I had a conversation very recently with a friend about how iconic the poster was for John Hughes’ wonderful teen movie, The Breakfast Club. I’m not much of a sentimentalist or one to wallow in '80s nostalgia, but I’m glad I was a kid when the Hughes films were making their initial runs. Most of them are quite good and hold up pretty well today. They were at least in part the inspiration for Spider-Man: Homecoming. There’s a moment in that film where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off plays in the background. John Hughes left us way too early.
Production began last week on James Cameron’s very-long-in-gestation sequels to Avatar. At the same time, Fox announced last week that the four (Four!) sequels to the biggest international hit of all time will cost $1 billion to produce. The film world seemed to gasp a bit at the price tag, but $250 million per film isn’t all that unheard of when it comes to giant films like this, and Cameron will no doubt be doing what he always does and push the limitations of what’s possible on film. Titanic cost $200 million to make, and that was 20 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, Titanic would cost $305 million to make today. Rumors at the time suggested the first Avatar cost $500 million to make because of all of the R & D that went into creating it. These new Avatar films are a relative bargain by comparison. The original Avatar made $2.7 billion worldwide. Even if the interest for the sequels isn’t there and the four new films each make 50% less than the original, you’re still looking at a collective $5.4 billion gross against a $1 billion budget. Greenlighting this project is the biggest possible no-brainer short of printing your own money.
I’m dating myself here, but I am old enough to have seen Star Wars during its original theatrical run in 1977. It’s interesting to think about how the movie-going experience has changed over 40 years. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. Kansas City was my nearest major metropolitan area. It took a while before I got a chance to see Star Wars for a couple of reasons. First, I was in elementary school and unable to drive myself. The second was that, for quite a long time, Star Wars screened exclusively on one screen in Kansas City, and Kansas City wasn’t alone as it relates to that release pattern. Star Wars played at the Glenwood Cinema for over one full year (55 weeks to be exact). With it only playing on one screen in a city of nearly two million people, getting into it was kind of like getting tickets to Hamilton. Contemporary release patterns are considerably more wide and extensive. Films move in and out of the multiplex quickly, because the studios need to maximize that opening weekend as much as they can. If a film doesn’t open well, it doesn’t have time to find an audience, because there are more movies coming after it that will eat up the screens. For instance, The Force Awakens opened on over 4100 screens across North American. To put in perspective the change from 1977, when Star Wars ran in first run cinemas for over 12 months, a year after The Force Awakens was released, Rogue One was already in theaters and The Last Jedi was already in principle photography.
I’ve never quite understood the aversion many people have to film musicals (or stage musicals for that matter). One of the biggest reasons people give for going to the movies in the first place is a desire for escapism from everyday life. The movie business boomed during the Great Depression, as people wanted a retreat from the hardships of that era. What could be more escapist than people bursting into spontaneous song and dance numbers accompanied by an invisible orchestra? Yet the same people who revel in the unreality of Star Wars, people who will literally go out in public dressed as aliens, reject the unreality of a musical. It makes no sense to me. For whatever reason, audiences seem more inclined to accept musical numbers in animated films but not live action. (Incidentally, “How Far I’ll Go” from the recent Moana is a pretty good example of a song that informs both her character and advances the plot of the film.) Even one of the most successful musicals form the past 15 years, Bill Condon’s Chicago, worked to hide the production numbers and, in a way, apologize for them – they all took place in Roxie Hart’s imagination and not in the real life of the film.
I find comedy sometimes hard to write about. It’s difficult to explain why something did or did not make you laugh. I like to think of myself as at least a somewhat cultured person with a sense of humor to match, but I have been known to laugh hysterically at internet fail videos which teach the valuable lesson that overweight people should never go anywhere near rope swings or trampolines.
The alien invasion picture has been a staple of the movie business since the space race of the 1950s opened people’s minds to imagine what may be out there in vastness beyond our solar system. These films can often be filled with a sense of awe and spectacle, along with the contemplation of our place in the universe. Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is probably still the high water mark for spaceship awe, with its slack-jawed vision of alien grandeur (The Devil’s Tower finale still holds up beautifully.), most recently imitated by Stranger Things. But sometimes an alien invasion movie can be simply ludicrous. With their B-movie origins, the alien invasion picture is more often than not pretty ridiculous. In the '50s, the threat of an invasion was played up Cold War generated hysteria, like in the classics The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But lately, as this summer’s recent Independence Day sequel demonstrated, they can also be largely stupid and void of any real subtext.
There’s a great moment in Blazing Saddles that a lot of people will miss if they aren’t careful. One of my all-time favorite comedy scenes is the closing stretch of that film, as the big fight in Rock Ridge spills off the set and invades other stages and locations on the Warner Bros. backlot (“You’ll be surprised you're doing the French Mistake, Voila!”) It’s a brilliant sequence of comic anarchy, culminating with Bart and The Waco Kid gunning down Hedley Lamarr in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It’s meta before meta was invented.
It’s been a rumor for quite some time, but it was finally made official this past weekend at Comic-Con: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure will close this winter and be re-themed as a ride based on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The ride will close in January and then re-open next summer, in time to capitalize on the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in May. Because Marvel signed a licensing deal with Universal Orlando prior to being purchased by Disney in 2009, Disney can’t use the Marvel characters in its east coast theme parks; however, Disney (who paid $4 billion for them) has been working to prominently feature the Marvel characters in the west coast theme parks, and the rebranding of the Tower of Terror is the first step in adding more rides and attractions in California that are based on Marvel's House of Ideas.
It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dealing with its considerable baggage, so let’s start unpacking.
I am on the record in my support of the all-female Ghostbusters movie we’re getting next month. Some of the reactions to it from fandom communities have been so annoying and offensive that I’ve never in my life wanted a film to be great just to silence its detractors. Multiple blogger have taken to the internet in recent days to write essays in which they are swearing off seeing Ghostbusters, as if not seeing a movie is some kind of impressive gesture of defiance, because their beloved franchise is now being fronted by women. They feel a righteous indignation that the Ghostbusters movie is being ruined, and they’re very vocal about boycotting it.
And now, it’s my turn.