Blockbuster season is the time in the cinematic calendar when studios and directors are given the freest license to paint with broad, unsubtle strokes, and 2012, so far, has been no different: if we leave aside the refreshing ambivalence of The Hunger Games, this summer’s fare has offered up plenty of stark, dualistic storylines pitting the forces of good against those of evil. None of them, however, have quite managed to hit. The Avengers, despite its record-shattering march into the rarified air of box office history, relies far more on pageantry and witty squabbling to entertain than on any genuine sense of peril. Snow White and the Huntsman, meanwhile, tries to complicate its fairy tale villain by giving Charlize Theron lots of space to monologue about how men mistreat women, even as the movie sticks to a conventional fairy tale structure of good overcoming evil. Prometheus, out this past weekend, doesn’t even have a recognizable antagonist, unless one wants to shoehorn the huge pale aliens that apparently created its creepy-crawlies into that box.
Apologies for the unintentional hiatus at JFJ. I’ll be posting regularly again starting with this one, though the frequency of posts may be a bit more erratic given my schedule. Thanks as always for reading.
One oft-quoted statistic that I’ve seen tossed around over the past six or seven months is the observation that 2011 saw the release of more sequels, representing a higher proportion of theatrically distributed movies, than any other year on record. Others decry the decline of original cinematic properties, with original releases (especially major releases) being pushed out of the way for adaptations deriving from sources as far-flung and unlikely as games of chance. Collectively, all of this is pointed to as proof of an ongoing decline in American filmmaking, where creativity is being routinely stifled in favor of sucking every last dollar out of whatever odds and ends are lying around. And, to be fair, I myself have been a part of that chorus; one of the earliest articles that was published here at Jentleman Film Journal was an examination of why studios were shying away from original properties.
Today, though, I’d like to approach that question from a different angle. Yes, it’s true that 2011 was a mildly dismal year at the movies, offering us nothing great and a pu pu platter of good, unambitious movies mixed in with a few ambitious, deeply flawed ones. Yet audiences more or less rejected that level of mediocrity, and 2012 has already seen a pretty significant bounce back from it, with box office revenues up a very healthy 21% from this point last year and what has been so far been a surprisingly satisfying crop of movies.
I knew that I was going to see The Hunger Games this weekend, because there was nothing else coming out and perhaps also because I wanted to see what the world was suddenly so excited about, but I had no thought of going to a midnight showing. Why would I? To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never so much as touched a copy of one of the books; if you’d asked me about the movie a month ago, I probably would’ve guessed that ‘hunger game’ was the proper anthropological term for those offers at restaurants where your meal is free if you can eat an entire three-pound hamburger.
Then a friend from work suggested that a group of us go to see it at midnight at the Arclight Hollywood, and, well, why the hell not? So it was that five of us found ourselves rushing to our seats at 12:20 in the morning, fully aware that we had to get up to be at work at 9 the next day, surrounded by teenage girls and middle-aged fantasy fans, not sure what to expect.