Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wanted Tanks, Hollywood's Problem

Last week, I predicted "Wanted," the Angelina Jolie movie, would tank in it's second week.

Well, I was right.Box Office Mojo shows "Wanted" indeed tanking. Dropping 60.6% from the prior week. Hollywood has a problem. It is too removed from it's core audience to understand what motivates them.

Hollywood has always been a place where people lived very large, outlandish lives far outside the norm. Palatial homes, extravagant to decadent parties, money in terms most people can't even comprehend, and entourages who's sole purpose is to pump up the egos of star actors, directors, producers, executives, and in some cases, writer-producers. But in it's heyday in the 1920's through 1950's, and the brief revival of the late 1970's and 1980's by film-makers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, key artistic personnel at least remembered what it was like to be an ordinary person.

Not anymore.

"Wanted's" predictable demise shows how quickly Hollywood has moved to embrace it's own internal social values over that of the surrounding country. While politics provides a leading indicator, the real issue is the social isolation extreme wealth and fame produce. "Wanted's" script and source material were awful. The hero goes from a boring job in a cubicle, to an emotionally dead job as a soul-less hitman, killing people he doesn't know because ... get this ... a machine (a loom actually) orders him to do so.

Yep. The hero moves from being cheated on by his girlfriend in a corporate cubicle, to being a killer at the beck and call of a machine. His replacement girlfriend is played by Angelina Jolie, who is five years older than lead James McAvoy, but looks more like ten years older. Who furthermore has a negative tabloid image, and is very, very pregnant at this time. Hollywood wonders why this movie failed with the young male crowd after the initial marketing push was countered by negative word of mouth.

Sure, movies fail all the time. But what is notable is no one saw this failure coming. The script provided no emotional reason for the young male audience to see the movie, since the hero simply exchanges one dead-end life for another, more violent one. With a girlfriend figure (Jolie) no more desirable than the original. For socially jaded Hollywood, where even the least powerful producer has beautiful young starlets hurling themselves at him, however, this was thought "cool." And "edgy."

The same problem crops up all over the place in Hollywood. Even normally sure-fire Will Smith failed with "Hancock," mostly because the movie shifts from ordinary people being important (Hancock is a failure because he can't care about the people he saves) to being essentially, all about how the "star" Hancock is, well far more important than the people he saves. Hollywood wonders why the movie is under-performing compared to expectations (for prior holiday Will Smith movies).

TV is filled with "edgy, anti-hero" types like Showtime's "Dexter" (serial killer as hero), FX's "the Shield" (corrupt murderous cop as hero), FX's "Rescue Me," (brutal, rapist Fireman as hero), and the father of them all, Tony Soprano from HBO's "the Sopranos." While these shows can pull in a small number of viewers, who tend to be up-scale yuppies like the Hollywood execs who produce and write the shows, they fail to reach a mass audience. Nearly 100% of TV households can get HBO, yet fewer than 32% actually subscribe. There's not much value there.

The same holds true for movies. Sadly, while Hollywood can eke out meager profits, as long as the marketing budgets are low, most of the revenue for Hollywood's theatrical (and DVD) releases depends on young men 16-34 going to see big-budget action and adventure movies, seeing the movie again, and then buying the DVD, and the "Special Edition" DVD. It's a pretty risky basis for hits, because once again, demographics are against Hollywood. There are more men over age 34 than under it. Largely, they are immune to marketing hype and are just as likely to buy the regular edition DVD and pass on the expensive one loaded with extras. They might not even buy it at all, just rent. GASP. Worse, Hollywood is in competition with itself. For older men, a movie made in the 1980's might be just as entertaining as "Batman Begins."

Hollywood is in for a rough ride. The perfect storm of declining demographics of young people, continued piracy from China ("American Gangster" was available according to the Wall Street Journal at the swap meets of the LA area for $5 and of good quality -- two weeks before it's theatrical release in the US), and worst of all, no idea in Hollywood's creative community about what their audience is like and what they want.

1 comment:

Usually Lurking said...

I am a little late to this party, but, after agreeing with many of your comments over at Roissy's, I figured that I would pop in.

Even though I agree with the basic premise of this post (i..e Hollywood is way out of touch), I do disagree about what made The Shield so great.

For one, you were not supposed to love Vic Mackey, but understand that many of the supporting characters were actually much better than him, and two, that it was basically the only show in North America to, basically, accurately show what the most diverse city in America was really like.