22 May 2015

The Road to a Blockbuster: On the Road to Tomorrow! And Ghosts!

Well it's been a damn exciting Summer Blockbuster season, already! Although to be honest, looking at the upcoming schedule (HERE!), how many movies left are you really pumped up about? I have a nominal interest in Jurassic World (2015), although my enthusiasm actually dropped after stumbling upon this the other day and finding myself agreeing with a lot of random points that found themselves targeting that film in particular, probably because the original was such a paradigm for the genre.

But that's really a conversation to have a few weeks from now. Is there anything else that has really captured our attention this summer? I want to say that we blew our load pretty early with Age of Ultron (2015) and Fury Road (2015), and the combination of both have heartedly taken over our conversational zeitgeist the past few weeks. I would say I'm looking forward to the August 14th double dip of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Straight Outta Compton (2015), and that's about it. And Dope (2015). I may be the only one June 12 buying a ticket for Dope while everyone else watches Dinosaurs eat people. I'm like 28 or 29 or something and I think I've finally hit that jaded age where I just don't give a shit about big dumb sequels anymore. I do care about big smart sequels, hence my love for Fury Road, but everything else could crash and burn for all I care. So, on this week's big tentpole release, Tomorrowland (2015). Oh, and Poltergeist (2015) comes out this weekend, too? Damn these movies have done a terrible job of promoting themselves. Well, here we go.

This is going to be a fun preview because I know absolutely nothing about Tomorrowland. I know that I liked the first teaser, haven't really seen the full trailer, and maybe George Clooney is in it? That is literally what I started with when writing this post. So let's discover whatever this movie is together in an attempt to assuage its cultural, commercial, and critical potential.

Let's back up and go forward a little bit because the latter two bits of my criteria are easy to judge. Critically this film has already done pretty well, at least in the sense of it just being not shitty. 60% RT. That's well within the realm of being..."at least not completely shitty." It has branded itself as being a hopeful epic movie with strong intellectual appeal, which could actually work against it if the intellectual elite it's pandering towards reject it for being not great. But let's talk about its commercial potential, which is a tricky subject and goes along with the same idea here.

I frankly wouldn't be surprised if this debuted in fourth place this weekend. Actually, there's no way that will happen. I think it can at least beat Ultron in its fourth week. But I imagine that Fury Road rides the strength of its reviews and word of mouth to hold pretty steady, and even a stiff decline of Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) will be a tall order to beat. Okay, so figuring if both of those pull in around $30 million I guess expectations for Tomorrowland need to be higher than that. Right? Okay, let's say it wins. It won't be by too much.

Now, I hate this prospect, because if we're looking at wholly original action blockbusters this summer you've got this, San Andreas (2015), and Pixels (2015), and that last one is a rough stretch. Tomorrowland is our only option for new innovative material at the Box Office. We've actually had a lot of original blockbuster films recently, but the problem is, they've all been terrible. We're talking films like Oblivion (2013), After Earth (2013), Elysium (2013), and Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Now, those two Tom Cruise vehicles are probably the best of the lot, and I didn't dislike either but neither really lit up the Box Office enough to encourage studios to invest in anything other than shared world comic book adaptations. I have more the feeling that Tomorrowland will settle into this vein of film than anything else. Quick - name any character from Oblivion. Even Tom Cruise's character. Who did Morgan Freeman play? You had completely forgotten Morgan Freeman was even in that movie, didn't you? But I bet you know who is playing Dr. Strange in a few years.

This isn't meant to bemoan either superhero movies or to grouchily yell from my porch that "they just don't make 'em like they used to, dagnabit!" but I am concerned with cultural ramifications, as always. There is something to be said for the big movies of old that succeeded merely on their own  merit as movies. We still talk about Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Die Hard (1988) because they're great movies. To some extent, they needed to be, although this certainly wasn't the original intention, in order to establish themselves in our culture. We don't really remember terrible movies from that era. No one is clamouring for remakes of Dark Star (1974) or The Stuff (1985). Where is our modern adaptation of From Beyond (1986)? Original movies aren't good movies and comic book movies aren't good movies; good movies are good movies. And I'd certainly like to see more of them. If an original movie's method to worm its way into our cultural heritage is to be good, then I'm all for it. I think the disconnect is also because comic book movies don't really add anything new to our cumulative culture. We already have Captain America. We've had him for like seventy years. I want whatever new characters introduced in Tomorrowland to join that great pantheon.

Of course, Tomorrowland isn't wholly new. It's based on a Disneyland ride. Or park section. Or just borrowed the name. I don't know. I think it's the latter. It's also directed by Brad Bird, who seems to really fail at making bad movies, although his animated work has been superior to his one live action attempt, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011), but that's tough to judge someone on, considering the Tom Cruise factor. And I don't have much against Ghost Protocol, it was an extremely fun movie with that one stunt (I shouldn't even have to name it but that moment when Cruise scales the Wiz Burj Khalifa) echoing in memory even if the cast and plot don't really do the same.

I ought to mention that any excitement I have for director Brad Bird is tempered by writer Damon Lindelof. It's not that he's a terrible writer, and I actually liked the two greatest fanboy ires he's created - LOST and its somewhat infamous conclusion and Prometheus (2012). His purposeful obfuscation of answers works better for the former than the latter, though, and even though I understand what he's trying to do, it's still kind of awful for cinematic narrative form. Fury Road didn't give much answers or background but it still bent to its own internal logic, instead of explaining away incongruities with a blanket level of mystery. At this point I am just fearful of anything Lindelof cranks out because you never know when it's going to walk that fine line between awe-inspiring and dream-crushing.

Even though this feels like a lot of good going for it, I just don't feel like anyone is talking about Tomorrowland. At all. It is a complete ghost in our cultural zeitgeist. It's a non-factor. Everyone's lives will move on without seeing this movie. A dozen articles dissecting it aren't going to be written on Monday morning. No one cares. Maybe if the film is good it can snuggle up to us a few years down the line when things are a little less crowded, but in the pure cultural capitalism that is our lives, it just can't fight to the top.
What's actually creepy is that there are
 like four right hands in a row there.

And then there's also Poltergeist this weekend. I honestly didn't even know this movie existed until a few months ago. It felt like one of those films that was in development hell for years and years and then feels like a bit of a "who gives a shit" moment when it's actually here. The original Poltergeist (1982) was pretty popular as a mainstream horror film and I think you'll find a lot of my gripings from a few paragraphs up to hold true here.

This may not be the best judge of how much a studio is investing in its film, because it can be edited by anyone, but I think that checking out a film's Wikipedia page a few days before its release should give plenty of info to get you pumped up. And as far as Poltergeist goes, either the studio doesn't care, fans don't care, or no one knows that it'd be worthwhile to create some kind of mythos around this film if it's going to stand out and be a champion among everyone else. Check out how much more in-depth Mad Max: Fury Road is. And finally, let's go nuts for Age of Ultron. It's not just the breadth of the articles - Ultron has 256 citations. 256! Max has 93 and Poltergeist has...14.

That's a tough metric to judge a film on but I'm going to do it anyway. It's clear indication of how much enthusiasm people have for these properties, and perhaps it's unfair to compare Poltergeist to these big boy movies, but it's also unfair to give it a Memorial Day release date where you know it's going to fight for fourth or fifth place. It was originally set to launch in February, and you've got to think that would have been a better date. It could have at least gotten some press about it winning its weekend. Or coming in second to Fifty Shades of Grey (2015). You know that the 20th Century Fox studio head was just eyeing the success of The Conjuring (2013) and The Purge: Anarchy (2014) and just wanted to drop a horror movie in summer and hope for the best. This flick is going to get buried.

So I hope I talked about Tomorrowland and Poltergeist somewhere in there. I don't have high hopes in any regard for either of these properties this weekend. We're just waiting for Jurassic World at this point and the Internet is obsessed with Fury Road. Like me!

What do you think about the prospects of these films? What hope have ye? Leave a comment down there.

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