The Death of Cinema?

At Cinemacon recently, studio heads tried to wrap their minds around why theater ticket sales are declining. Various factors were blamed, from DVD sales to online channels and ticket prices. The answer? A new “delivery method”. A way to get movies streamed instantly into peole’s homes, via the Internet.

After all, the Internet will solve everything.

In my opinion, this view fails to understand the fundamental reason why ticket sales are declining. I can only speak for myself and the people I know. But when asked why they don’t go to the movies, they invariably say “because there’s nothing worth watching”.

I would submit that this is the fundamental issue. It’s a simple cost/reward ratio. People don’t want to shell out a hefty £8 or $8 to sit in a  theater and be bored for 2 hours by a mediocre movie.

The real culprit, folks, is “Tentpole fever”. This can be traced back to the 1970s and the rise of the summer blockbuster. Spielberg’s “Jaws”, “Close Encounters” and Lucas’s “Star Wars” were both phenomenal successes. Together the pair created another franchise: the Indiana Jones films. And Hollywood has been chasing that golden ticket ever since.

It’s no surprise that Disney studios (Remember when they used to make charming family animation films?) has announced they plan to release a new “Star Wars” movie every year.

“Star Wars” was released in 1977. Yes, it was a global cultural phenomenon. But that was then. Thirty-six years ago. Since then we’ve had two sequels and three pretty poor (and universally panned) prequels. Do we really need more?

Recently some huge tentpole movies have bombed.  “John Carter” and “Jack the Giant Slayer” for instance. Why?

Let’s contrast these movies to the far more successful, “Tron Legacy”.

“Tron Legacy” does a good job of updating the original which was Disney’s way of tapping into the home computer revolution of the early 1980s. The light cyces are cooler, the world bigger, the SFX more polished. The acting is solid in most places. And it has a great atmospheric score by Daft Punk. But it also has something else… soul. At its heart, this is a father/son story about estranged parent/offspring reuniting, bonding, and letting go.

However while “John Carter” may be a love story, there is no real sense of the romance between the two leads, and any sense of reality is blown away by the ever-escalating and frankly ridiculous plot devices (wait, it’s aliens, Martians, more aliens, different Martians AND magic?) which destroy our sense of disbelief early on.

The point to all this ?

These are STORY issues.

Yes, Hollwyood is still capable of making great movies. 2012’s “Avengers Assemble” and “The Hobbit” to name a few.

But by focusing on STORY and less on SFX, Hollywood could reach more people, deliver more satsfying stories, spend less cash per picture, and make more money.

Nowadays, studios make only about a dozen films a year tops themselves. Each one is stuffed with SFX. It’s an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket strategy. And if a film flops, the results can be disastrous. Disney lost $160 million on “John Carter” alone. But in the golden age of Hollywood, studios churned out hundreds of movies.

You do the math.

My take? The Internet will not solve the problem of why fewer people are watching films. I would argue that the demand is still there. People will always want an evening of magic, living vicariously through 40 foot high technicolor  images on a silver screen. The real question is one of supply.

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