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TOPIC: To Continue The Doom Theme

To Continue The Doom Theme 14 Jul 2005 02:49 #10661

  • Larry Thomas
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Here's a good article by one of my favorite writers...Mick LaSalle...in today's San Francisco Chronicle. Make of it what you will.

The movie box office situation is getting serious. For 19 of the past 20 weeks, box office numbers have been down compared with last year's. There's a possible break this week with the success of "Fantastic Four," leading to the inevitable speculation that Hollywood has finally produced a movie this summer so flamboyantly and unmistakably horrible that it couldn't fail.

Still, with the big guns of summer already in theaters, there's little chance of something coming along in August to turn the season -- and the year -- around. That is, unless something crazy happens, like "The Dukes of Hazzard" rakes in $500 million -- or even crazier, like "Fantastic Four" has a good second week.

So what's going on? Why are people staying home in droves?

The true answer is that no one knows. People will tell you they know, but they're either journalists filling space in publications or studio executives bobbing, weaving and spinning to protect their jobs. In a few years, all will be clear. Right now, everybody is just guessing.

Specifically, everybody's guessing from among seven possible reasons -- and all the many combinations that can be made from those seven. Here are the seven. Feel free to mix and match.

Reason 1: There Is No Reason. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the movie industry, at least nothing serious.

It's like this: Say you get a sudden dizzy spell. You go to the hospital. They run tests -- an EKG, a CT scan, a stress test, a blood test -- and everything comes out normal. Finally, there comes that moment when the doctor looks up from the clipboard and shrugs, "Well, it looks like you just had a dizzy spell." Even in a healthy organism, weird things happen, for seemingly no reason.

That may be the case with Hollywood right now. There are ups and downs. These things happen, and then they stop happening -- on their own.

Reason 2: The Movies Are Awful. This is the critics' favorite reason because critics want to have pleasant lives, seeing only wonderful movies, and if the box office is providing a disincentive for studios to put out garbage, critics believe they may soon be close to that day. The current movies, of course, argue in favor of that interpretation. They're not so good. They're mostly pretty lousy.

But when have they ever been mostly good? That's the question. Are movies significantly worse today than they were a year or two ago, even accounting for "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" and "Fantastic Four"? I think it's fair to say that, at any time in the past 90 years, most movies -- like most plays, books and music -- were dismissible or worse. Plus, this explanation doesn't account for the fact that the best-reviewed movie of the year, and the movie with presumably the best word of mouth, "Cinderella Man," sank like a stone. Nor does it account for the fact that "Fantastic Four" is doing well -- at least in its first week. If people were merely being discriminating, why would they avoid one of the best movies of the year and go see one of the worst? Or are all the discriminating viewers out seeing "March of the Penguins"?

Indeed, the strange thing about this slump is that perfectly fine, crowd- pleasing summer movies, with respectable reviews and good word of mouth, are underperforming. "War of the Worlds" did well, but not astoundingly well. Same for "Batman Begins." In a normal year, these films would be through the roof, and -- if you'll forgive the mixed metaphor -- they would lift all boats. People would be going to the cineplexes, expecting to see one of these films and, finding them sold out, would be buying tickets to "Bewitched." That's how it has worked in other years.

Reason 3: Movie Formulas Have Grown Stale. This is a subtle variation on Reason 2 that takes into account that people are avoiding good movies as well as bad. According to this theory, people are staying home because the formulas that govern the making of thrillers, fantasies, action movies and love stories have become so pervasive, familiar, restrictive and boring that people are skipping them because they feel they've seen it all before. It's old stuff.

The poor performance of "Cinderella Man" could be explained according to this theory. People saw the title, the coming attractions and the fact that Ron Howard directed it and imagined the film to be a generic inspirational saga. It's not, but that doesn't matter. If people thought so -- and considering the formulaic nature of so many films, why wouldn't they think so? -- that would be reason enough to avoid it.

Reason 4: People Feel Uneasy About the Economy. The recovery has been slow. Movies are expensive. People might want to hold on to their money and invest either in their retirement or perhaps in a sturdy tin cup they can use in their old age, when they're half-demented and begging on the street.

Reason 5: The Country Is Suffering From a Vague, Nameless Malaise. It doesn't exactly feel like morning in America right now. Or maybe it does, but only in the sense that it feels like staring out the window at 4 in the morning in America, having a stiff drink and wondering what went wrong. So who wants to go to the movies?

The argument against this theory is that people often flock to movies in times of crisis. But an acute crisis can be galvanizing, whereas a chronic crisis of confidence and unease can be paralyzing. (The early years of the Great Depression saw a box office slump.) Combine that with economic uncertainty and that could be reason enough for an anemic box office.

Reason 6: Going to the Movies on a Saturday Night Has Become a Fairly Hideous, Repulsive Experience. Art houses and repertory houses are exempt from this observation. Those theaters preserve the moviegoing experience as a fun, rewarding collective activity. But to spend Saturday night going to see a major release at a multiplex can be more stressful than going to work the first Monday after vacation.

It costs $10 for a ticket and almost another 10 for something at the concession stand, and you have to wait in line to buy both. To get a decent seat, you have to get there 20 minutes before the show starts, and once it starts, you have to sit through seven or eight trailers, then advertisements for TV shows and then commercials. By now, 50 minutes have gone by and you haven't seen anything. Finally, the movie comes on, and it's lousy. It ends, and you get banged around to the exit and then have the fun of fighting with your fellow patrons to get out of the parking lot. And half of them are so jacked up by caffeine and screen violence that they think they're Vin Diesel.

Was that any fun? Does it make you want to go back and do it all over again next week?

Reason 7: Staying Home Has Never Been So Good. Just as the movie-theater experience has become increasingly putrid, home viewing has become a joy. Recent years have seen the ascendancy of HDTV, video projectors and plasma TVs, and DVDs have become inexpensive -- most sell for about the price of a ticket, soda and popcorn. It used to be that people had to leave the house to have the big-screen experience. But to see a movie on a plasma screen, broadcast in HDTV -- or to see it on DVD, blown up to an 8-foot image by a video projector -- is to come very close to the theatrical experience, with none of the headaches.

One has to wonder, as home viewing becomes even better and more affordable, how movie theaters will compete. The current slump in ticket sales may be temporary, but the real challenge provided by home video is right over the horizon
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Re: To Continue The Doom Theme 14 Jul 2005 07:32 #10662

  • slapintheface
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please make this stop
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Re: To Continue The Doom Theme 14 Jul 2005 07:38 #10663

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To all that dont get it we will try one more time. 1st even Walmart was down 4 to 6 % last 2 quarters i dont think they are throwing in the towel. This is a 100 year bsns that is in a small slump happens in EVERY BSN.We are no were near the slumps in the past or record low attendance numbers so chill out.When it does start to turn, as it will, and the streak is broken they will find something to complain about then also.
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Re: To Continue The Doom Theme 14 Jul 2005 19:19 #10664

Yea really, its all gettin old' you take the good with the bad and do the best ya can. We are gonna make a go of it and move on. Enjoy the Ride or get off....
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Re: To Continue The Doom Theme 14 Jul 2005 21:17 #10665

  • jacker5
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I guess box office is down everyone has time to post here about how slow business is, so I guess everyone has spare time becuase of reduced shows!
Usually in the summer shows are increased from 10 AM to last shows at 12AM. Those days are gone and shows are starting latter and ending earleier and this is the city!
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Re: To Continue The Doom Theme 17 Jul 2005 06:38 #10666

  • zedpha
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When are you guys gonna let this soak in? We're calling for improvements, not ringing in the end of the industry. Geez, I'm personally getting into a theatre, does that sound like someone concerned for the industry's long term survival?

Get over it fellas, you may not like it but there are those of us looking to work on developing some alternative strategies...that kind of requires us to take on board views external to this site. Right now those perceptions aren't great and this article clearly identifies some of the reasons for that.

On a basic level there's two responses to this sort of information, either ignore it or listen to it. I'm not the sort to sit on my hands and turn a blind eye to the customer's concerns.

I'm out, Zedpha
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Re: To Continue The Doom Theme 17 Jul 2005 15:14 #10667

  • rodeojack
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My problem with giving credibility to articles like the one posted above is the following:
The true answer is that no one knows. People will tell you they know, but they're either journalists filling space in publications or studio executives bobbing, weaving and spinning to protect their jobs. In a few years, all will be clear. Right now, everybody is just guessing.

Having said that, the writer proceeds to do exactly what he says journalists are already doing... guessing:
Specifically, everybody's guessing from among seven possible reasons

Where does this information come from, that the journalist is using to distill his 7 deadly reasons? Who was surveyed? What were they asked? When? Was it an exit poll of some kind... or did someone talk to a few customers at a video store? Most of all... why should those of us who actually live this industry find ourselves so affected by it all? He doesn't say... but his point appears to be that his guesses are better than what other people are writing (???)

The problem I have with all this gloom and doom is that you can't put your finger on the source of any of it, yet it's put up here in order that we give it some credence.

My personal stats and boxoffice numbers tell me a whole lot more (reliably) than anything I've been reading here lately... and I sure hope none of you are seriously adjusting your business models on this un-sourced material.

[This message has been edited by rodeojack (edited July 17, 2005).]
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