glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | feb. 2018
We've been witness over the last three decades to a shift in the face of film art and the franchising of films has, in particular, changed the cinema scene over the last decade – not only for the films themselves but the public response to them. For the most part, the franchise has superseded the stand-alone blockbuster as being the go-to for the major studios. Of course, the 'extended universe' model has become the next big thing with all the big hitters wanting to bundle the film-going public into their camps for a multi-film deal. With Disney (merely my example here but indicative of the situation as a whole), being the one this format is most natural to, consolidating its grip on the industry by buying out Fox films in what seems to this writer to be a huge corporate overstep, we can expect the output of extended universes to become even more homogenized with less variation.
This behemoth of artistic manufacture is getting so big it has its own cultural gravity and there's a backlash going on even from those who are normally fine with all things Disney. And those who already have a grudge against Disney are turning further against the monolith mouse are only too happy to snipe at the output, whatever the quality. And I entirely understand why they would. Even if the critical response to their films should be something that stands separate from the company that finances it, there's something uncomfortable about just how all-powerful Disney, and indeed the handful of entertainment companies, has become and it's easy to feel disgusted and repelled by them. This 'anti' sentiment that's growing does have an effect on the general public's reception of the films.
Right now there are, of course, the two major extended universe franchises, Marvel and DC. Several others have tried and failed with Universal's monsters extended universe (Dark Universe) and the likes dying a death at the hands of Marvel's largely more appealing output. DC themselves are struggling too but one thing that has become more visible during this new model of filmmaking is that the fans have become entrenched in what often feels like fervent brand loyalty, and that's what they are: brands.
I make no secret that I prefer Marvel over DC and have been deeply critical of DC's output of the last few years since Christopher Nolan left the director's chair. but I've always tried to be objective rather than emotional about my grievances about the films. I even tried to address this with a video criticizing the weaknesses of Marvel's output, which although I prefer it, is most certainly not without fault. Trying to avoid 'fanboyism' is something we all should be striving for and yet here we are with the “with us or against us" attitude perpetuating a parade of cookie-cutter film productions and some truly ugly film criticism along the way on all sides.
Escalating this is the collectivist business model that Hollywood has taken, both in artistic and social terms, and the frankly astonishingly inept attempts by those involved in the movie business to counter criticism from the public who now has a voice. If one lesson should be taken away from the Ghostbusters 2016 debacle it should be that arrogantly dismissing concerns, however crazy they may seem, is not the way to go. It can kill your movie, or more expensively, your franchise.
With the franchise/extended universe model, these issues of a divided and combative audience, combined with the homogenized and targeted nature of the product, means that the audience is naturally going to be primed to love or hate these things. After all, if you hate the Thor movie and the rest of the Marvel universe is made to look and feel the same then you're not going to be won over very easily. A Brussels sprout is a Brussels sprout whatever you call it (I hate them however you dress them up).
We're falling fast into a Brussels sprout situation here in the movie world and it's not good and the fans are responding in exactly the way you would expect. With Disney now taking over another large part of Hollywood there's a serious risk of total alienation between the audience and the studios, risking the future of the industry as we know it. The kind of business model they're chasing means we're seeing the decline of directorial voice, which is being taken over by executives, relegating the director to being little more than a manager of the film and as much of a “lefty" as I may be, it's disturbing to see the overt politicization of not just the film output but the PR games that are being played with the very audience the studios desperately need to come to the theatres. The fact is that in the long run, the audience needs the studios far less than the studios need the audience.
Now I'm not going to give the “Can't we all just get along?" speech, it's frankly not my place or my desire to deny anyone their point of view. And the internet has afforded us all an opportunity to have our say, it certainly did for me, but I would say that fans need to calm the hell down and reward the good films and criticize the bad regardless of whether they're fans of the content. No more of the “I'm team DC/Marvel" kind of behavior, it's not good for you or anyone else and it drives Hollywood towards making bad films and bad decisions. And for you, studios: Remember that your film is your art; don't treat them like they're to be shoveled off of a conveyor belt. Also remember: The audience is your lifeblood. Don't pander to them but don't dismiss them either, especially when you're working with long-established properties. Change by all means, but don't be a jackass about it.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.