Tara and her daughter Kailin to a showing of Star Trek. It was a fun popcorn movie with a few well-placed winks to the Old Guard Trekkies -- very worthwhile. The thing that caught my attention first, though, was the set of about a half-dozen previews preceding the film.
Movie trailers have become an art form in and of themselves. Some seem to be demonstrating the questionable art of polishing turds, being far better edited and presented than the actual movies they advertise (haven't we all seen some of those brilliant trailer recuts?). You can also tell what movies the Hollywood marketing gurus think you'll want to see, based on what trailers get appended to which movies. Star Trek was expected to be a blockbuster film, which might suggest it was released with lots of keen summer blockbuster trailers, no?
No. Of the trailers we saw that day, only one (for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) was in any way appealing to me. The others ranged from pedestrian to dreadful -- the "dreadful" in this case being the abysmal Will Ferrell vehicle Land of the Lost. Tara and I watched him Ferrelling wildly across the screen, then looked at each other with exactly the same dimstisfied expression: what were they smoking when they greenlighted THAT one? You didn't need to be an industry insider to see it; the trailer itself made it blatantly obvious that this film was going to go down in flames.
Fast forward a few months. The other day Captain Midnight forwarded the following New York Times article to me: "A-List Stars Flailing at the Box Office." He wanted my take on it. My immediate response: "Seems to me that the studios are looking to place the blame anywhere other than square on their own heads."
The article speaks of "the fading ability of Hollywood stars to command box-office attention" and other nonsense. People are supposedly harder to get into theaters now, because other entertainment competes for their attention; stars are no longer as "special" as they once were in the all-access, all-the-time Internet age; yadda yadda yadda. It's far simpler than the article suggests, though. As the late Don LaFontaine might have put it in his rich, espresso-dark trailer voice, "In a world where the economy has soured, people want the most from their entertainment dollars. They want the best of the best, the white-knuckle thrill rides, the knock-out comedies, the films that will change your life... forever." And if Hollywood studios insist on trotting out hackneyed, stupid "star vehicles," they'd better not have their A-list actors driving around in Edsels.
There's an even easier barometer of Hollywood's troubles: the recent spate of 3D movies. New films like Coraline and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and reworked older films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Toy Story, are appearing in first-run theaters as a desperate bid to get butts in seats. Hollywood did exactly the same thing in the 1950s, when television first gave it a run for its money. Likewise, IMAX films and high-definition reissues like the upcoming 70th anniversary edition of The Wizard of Oz are akin to the Cinemascope films of the '60s. Rather than offering superlative new stories, Hollywood hopes to lure moviegoers in with techno-wizardry -- relatively cheap, flashy retreads of sure-thing titles.
But the Hollywood powers that be really should leave the wizardry to Harry Potter. Special effects and big-name stars don't make movies great; special effects only work in service to a good story, and great movies are what make actors into stars in the first place. While a few moviegoers will be drawn in by the promise of 3D, and while a handful of die-hard fans will even show up to watch George Clooney floss, neither of these tricks of the trade will cultivate a widespread, all-consuming love for the movies. Back to basics, Hollywood: tell a cracking good tale, market it wisely, and you'll have your audiences back.