiction(1994). Studios back then were eager to produce both commercial and art house films side by side. Unfortunately, those days are long gone.

As some Hollywood agent stated regarding the decline in intellectual drama films:

''With the economy being what it is, no one wants to get blamed for a failure. If you greenlight something that's [totally mainstream] and it fails, it's not your fault. If you greenlight an adult drama and it tanks, you lose your job.''
Several adult drama films have been shelved by the big studios in the past few years. According to many studio executives, films that remind the audience of the current state of economical decline in America, are self-proclaimed box office flops. This scenario is quite comparable to the depression era in the ’30s where musicals played a key role in diverting the audience’s depressive state of affairs. The general trend is now shifting towards either family films in 3D (even Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was forcefully released by the Walt Disney Studios in 3D) or pointless remakes of hit TV shows from the 1980s (Transformers, The A-team, the upcoming Voltron and Smurfs). Watching these films only makes me realise how Hollywood has run out of original ideas. That’s why many studio heads are now keen on collaborating projects with other countries such as India and Latin America to produce films like Slumdog Millionare (which was both a critical and a box office success, a rare combination these days).

Another genre of films that makes it big these days are comic book adaptations. A rule has been established in the testament of Hollywood blockbusters that every Marvel/ DC characters ‘whilst have thou own personal film’. But honestly, did we really need a separate film for characters like Catwoman or Electra (or The X-men Origins: Wolverine for that matter?) or even third rate characters like Jonah Hex or Ghost Rider? With the current success of The Dark Knight, Iron man and Kick-Ass (which were relatively a lot better than their counter parts mentioned earlier), these superhero mania films are not going to stop anytime soon.

Unfortunately, the future doesn’t look too bright for American filmmaking. Of course, the trend of making films based on old TV shows will change once audiences get tired of such movies. However, some films like Greenberg or The Social Network have proven that American filmmakers still have a few tricks up their sleeve. Whether they continue to produce intellectual and mainstream hits at the same time, remains to be seen.

Jibran Khan is an independent filmmaker whose "Dast-e-Tanha" was selected for the Three Continental Film Festival. Khan is also an aspiring writer – his short story "Meditations of a Hari," was published by the Oxford University Press.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.