June 17, 2005

Hollywood Jumps the Shark

Yes, I know, “jumped the shark” jumped the shark a while ago, but sometimes nothing else says it.

Neal Stephenson in the New York Times nails exactly, precisely, what’s so horribly wrong with the new Star Wars movies.

He concludes that because Americans are not only willing to tolerate such dreck but actually flock to it that we’re in decline. Ann Althouse disagrees and says Hollywood is declining instead.

I agree with Ann about Hollywood and I agree with Neil about Star Wars.

Anyway, the intellectual and artistic bankruptcy of Hollywood really struck me last week when I went to see Cinderella Man. It’s an okay movie. Not great, but worth renting if you can’t think of anything else and don’t mind some average-quality filler.

That movie didn’t impress me much one way or the other. What struck me was what I saw as I walked down the hall toward the screen that was showing that movie. The wall was lined with posters for upcoming movies, as usual. And every single last movie advertised was either a re-make or a crappy dated TV show. The War of the Worlds. (Okay, I do want to see that one for the popcorn factor.) Bewitched. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Bad News Bears. The Longest Yard. The Dukes of Hazard. The Amityville Horror. Oh, and another Herbie movie is coming out, for God’s sake. What’s next? Day of the Triffids and Gilligan’s Island? They already did The Brady Bunch.

Not every movie coming out right now is a re-make, but eight out of eight advertised are. The only genuinely good movie I’ve seen since I got back from Lebanon was Downfall, and that was made in Germany. Even Ridley Scott, one of my favorite directors, couldn’t make a movie about the Crusades that was worth watching.

Most movies I see in Portland are at the Fox Tower downtown. It’s a ten-screen multiplex owned by the Regal chain that plays nothing but independent and foreign films. Not long ago corporate multiplexes of that sort didn’t even exist in this country – at least they didn’t exist in this city. The way Hollywood is going these days, we might see a whole lot more in the future. And I will be grateful.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2005 01:53 PM

The only genuinely good movie I’ve seen since I got back from Lebanon was Downfall, and that was made in Germany.

Michael, you are 100% right. It's all crap. But Downfall was gripping from the opening line of dialogue to the last credit. I was absolutely swept up into the bunker 60 years ago. That flick was in my mind for days afterwards. That's the mark of a good movie. It just nudges out Saving Private Ryan as the best war flick I've ever seen.

Posted by: spaniard at June 17, 2005 02:04 PM

Hollywood movies are dreck because screenplays go through many, many rewrites, script doctoring, focus group testing, all in an effort to get it to play to the lowest common denominator, the 12 year old mind. The key is to get people to see your movie over and over again(i.e. "Titanic").

"Kingdom of Heaven" is a perfect example of too many cooks spoiling the stew. Instead of taking a fascinating, complicated period of history and making a movie worthy of contemporary comparisons, Ridley Scott (normally a decent filmmaker) puts it up for review from the Muslim community and changes it to address their concerns. Did the Catholic community get the same courtesy? Yeah, that's gonna happen. So we get that dreck of a movie that is so concerned with "Oh dear oh dear we might actually offend someone with delicate sensibilities" if we actually dare suggest that Muslims sold captors into slavery, or beheaded them, or had anything but the utmost respect for Christianity, while the Christians are filthy, evil, moneygrubbing corrupt jerkwads who have as much connection with their own religion as my cat does to the worship of Bastet. Don't even get me started on how the defenders of Jerusalem start cheering with Legolas Bloom comes back and says, we're bugging out to the coast. Gadzooks!! Why be so afraid of starting dialog, controversy, interest in an important historical time period by making a movie about real issues that still reverberate in our lives today? It was a chickenshit choice by Scott, and I want my $9.00 back.

Also, would it be too much to ask for the Arabs in the movie to be riding Arabian horses?

Posted by: DodgerGirl at June 17, 2005 02:37 PM

I couldn't agree more. This recycling of 50's-60's-70's movies and sitcoms simply demonstrates a complete lack of imagination.

I'm going to go see "Howl's Moving Castle" tomorrow, where at the very least I'm going to see something I've never seen before, even if its not any good.

Posted by: Eric Blair at June 17, 2005 05:26 PM

The new Batman movie is really quite good, 'specially the first half. After seeing it last night, reflected briefly on what a director with Chris Nolan's ability could have done with material as rich as Star Wars. Too bad.


Posted by: Saint Albatross at June 17, 2005 05:28 PM

Now this post made me feel ever so much better. I have long thought that 99.9% of the dreck produced by Hollywood was virtually unwatchable.

I have also in my weaker moments thought maybe it was just me who had become merely crochety in my doddering old(er)age. I am in your debt for reminding me that movies did in fact used to be BETTER . I blame the collapse of the studios run by real film people rather than pencil pushers reporting to souless corporate entities.

It has got so bad that when I signed on with another Satellite TV provider,I got 10 PPV movies FREE over 3 months. From day 1,I just KNEW I was not going to be offered 10 even halfway decent flics in that time frame.Halfway in,I have watched 3. Even FREE, the product is more annoying than it is worth.

How Sad.

Posted by: dougf at June 17, 2005 05:29 PM

Oh, please don't give them any ideas about "Day of the Triffids." It's just perfect un-re-made. Far scarier than the plants is the first third, where the whole world has gone blind. Think of what a crude white-hot-poker metaphor Hollywood would attempt to make of that now.

Posted by: Callimachus at June 17, 2005 06:05 PM

Michael: Go rent "The Machinist". Your faith in movies will be restored -- at least until the "Mork & Mindy" prequel gets greenlit.

Posted by: Sean P at June 17, 2005 06:10 PM

Sean P,

Done. Thanks. I need a decent movie.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2005 06:21 PM

I guess I'm one of those "simple folks" that have enjoyed every Star Wars, Matrix, and Blade movies. OOPS!

I do undertand your point Michael about Hollywood in general. But the lure of big screen is like a drug to many of us. Going to the movies is ingrained in our culture so deep that we'll even see bad movies just to escape.

Posted by: Solomon Mason at June 17, 2005 06:37 PM

I don't see how The Chronicles of Narnia qualifies as a remake.

Posted by: Ken Hirsch at June 17, 2005 06:41 PM

I did a google search on "why movies suck" and found a couple of funny, yet true posts here and here.

And with my searching I happened to stumble across this thread which made me not want to do google searches anymore.

Posted by: markytom at June 17, 2005 06:57 PM

“Downfall” was showing in a local theater that shows mostly Bollywood films. My daughter and I went to see it, and we were the only people in the theater. I was one of the best films I saw all year (and we got to choose between popcorn and samosas as a snack)

Independent films were very big in the late ‘90’s, but Hollywood remakes and other dreck seem to have taken over the industry again. I wonder if the next Independent film uprising will take place on the internet instead of the theaters?

Posted by: mary at June 17, 2005 07:21 PM

I think Hollywood has simply surrendered the adult sophisticated market to television. If you want a complex plot, witty dialogue and characters you actually care about than you have to watch "Sopranos", "Buffy", "24", "the Shield", etc. etc. The fact is, even if Hollywood still could make movies as good as television very few of the over-25 target audience feels like shelling out $10 per ticket, plus parking, plus possibly a baby sitter (If I go to a movie with my wife I'm looking at a $40 investment -that's two months of Netflix) for a movie you can watch on DVD a few months later. You do get the occasional exception like "Sideways" but more and more Hollywood is concentrating on spectacle (Star Wars, Kingdom of Heaven) or the teen market.

Posted by: Vanya at June 17, 2005 07:51 PM

"The only genuinely good movie I’ve seen since I got back from Lebanon was Downfall, and that was made in Germany."

How long have you been back? How long has it been since you've seen a good non Hollywood movie?

Posted by: mika. at June 17, 2005 08:14 PM


You do have a point about the general decline in a lot of Hollywood movies today, but there are clear exceptions (Lord of the Rings, Sideways, etc).

Oh, and Star Wars was awesome. I'll just have to disagree with you on this. I'm a fanboy, and it was awesome. I don't follow hype, and I still think it was awesome.

Posted by: Rafique Tucker at June 17, 2005 09:46 PM

Oh...how I envy you, Michael. There are only two arguably independent moviehouses in Indianapolis, and one of them is owned by AMC and half-indie at best. The AMC theater has 3 screens and the other one, the only TRULY independent one, has but a mere two.

Sigh. Oh, how I long to leave this place! I'll feel better for a couple hours next week, watching Howl's Moving Castle, and it'll help me to forget how much Indianapolis sucks for a little while. But the feeling will inevitably return. Much in the way you probably gave up on the MSM years ago, I've lost near-total faith in the mainstream film industry.

People need to struggle to create art. I love capitalism as much as the next guy, but the plague of creative mediocrity inherent in such an extremely prosperous system such as ours is definitely a downside.

Posted by: Grant McEntire (blue-stater in jesusland) at June 17, 2005 11:22 PM

Oh...how I envy you, Michael. There are only two arguably independent moviehouses in Indianapolis, and one of them is owned by AMC and half-indie at best. The AMC theater has 3 screens and the other one, the only TRULY independent one, has but a mere two.

Sigh. Oh, how I long to leave this place! I'll feel better for a couple hours next week, watching Howl's Moving Castle, and it'll help me to forget how much Indianapolis sucks for a little while. But the feeling will inevitably return. Much in the way you probably gave up on the MSM years ago, I've lost near-total faith in the mainstream film industry.

People need to struggle to create art. I love capitalism as much as the next guy, but the plague of creative mediocrity inherent in such an extremely prosperous system such as ours is definitely a downside.

Posted by: Grant McEntire (blue-stater in Jesusland) at June 17, 2005 11:30 PM

Sorry about the double-post, just then. Thought it didn't go through the first time.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at June 17, 2005 11:34 PM

Your standards are too high, the affliction of the rich and spoiled -- like wine lovers needing only the best vintages to "enjoy" a glass of wine.

If you limit yourself to one movie every two weeks, they look a lot better.

Did you see Das Experiment? A 2001 German flick roughly based on the Stanford Prison Experiment. Quite strong.

Star Wars - 3 was fine; better than 1 or 2. Our family saw all 6 in a week, my wife hadn't seen 5 or 6 before; the two boys none. 5 DVDs (one took two nights), and then a trip to the big screen (with Slovak subtitles).

Nobody (few?) mentions how Anakin's trip towards the dark side include split loyalties, to being a Jedi AND to his secret wife -- good reason to accept Catholic Priests not marrying.

Similarly his good intentions to save his wife from childbirth death (though it's ridiculous in the tech context); intention good, path towards it bad.

At least there was some attempt at character development, and the big issues: Good vs. Evil, how dow we know which is which, what methods are acceptable. Windu is ready to kill the Sith Master without a trial (because he's so dangerous, and likely to get off in the Senate he controls).
Was this attempt wrong?

Narnia's going to be new; and like all fairy tales will also be good vs. evil. As is Harry Potter (#4 movie November; #6 book July). And Lord of the Rings. -- all three with Dark Lords, of evil. (with SW).

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at June 18, 2005 01:49 AM

I went to see Batman Begins tonight (I suppose THAT movie could just as easily find a place in this cinemagraphic wailing wall) and watched a thoroughly enjoyable movie preview : it was for a TV show made into a movie.


Joss Whedon. The Original Cast. Movie form. Looks worthwhile.

I agree that perusing a hundred old TV Guides is a lazy and condemnable way to choose new movie ideas, but lets not condemn an entire industry (let alone an entire culture) on that point.

I would hope that people wouldnt condemn Islam for a few rouge elements. Neither should you condemn American culture for a plethora of shitty movies. And lets remember, we're talking about shitty Mainstream movies.

I cant tell you how many (American) movies I watch every year that werent commercial successes.

Someone mentioned The Machinist. F*ck, that was disturbing, if only because it's hard to watch a strapping young lad like Christian Bale walk around looking like Ally Mcbeal. Man, that was weird.

To me, the entire premise of this topic is like one of those cultural Rorschach Tests. You'll either see what you want in it, or you won't.

Any number of us can bring up solid, worthwhile American movies we've seen in the last year, but for those predisposed to seeing decline, they will be unconvinced by our offerings an will still see decline.

BTW, as background, I thoroughly enjoyed the Blade franchise. I liked The X-Men. I loved Spiderman 2. I LOVED Batman Begins. I loved The Last Samurai. And Collateral. And Sideways. And The Incredibles. And Finding Nemo. And Saving Private Ryan. ;)

I agree with the commenter above : The Chronicles Of Narnia doesnt belong on your list.

Posted by: Erck at June 18, 2005 01:59 AM

Tom Grey: Your standards are too high, the affliction of the rich and spoiled

The target audience for almost all movies made in Hollywood is 15-year old boys. The titles alone prove that, but if you don't believe me ask Roger L. Simon. He's the one who explained that to me. I am not a 15-year old boy. I'm an adult with a literature degree.

My standards aren't too high, I'm just not impressed with crap. I'm not being a snob when I dimiss The Bad News Bears and Dukes of Hazard. Really. Hollywood can do better than that, but Hollywood chooses not to.

Did you read the Stephenson piece? He is absolutely right. Episode Three wasn't a movie. It was a Powerpoint demonstration with special effects.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 18, 2005 02:05 AM

I have to mention this, because it's always eaten at me a little...

What is the point of going to a movie with a predetermined scorecard? Why do people go to movies with a checklist of (technical/cinemegraphic/scriptural/allegorical/cultural) destinations? Isn't it enough to just go see a damn movie, and decide whether or not you enjoyed yourself? Without any input from those (critics) who supposedly know "better".

The test of a movie is whether, when you watched, if you enjoyed yourself. Nothing more, nothing less.

BTW, if we grant the premise that American movies are in decline, and foreign movies are in their ascendancy, shouldnt we, as capitalists, embrace that fact? Others are catching up to us. This almost sounds like the rants of basketball fans who lament the fact that America is no longer "dominant" in Olympic basketball. "True", as far as it goes, but who farking cares? Either way, we all benefit. Cross cultural pollination and all that.

Am I wrong, or missing something?

Movies, by their very nature, are supposed to entice us int suspending our disbelief for two hours. Why do we feel it necessary to critique the nature of that disbelief?

Posted by: Erck at June 18, 2005 02:27 AM

Erck: BTW, if we grant the premise that American movies are in decline, and foreign movies are in their ascendancy, shouldnt we, as capitalists, embrace that fact?

Yes. As I said in my post, if we get more theaters showing independent and foreign films I will be grateful.

What is the point of going to a movie with a predetermined scorecard?

I don't. I saw the new Star Wars movie on opening night, hoping for the best and expecting to like it. And it sucked for the reason Neil Stephenson stated. There was a huge war going on and I had no idea who was fighting who or what they were fighting about. You can drive the North Korean army through a plot hole that size.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 18, 2005 02:39 AM

I can't believe you took a swing at the Brady Bunch film. I love that film. And the sequel.

As for the rest you're right that the penchant for remakes is somewhat annoying. I don't actually share your glee for the new War of the Worlds film as I have actually been of the view that somebody should really do one that is faithful to the book in terms of setting, whereas the new one is essentially a remake of the original film.

Posted by: Anthony at June 18, 2005 04:35 AM

Part of it is the very low status accorded writers in Hollywood, which is somewhere after spokesmodels. When Sean Penn announces he's writing a screenplay, no one bats an eye, because writing isn't seen as a unique talent, but as something anyone can do. (What would studio execs say if Joe Esterhazs said he was going to take up acting?)

Hollywood, like NY publishing, is now run by a bunch of ruthless MBAs, & they all want something new, as long as it's the same as everything else.

Posted by: beautifulatrocities at June 18, 2005 03:01 PM

"It was a Powerpoint demonstration with special effects."

How about -- it was special effects with some plot?
Plot that WAS part of 2 -- Attack of the Clones.

Yes, I read his review, and remembered that I had no problem knowing about the huge war.
Had you seen 2 within a week of seeing 3?

2 & 3 are closely coupled like 5 & 6 were.

And the point of 2 is: some Jedi ordered the huge clone army, who? It's convenient at the end of 2 to be used by Yoda to rescue Anakin for the fine fight with Count Dooku, who chops off Anakin's hand -- but it remains a mystery. With obvious clues that the bad Sith Lord is Palpatine.

It's not great plot, but it's not garbage. I had the feeling Neal is unwilling to write a boring "it's not so bad, not so great plot, fine fights and special effects". He did talk about other animated shorts etc which I've little interest in.

I think the plot of 2 (powerpoint?) was too overshadowed by effects for it to be memorable, because it was unresolved -- so you perhaps had already unlearned too much to learn.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at June 18, 2005 03:23 PM

Until not too long ago, there was an artsy-fartsy high brow theatre on Broadway in downtown PDX-wasn't it called the Broadway Metroplex or something? Not some smoky, ancient edifice like you'd find in NE PDX or something, but fairly mainstream, and played all the independent-esque movies. I'm pretty sure there wasn't that much time between when that closed, and the Fox Tower got up and running-or maybe they overlapped? Calling Portland too corporate? That's new to me.

Posted by: Economan at June 18, 2005 07:33 PM


You're think of the KOIN tower theater. The Broadway is still there.

I didn't say Portland is too corporate. It is, perhaps, the least corporate city in the entire country - and I think that's great. What I mean by the "corporate multiplexes of that sort" is that corporate chains never devoted entire multiplexes to indie and foreign films, but they do now. Those films used to play only in art houses. Now they play in both.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 18, 2005 08:14 PM

Mike: I hope you enjoy it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts (I won't say anything else; you'll enjoy it a lot more if you see it spoiler-free).

Posted by: Sean P at June 18, 2005 09:21 PM

Hey, don't diss Bad News Bears. It was a fun little flick, and I'm actually watching out for the video as I move the collection.

Another movie for kids which I enjoy recommending is Master Of The Universe, the big screen live action take on the Saturday morning He-Man cartoon. Absolutely amazing how much it didn't suck.

Posted by: triticale at June 19, 2005 02:15 PM

I have netflix and love it. Lots of good stuff, from cheesy 70's sci-fi to british Le'carre miniseries. Plus you can hypothetically burn copies of movies you love, except that would be illegal.

Posted by: Raymond at June 19, 2005 03:19 PM

MJT> I can see where a lot of the movies out are not too appealing. When I was in Korea, I'd watch movies only because they were free, and I have a blockbuster deal where I pay so much for unlimited movies in a month. I may enjoy a cheesy movie for a cheap price or free, but I'd feel pretty upset over paying eight bucks (or eve five) to see Dukes of Hazard or something equally silly.

Oddy enough I like some old movies that weren't that graet, ut have an odd appeal like Omega Man and Soylent Green. I also like the Friday XIII series for reasons of sheer cheesiness (like Ice Pirates).

I also like classics like The Godfather, Star Wars, Goodfellas, and Blazing Saddles :)

I also understand that Hollywood will butche a good scipt, since I'd love to see an Atlas Shrugged movie, but I shudder at what Hollywood would do to it.

Posted by: Green Baron at June 19, 2005 09:56 PM

It's a mixture. The last 'Hollywood' movie I really enjoyed was the Incredibles, shown at our local Odeon (Ken Russell's favourite: http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/8-20-2002-24843.asp) I went with a bunch of friends: we collectively suspended not only our disbelief but also our ages!
The most recent film I saw was 'Maria full of grace', in spanish with subtitles, at the local 'arts' venue Harbour Lights. A great film, because it has a good story to tell. You don't know how it will end until the very last shot.
We are better off with both genres!

Posted by: Max Hadley at June 20, 2005 02:39 AM

Michael I agree Cinderella Man was pretty good not grrrreat as it was hyped.
Ron Howard can't help himself and overdoes things.

Btw, did you know a few things about Max Baer, Braddock and Joe Louis -

1) His son was Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies
2) He beat Max Schmelling in 1944 4 years before Louis came back and beat him in their rematch.
3) After Schmelling beat Louis in 34 I believe he earned a title fight with Braddock but Braddock fought Louis instead so the title would stay in the US either way. He knocked Louis down in the 1rst round and then lost on the cards. Louis then beat Schmelling in their famous rematch fight, which made him famous.
4) Baer's father was a German or Russian Jewish immigrant and his mom Catholic (Irish?) and was raised Catholic. However, before the Schmelling fight I believe? he got some comments for being Jewish so he started identifying more with his dad's roots and started wearing the Jewish star on his shorts when he fought. In those days fighters would identify though, with an ethnic group more readily to attract fans from different parts of the ghettos.
5) According Max Baer Jr (Jethro) and many others the portrayal of his father was way off, yeah it's a movie. Baer Jr. said his father was flashy and a sh** talker, the Muhammad Ali of the 30's but on the other hand was a very gregarious and good natured guy. He took Braddock out for dinner after their fight and was very well liked by other fighters and felt horrible all his life about the 2 fighters who died as a result of their fights.
6) Baer like his son also did some time in Hollywood movies.

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at June 20, 2005 09:06 AM

#2) Baer beat Schmelling in 1933 (not 1944) 4
years before Louis beat him.

Btw, Baer was only champ for 1 year and as the movie portrayed did attempt to carry Braddock early in the fight before he realized he had a real fight on his hands.

BTW, How is Joumanna? Do you hear from any of them via Email? Who did they support in the elections?

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at June 20, 2005 09:11 AM

I'll second Erck on Serenity. I saw a sneak preview, and it's great. Granted, it's by Joss Whedon, so you'll think you were punched in the gut, but it's a wonderful movie.

Posted by: Karl Gallagher at June 20, 2005 12:45 PM

Two things seem to be at work here:

One is the business of movies which is so process and marketing driven that it has virtually squeezed out the need to have a respectable script. It amazes me that films can spend a hundred million dollars to be made but be so logically flawed that a ten year old could poke a hole in the story. Script failure becomes irrelevant in an industry where films are made or broken by the receipts of the first weekend, which is primarily a function of a good marketing pitch.

The other thing at work is the exhaustion of the genre itself. Movies have been made for almost a hundred years now and it's getting harder to be original. The novel matured in the mid-nineteenth century and no one will ever convince me that 20th century lit was its equal. The same could be true for films.

Posted by: bob at June 20, 2005 02:07 PM


I agree to a degree but I have three comments:

(1) Hollywood is putting out a lot of bad films because they are a bunch of conformist blindly parroting their own special brand of liberal orthodoxy. You mention Kingdom of Heaven from a pretty good film maker. Is this not a perfect example? What may have been a great story was ruined by the pieties of this age. The funny thing is that making the movie that Kingdom should have been would have taught many of these lessons anyway. But then it may have offended some people.

(2) You forget LOTR, A Beautiful Mind, Second Hand Lions, and more. Either because the theme or plot avoids the worst pieties or because the pieties are dealt with subtly, many stories are still pretty good. It is unlikely that any industry is going to be able to make massive amounts of great art. Hollywood still turns out good films on a regular basis but they are buried under an avalanche of crap.

(3) What is wrong with making movies from history's great stories? Why does that make them less worthy? I don't get it -- especially from a lit and history guy. Imagination and creativity are very important to telling a story, but originality is over rated.

Posted by: JBP at June 21, 2005 12:06 PM

While I agree with what you wrote, Michael, I just have to say that anyone who uses the phrase "jumped the shark" has jumped the shark.

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