H’wood: Hardwired to doomsday
Hollywood. Instantly, the very word strikes us as the most valued and critiqued in film history. Indeed, ruthless production studios, unchecked profiteering and ideological corruption have been associated with the world’s most loved and hated of film centres. Conversely, for over a century it has been compared to a New Age medium for technical innovation, spawning some of the most vastly imitated storytellers and entertainment confectioners in the world.
Currently, a scare appears to be on in Hollywood though. Can Hollywood survive and flourish in its overwhelming special effects-fuelled format? Can it do anything else besides bludgeoning audiences with themes harping on the paranoia that only American superheroes can rescue the world from imminent destruction?
The end of planet Earth could be here, is Hollywood’s overriding theme right now, embellished with 3D techno-dazzlery, publicity campaigns which are frequently costlier than an extravaganza’s multi-million-dollar budget and, of course, top star names incarnating comic strip saviours ranging from Superman, Batman, Spiderman to Ironman and assorted metallic dudes. The buzz is that their incredibly successful adventures may well spell the doom for Hollywood, and that too in the near future.
Ironically, the extinction of Hollywood has been articulated in a much discussed joint interview to Variety magazine by none other than George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, pioneers of the flashmatazz classics Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, respectively. They have advanced the ominous prediction that with the introduction of Internet streaming, the film industry will lose its importance. Quite alarmingly, Lucas and Spielberg have sensed a crash in the wake of extraneous models of Internet film programming. Amazon and Netflix are already producing their own original content, on the lines of the HBO channel, setting off plummeting sales of DVDs in the US.
In addition, the two market-savvy directors have theorised that cinema dependent on technical pyrotechnics — best seen on the big screen — will be the only kind of movies backed by the studios, decimating smaller, independent pictures which are more heart than hardware.
Moreover, the costs of going to a movie are more than likely to become a luxury. According to Lucas, “A ticket may well rise (from $10) to 50 bucks, maybe $100, Maybe 100.”
Consequently, the bigger the bang, more the value for money. Earlier, Hollywood has cried wolf, too, but that was restricted to mega losses incurred by a film which bankrupted its production studio. Michael Cimino’s sluggish western Heaven’s Gate, Elaine May’s Ishtar and Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart, had incited alarm, prompting the studios to tighten their budget allocations besides increasing the artistic control on the works of eminent directors.
For instance, Martin Scorsese had to struggle to remain in the fray after The King of Comedy, which turned out to be no laughing matter at the ticket counters.
But these commercial clinkers occurred at a time when there was no effective alternative to an evening out at the movies. Steadily, though, the American phenomenon of drive-in movies, ideal for romantic date flicks, began to fade out, and television became a viable entertainment option. Presently, the potency of American and British TV series is being felt the world over, what with the seasons of Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, Homeland, Game of Thrones and The House of Cards, finding the kind of worldwide viewership once reserved for Hollywood’s feature films. Scorsese, Gus Van Sant and Spielberg have bifurcated towards producing tele-series, to keep their production pots boiling. It is only the stalwart few like actors-producers-directors Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and Robert Redford who have stuck rigidly to films dealing with everyday people to tell, devoid of technical wizardry.
Animated cartoon features for kids, too, have become irrevocably dependent on 3D enhancements to woo the pre-teen audiences. That’s a far cry from the straight-on draughtsmanship of the godpapa of all cartoon movies, Walt Disney’s Fantasia, which captivated filmmakers like Spielberg during their growing up years.
Clearly, there’s no stopping the mounting encroachment of technology. Films can be viewed in moving cars on miniscule screens, on cellphones, accessed on Internet and premiered on TV screens the world over. Like it or not, then, the distressing pronouncements of Lucas and Spielberg are spot-on.
Any which way you look at Hollywood, its most glorious achievement has been the creation of familiar spaces and emotional landscapes. Each Hollywood genre has defined a continuum which has given comfort, stability, and a sense of being home far away from home. That home has now become bigger and brighter — with the domination of superheroism and FX upholstery — but certainly, not better. Those good old, intimate days of wine and roses by a logfire are over. Or almost.
The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director