Once again, a small, simple movie about ordinary people is burning up screens while many of the star-driven, big budget effects movies are underperforming.
It seems Richard Linklater’s third installment in what you might call his “European Trilogy,” Before Midnight, is going to be an even bigger success than his first two films, the modestly successful Before Sunrise and After Sunset. The studio is gearing up for unexpected wide release after initially thinking the movie would only do small art-house business. Meanwhile the smart money said Will Smith would clean up the summer with After Earth. Don’t take stock tips from these people.
Once again, a small, simple film about ordinary people talking resonates with movie-goers more than action heroes and heroines in leather catsuits and superhero tights. Whudda thunkit? Even in the action-adventure genre, however, things are different this year. The big winner so far seems to be the latest Fast and Furious movie. While these films obviously have done well before, most execs didn’t expect the latest installment to blast past Star Trek, Olympus Has Fallen, The Great Gatsby (yes, I classify Baz Luhrmann’s flick as a comic book movie even though it’s cloaked in the legitimacy of F. Scott Fitzgerald) and all the other optical extravaganzas that have come out so far. It’s gotten so that even the kings of special effects extravaganzas are worried about the effects of the mega-blockbusters on the health of movies in general.
But studios keep trying to push them on us, push them hard, having them pop up in every browser window, shopping mall, TV show, and download. They merchandize the hell out of them, turning them into fast food meals, soft drinks, wearing clothing, video games, theme park attractions, you name it. If only they marketed other films that hard, quality films, films that didn’t feature some overpaid Hollywood A-lister trying to save the world (again), they might make even more money than they do now, which, after production costs are subtracted, aren’t always very good and are often less rosy than their own PR suggests. (Just check where the parent companies’ numbers are on the stock market for a snapshot of their financial health.)
I always find Oscar night supremely ironic: a bunch of people gather to praise “art” and compliment films that for the most part they spent the other 364 days of the year blocking. Then it’s back to the sequels, rip-offs and formula pictures the next day.
I just wish Before Midnight would open the gate to other people-oriented films the way action-hero and comic book movies do. I wish its success would make studio heads say, “Hey, people are tired of CGI monsters destroying the world. More and more people want movies based in reality.”
As William Goldman has pointed out, when the big budget extravaganzas are a hit, the studio execs say they know what people want. When small, quirky films fare the same way, that’s the “non-recurring phenomenon.” It’s a fluke. Forget about it. It ain’t gotten happen again.
Till it does.