Monday, May 09, 2005

Once Again, An Overblown Story

I am seriously considering writing to Entertainment Weekly in response to their alarmist stance on the issue of dwindling movie theatre attendance. Stories like this, much like "The Redskins are 5-1!" cover stories, are jumping the gun, and assigning blame to the wrong parties.

In essence, they wonder aloud why people aren't going to theatres, and they bring up DVD sales and rentals, and it's nearly 3-to-1 dominance over theatre admissions. I'll buy that. I think any distraction from one business will inevitably reduce that business' sales (this is why whenever there's some "smart" guy who brings up that Gone With the Wind would actually be the number one film of all time when adjusting for inflation, I bring up the many distractions people in the thirties didn't have, and that movies in modern times should be given more credit for making lots of money).

But then they bring up the 10-week (now 11-week) drought comparitive to last year, citing that there hasn't been a drought like this since 2000 comparitive to 1999. This is the sleight-of-hand in crunching numbers. Last year, The Passion of the Christ came out, and it made tons of money. This year, the biggest hit is Hitch, which is a very large hit but will not be the hit TPOTC was. Numbers are always misleading in this regard. Then, it seems like everyone in the know believed XXX: State of the Union was going to be a tremendous hit. The first XXX, I recall, made way less money than everyone thought it would at the time--so why is it a surprise when the sequel, which looks dumber and didn't even retain it's original star, became a huge flop?

Then the article has the audacity to mention movie theatres themselves. They bring up that the only improvement in the last 10 years has been stadium seating and digital sound--what the hell else do you want? Smells? Tactile stimulation? 360 degree screens? They bring up the prices and the noisy customers and bad service--I'll agree that's something that needs to be changed and is a big reason why some people don't go to theatres, but that's been a part of movie-going since before the time I became a movie theatre worker in 1993, and we've seen record-breaking money come in in the following years.

It all comes down to product. And just like the awful, stupid, waste-of-life people who believe that 2-D animation is dead just because it's 2-D animation and not because the 2-D cartoons lacked any story depth or great characters, here again is a lame argument and really, a lame subject. If we guffaw about 2000's terrible streak, we forget that 2001-2004 must have been pretty damn good years. The argument solely relies on a previous year's earnings to make the case. I don't blame people for not wanting to come out to see the product that is out right now--it's horrible. Simply, it's like putting feces in a box and putting it on a shelf at Wal-Mart, and a Wal-Mart executive saying, "Wow, we sold a lot more PS2's on that same shelf last year...I wonder why people aren't going for the feces?"

Also, the argument completely ignores the beginning of the year, where I believe January was stronger than ever, even though there was some crap there, too. When Hitch came out, 2005 was beating 2004. Now, suddenly, you have all these high-profile, aggravatingly bad films trying to beat The Passion's long February-April rule. What are the motivations of these media outlets in continuing to make a big deal out of this? Is it just a story? I think it's filler. There's obviously nothing to talk about when you discuss movies except for how bad they are right now, and how a fickle public demands to have something original every once in awhile. I mean, we're in a stretch where we've seen 3 remakes, 3 sequels, a spinoff, and the 2nd version of a movie made from a book since March 18--and we still have the prequel Star Wars Episode III coming out May 19 and The Longest Yard coming out on May 27, and then the other supposed hits of this summer are going to be Batman Begins and War of the Worlds, both not exactly different although they could be good. I'll say this, the movie industry is almost completely relying on name recognition this year--and we might see more challenging fare if the downward trend continues. Look at Crash, a movie that excelled well beyond expectations this weekend.

It's product guys...simple as that. You want to make it something more than it is, continue being deluded and wrong and be sure you have plenty of Pert handy when you scratch your heads raw trying to think of the convoluted reasons for what you stupidly write.


At 5/10/2005 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

"I wonder why people aren't going for the feces?"

Freaking hilarious. Spat coffee onto my computer screen. Thanks a lot.

At any rate, you're right. The product is the problem. I love how industry analysts want to blame noise and bad service at theaters for the drop in attendance. If that's the case, big Hollywood studio, then maybe you could ask for 93% of the box office gross instead of 99%...then the theaters could pay employees a decent wage and hire enough of them to get the job done. Sheesh.

I even read a self-described box office analyst who works for USAToday...yesterday he mentioned something about rising ticket price and concession prices at theaters as a reason attendance is down. What?! If the studios weren't greedy A-holes, then the ticket prices and concession prices wouldn't go up at all. Give me a break.

Remember five years ago when the entire film exhibition industry had overexpanded, and there was this resulting crush where nearly every chain filed for bankruptsy or defaulted on loans and had to scale back? Well now the studios are completing their own version of that. They love money so badly that they'll keep asking for more and more. And now they're at a point where they've asked for so much...that the theaters can't staff enough people. The studios have dwindled the profit margin down to nothing, and now it's caught up to them as people are starting to stay away from the theater.

Makes perfect sense to me. In our lifetime, the theaters will go away. They'll die like dinosaurs as more and more people see the cost benefits of home theater systems and DVD. There's just no more juice in the orange for the studios to squeeze out.


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