The fathers of the modern summer blockbuster raised some eyebrows earlier this summer when they both said the sky is going to fall on the supposed glut of blockbusters that will be the death of the movie-going experience as it is now known. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas with JAWS and STAR WARS, respectively, and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, collectively, showed Hollywood that there was gold in the dog days of summer if exciting movies made with unforgettable visuals married to gripping stories about swashbuckling archaeologists, gentle aliens, and bawdy humor was released during a perceived dead time in the calendar for movies. The conventional studio thinking in the mid-70’s before JAWS and STAR WARS was who would want to sit in a darkened theater on beautiful summer days to watch genre and exploitation fluff? Lucas and Spielberg went against that thinking and have cashed in financially and critically ever since.
That is why the proverbial eyebrows were raised across studio boardrooms and the internet when the two visionaries declared the sky is soon to fall in on the Hollywood blockbuster. Actually, they used words like “meltdown” and “implosion” during a dedication event for the new USC School of Cinematic Arts building where they predicted a series of flops of mega-budgeted movies would shift the theatrical release paradigm in its wake. Remaining blockbusters they prophesy will be priced the same as tickets for a Beyonce/Jay-Z show while the price of admission for smaller movies will go back down to $7 or less.
They both reached these conclusions after lamenting the difficulties they had bringing their last two movies to wide release, RED TAILS (Lucas) and LINCOLN (Spielberg), when they realized that the summer movie season is about to morph into a year-round phenomenon with more prestige, Oscar-bait features likely to be crowded out by films about fast and furious cars, day-glo Marvel superheroes, and comedies about hungover suburbanites. With the result being when the bubble bursts, and it will, all forms of moviemaking will be left scrambling to find ways to make a profit. More than likely with the help of gimmicks like next-gen 3D tech or cerebral cortex downloading that puts you right in the middle of the action in a movie. Those are just tongue in cheek suggestions but who knows what is being cooked up in the bowels of a DARPA lab to be used for capitalistic purposes in ten or twenty years?
All respect due to the names of Lucas and Spielberg but ultimately this doom and gloom they’re forecasting will signify nothing. Yes, the movie industry, just like all industries in this current Digital Age we live in, will evolve and probably make some missteps with heavily-marketed, can’t-miss movies missing with fans and the worldwide box office but that is not going to stop the democratization currently bubbling up from the grassroots under the current studio system. Neophyte filmmakers with the hunger of young Ridley Scotts, Richard Donners, Martin Scorseses, John Woos, and Spike Lees are making movies right now on shoestring budgets with handheld digital equipment that was the stuff of E.T. and Obi-Wan Kenobi when Spielberg was a nervy kid sneaking onto movie lots before he was even shaving regularly.
It is only a matter of time before this new, indie content utilizes old and new ways to capture eyeballs through the use of websites like YouTube which currently streams full-length movies when less than ten years ago it was a chore to watch a five-minute music video from the 80’s. There are also services like Netflix and Amazon which allow a viewer to watch what she wants to watch, when she wants to watch, how she wants to watch whether it’s a Friday date night on a sixty-inch curved screen in high-definition with surround sound or on a handheld device while waiting for a plane at JFK. All that for just a relatively small monthly fee and a data plan. That’s just what’s available now so imagine what’s coming down the pike in less than a decade?
Sure, there will eventually come a time when superhero movies are less than profitable and a megaton bomb with James Cameron’s name attached as director will leave charred shadow outlines on the walls of theaters across the world but that will only hasten a change that is already coming. The barbarians are at the gilded gates of Hollywood studios already but those gates should be taken down instead of shored up. The traditional picture of a movie director, screenwriter, leading man, and movie mogul is changing to reflect the diverse palette of viewers that has always watched and enjoyed Hollywood movies but longed to see themselves in front and behind the camera. That means more action heroes who are women, openly gay, or physically disabled being directed by more than a smattering of filmmakers from hoods and barrios across this nation and slumdogs from Asia and Africa with films financed by and marketed to audiences on the internet instead of big multinational conglomerates and Madison Avenue becoming the norm sooner rather than later.
No, the wunderkind who built the summer movie experience sound more like crotchety, fearful old men trying to keep the rambunctious punk kids they once were off their lawns. That’s understandable because no one likes to admit when their time has passed after they have had so much success in their primes. History ignores Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform and Rod Stewart’s lounge lizard phase just like moviegoers try every waking minute to forget Hayden Christensen, Jake Lloyd, and Jar Jar Binks in Lucas’s Prequel Trilogy and visions of nuked fridges and a sword-wielding Shia Labouef in an unneeded, unwanted, and unloved fourth Indiana Jones movie. Lucas and Spielberg should actually open the door and give these thirsty gatecrashers some lemonade and encouragement, metaphorically speaking, because any system that gives wide release to movies like LET’S BE COPS and EXPENDABLES 3 in one weekend needs to be flushed more than flaunted.
–Jason O. Logan