19 July 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Ghosts in Black

Yea the sun rises upon another Summer Friday and so it comes time again for the Road to a Blockbuster - NMW's weekly examination of the critical, commercial, and cultural impact of every big movie jostling to become the next big thing. At this point, I think this column has become critical - this summer, more than any in recent memory has had film after film attempt to become the next huge tentpole. Half of them have attempted to become franchise starters (World War Z, Pacific Rim, Man of Steel to some extent...), the other half have attempted to continue the franchise (Star Trek Into DarknessDespicable Me 2), and there are even a few ending franchises (for now - Iron Man 3). With all this hullabaloo it has been difficult to latch on to anything for more than a week. We're diving into fast cars one week, monsters attending college another week, it's been really crazy.

By mid-July, for my part, I'm exhausted. I'm not sure if it's what the rest of the country is feeling, but I am in no mood to get up and cheer for another blockbuster. Considering that it seems as if folks were tapped out on action after Man of Steel or so, with White House Down and The Lone Ranger tanking hard, this feeling of blockbuster exhaustion may be contagious. While there has been some successes (Despicable Me 2 could somehow become the highest grossing film of the summer, if not the year), there has also been a tremendous amount of huge huge bombs. I think we're maxed out. We reached the pinnacle of the spectacle we're willing to consume. We might as well have peaked with Pacific Rim last week. That's a fine break point. In short, no one is going to come out to RED 2 and certainly not R.I.P.D.

In these columns though, we're not only looking at how much money these things might make, but we want to know whether or not we'll care about them ten or twenty years down the line. There is not a lot to go on here besides what kind of impressions the marketing has given us. So, in addition to RED 2 and R.I.P.D. we have The Conjuring, which is another cookie cutter random horror tale. Let's start with that one.

For horror movies to really stand out they need to be either groundbreaking, trope-makers, or just really good and scary. You've got your Saw (2004), your Paranormal Activity (2009), and your Insidious (2011), that kind of stuff. The Conjuring also stars Patrick Wilson, who was in Insidious, and that may just confuse enough people into seeing it. It also has the same director as Insidious. After all, it's the same old poltergeist crap. It's based on Ed and Lorraine Warren, who if you don't know, are about the most famous Ghost and Demon Hunters of the 70s and 80s. So yes, swindlers. Lots of flicks have been based on their bullshit, from The Amityville Horror (1979) to A Haunting in Connecticut (2009).

Still, you've got think back to possession / demon / ghost films of late such as The Last Exorcism (2010), Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010), Sinister (2012), The Devil Inside (2012), The Possession (2012), Mama (2013), Dark Skies (2013), and the aforementioned four Paranormal Activity movies, and their parodies like A Haunted House (2013), and The Conjuring is really nothing but white noise. Horror fans will dig it because as usual, they've been starved all summer, and the commercials present some cool scares, but WHATEVER. Over it.

Let's move on to RED 2. RED (2010) was a serviceable film, although I'm not sure it was one that many people were clamouring for a sequel for or deserved one. It has hardly been marketed at all, and my guess is it's the biggest film that gets lost in the shuffle on this crowded weekend. The core gimmick of RED was that it was an action film full of old geezers. In RED 2 this seems to be repeated verbatim, which a few cast changes, but it's ultimately nothing new or fresh. It will crash and burn.
Starring Tommy Lee Jones and a White Will Smith
Now, on to R.I.P.D. Yes, it's clearly Men in Black (1997) with ghosts. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's an interesting premise with very likable stars at a peak time in summer when everyone is going to the movies. So why do I have a bad feeling about this? Think of it this way - every week we've had something cultural to talk about here. Whether it be Iron Man or Star Trek or even the Fast and Furious. We've gone through Will Smith, Vince Vaughn, Superman, Zombies, Pixar, Cowboys, Melissa McCarthy, Channing Tatum, and Kaiju. What are we talking about with R.I.P.D.? Ghosts? Men in Black? The inherent funness of Jeff Bridges bringing his True Grit (2010) character to a completely different genre? That last part is pretty decent. But R.I.P.D. is ultimately really culturally hollow. That's not to say it can't be awesome - after all, what's better than an original property to get the conversation going?

From the looks of it, though, there doesn't seem to be a lot there. It's a lot of CGI craziness, broad jokes in what is clearly a niche fanboy comedy/horror/sci-fi genre, and ultimately a desperate attempt at becoming a cultural event movie in a Summer when we've had one every weekend. And the only really exceptional films so far have been Furious 6, This is The End, and Pacific Rim. Every other film has tried so desperately to become the next great setpiece, because that's the only way you can do Summer anymore. That's the only way to meet that $200 million budget - everyone needs to see it to be part of the conversation. And the day of your premiere if you want to be an event movie, your Wikipedia page can't be as bare as this. That's why this film ultimately feels hollow. Compare that to the Pacific Rim specific wiki - it's no contest which film actually has the greater cultural cachet.

On the note of the comedy/horror/sci-fi there really are only two films that have pulled that off with the kind of success R.I.P.D. is going for. Ghostbusters (1984) and Men in Black. Everything else falls apart. It's a tone that's so difficult to achieve. Like I usually say, I'm cheering for all these movies. No one wants to see a bad movie, but this is just not going to be the week for any of these guys.

And don't get me started on The Wolverine next week, which I am actually looking forward to. It's a goner.

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