Positive Cynicism – How’s the future of filmmaking going, Jeff?

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

Back in December, I posted a comment on my regular blog about my weariness with Jeffrey Katzenberg and his shit factory, DreamWorks Animation, a company that puts out one decent animated movie for every four movie-star-persona-having-a-midlife-crisis-but-making-lots-of-quickly-dated-pop-culture-references-along-the-way pieces of utter crap.

Jeff had just announced that it was time to make more Madagascar sequels, more How to Train Your Dragon sequels and six — SIX — more Kung Fu Panda movies. I mentioned in the post that I had uncharacteristically loved How to Train Your Dragon and was depressed to see it turned into another plastic franchise, while another rare DreamWorks movie I enjoyed — Monsters vs. Aliens — clearly lent itself to more adventures, but the studio was just abandoning it because it hadn’t made a ton of money.

What I got in response was a comment from an actual DreamWorks employee, a storyboard artist who called me ignorant for not recognizing the business aspect of moviemaking. I was a complete tool for not thinking it was a great idea for DreamWorks to take advantage of the momentum of How to Train Your Dragon, and I was an idiot for liking Monsters vs. Aliens when it hadn’t made very much money and wasn’t very popular. It was a comment that, to me, illustrated everything that is currently wrong with the animation industry and what it thinks about artistry, creativity, storytelling and its disdain for taking chances.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, the guy who saved and revitalized Disney animation, has turned into a total hack obsessed with sequels and gimmickry. His studio makes movies nominally for children but really aimed at guys as old as he is, and as a result, DreamWorks movies tend to be a pretty piss-poor experience. Look at the last two Shrek movies, if you have to: flashy cartoons starring comedians who were last funny two decades ago whining about their fears of inadequacy and the responsibilities of fatherhood. You know, for kids.

Katzenberg is a fake. He doesn’t seem to worry that, say, good stories with wide appeal and told well are the kind of things that catch audiences (and neither do the people who work for him, apparently). Instead, it’s whatever technology is the fad of the moment. First it was computer animation that was the future of quality filmmaking. Then it was 3D.

You may remember me complaining about the return of the world’s cheesiest movie gimmick in this space before. I’m hostile towards the headache-inducing stunt and what’s being done with it.

So it does my enlarged, overtaxed heart some good to see an outlet like Slate declare that 3D is dead. According to that article, revenues for 3D are down across the board and the process now isn’t contributing very much to the profits. This attempt to revive the fad is now in a downward spiral.

It was a short-lived bubble, then, for what Jeff boldly declared was the future of filmmaking. Just a year and a half ago he was claiming there was “no risk at all” in releasing movies in 3D, that it was saving the film industry. But Kung Fu Panda 2 earned $50 million less than the first film did. In fact, its per-screen average was 65 percent less in theaters showing it in 3D than in 2D. That doesn’t seem like such a sure bet.

The Slate article tries to figure out who the culprit is here, but doesn’t go out of its way to mention the state of the economy. I’m 35 years old, and this is the worst economy of my lifetime. I did actually manage to go see a couple of movies at the theater this year, but I went to the cinema exactly zero times in 2010. Before going to see Thor back in May, I hadn’t been inside a theater since July 2009. Movies are a luxury, and when the economy is this bad, luxuries start going out the window. I’m trying to bail out a sinking ship, and any unnecessary expense is going straight overboard.

Most retailers, services, entertainment outlets, etc, are responding to our spiraling recession by boldly and compassionately raising prices anywhere they can. In their desperate greed, theater chains raised the price of a 3D ticket to $4 more than the cost of a regular ticket. Greedy movie studios responded to this, er, demand by flooding the market with shitty 3D retrofits, hoping that the fad for three dimensions would carry their profits and that audiences wouldn’t notice. It had the effect of cheapening the experience and making the price hike more obviously outrageous. We have a high ticket price for a terrible movie, made even more terrible by the fact that you have to see it in headache-inducing 3D, which does absolutely nothing for the story itself. Wow, what a bargain…

It’s simple economics. There are lots of people my age who have two or three kids. Matinee prices are generally now what evening prices were when I was a kid. If you’re going to take your two or three kids to a piece of crap like Kung Fu Panda 2 in 3D, including overpriced concessions, what are you going to end up shelling out? What does it cost for a family of four to see a 3D movie and have some popcorn and soda these days? About 80 bucks? It’s cheaper to buy a DVD. It’s cheaper to buy four DVDs.

Sorry, 3D, but you’ve priced yourself right out of the game. If it’s a choice between making sure your kids can eat lunch at school or going to see Kung Fu Panda 2, well, it’s an easy choice. Hell, if it’s a choice between getting a bowel scraping and going to see Kung Fu Panda 2, well, just let me get these pants out of your way, doctor.

You want a real definition of “no risk”? This weekend, Disney rereleased The Lion King in 3D, and it’s the number one film at the box office. This, to some, proves that I’m wrong about 3D and that it’s a viable alternative. But here’s the thing. First off, The Lion King is ONLY showing in 3D, so if you want to see it on the big screen, it’s your only option. Second off, it’s a proven commodity. You’re talking about one of the most popular movies of the last 30 years — hell, of all time. I was 17 when that movie came out, and I went to see it a dozen times, and I worked at Target when all of the merchandise was flying off the shelves.

Now it’s been rereleased in theaters and given this shiny 3D retrofit, and people who saw it back in 1994 and loved it want to share it with those two or three kids I was hypothetically referring to. It doesn’t make the case for 3D; it makes the case for an audience starved of quality. If you give them quality — and they’ve seen the movie dozens of times, so they know it is — they’ll come to it.

If you give them retreads, well … why bother?

3D is the future of filmmaking the same way spoilers and spinning rims are the future of driving. If you’re not getting good gas mileage and it doesn’t handle well, who wants to spend the money?

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com

  1. MC September 20, 2011
  2. Dar September 20, 2011
  3. Daskaea October 15, 2011

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