Dear Hollywood: Here's the tonic for your sub-standard summer movies.
“Wonder Woman” literally saved the day for Hollywood. But can she lift the entire summer movie schedule on her shoulders?
This season has already seen a couple of bona fide duds (“Baywatch” and “Pirates 5: Johnny Depp’s 401K.”) “Alien: Covenant” proved a shadow of the franchise’s best entries. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was simply dumbed down fun.
And the less said about early season flops (“CHiPS,” “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”) the better. So the neat thrills (and laughs) provided by Gal Gadot as the Amazon Princess came at the right time.
It’s too late to fix the rest of the Summer 2017 schedule. They’re already in the proverbial can. The same might be said for 2018’s summer slate. Once those Hollywood gears start moving, they’re tough to stop.
Still, the following five tips would surely make future summer blockbusters better. Industry titans may not listen … but they should at least give these suggestions serious thought.
Earn Your Universe
Why did everyone line up to see “Dr. Strange” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?” Each fit snugly into an existing film “universe,” arguably the most common word to roll off a studio executive’s tongue in 2017. Now, Hollywood is obsessed with shared universe stories.
Thanks a lot, Team Marvel.
There’s nothing wrong with a shared cinematic universe. But you darned well better earn it first. The initial “Star Wars” films did that decades before we started pairing “shared” with “universe.” The Marvel Cinematic Universe essentially created this film genre. And the assembled filmmakers did it the right way:
- Grand Effects
- A-List Actors
- Witty Screenplays
- Heroism 101
Now, Universal is attempting a “Dark Universe” teeming with classic movie monsters. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Invisible Man. The Mummy.
Yet box office predictions for the first film out of the gate, “The Mummy,” are tepid at best.
Slow down. Make a great movie. Maybe two. Then start thinking big. You can’t throw the “universe” sticker on a series of films and expect audiences to line up.
Ditch Kitchen Sink Screenplays
Sometimes the funniest part of a movie comes while reading the credits. Take “Baywatch” for example. It took four writers to concoct the story and two more scribes to pen the screenplay. The result? Limp R-rated gags and punch lines it would take Steve Martin a coffee break to write and quickly reject.
These “screenplay by committee” efforts are often like that. Sometimes the very best dialogue comes from a single, inspired source. Why not let a young, hungry writer take a crack at a story and see what happens? You’ll have to cut fewer checks, too.
Not All Brands Are Created Equal
Why did “Baywatch” score with gazillions of TV viewers 20 or so years ago? The novelty of gorgeous women running in slow motion helped. We didn’t all have access to lovely ladies on the World Wide Web quite yet. And it helped that the TV landscape lacked a fraction of the great shows available in 2017.
So anyone off the street might wonder if the “Baywatch” brand was a sure thing. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
The same goes for “The Lone Ranger” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Two recent brand-inspired summer blockbusters. Two big ol’ flops. Today’s teens don’t give a whit about either brand. We saw something similar with the “King Arthur” stink bomb.
“Star Trek?” “Bond?” “Star Wars?” Those brands are alive and well. So don’t just assume a property deserves a big blowout reboot automatically. It doesn’t work that way.
CGI Isn’t Your Friend
You can count up a million reasons why audiences couldn’t wait to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” two years ago. Yet one undervalued excuse came down to the film’s FX work. They went old school, to be blunt. And “Star Wars” fans gobbled it up.
Less ones and zeroes. More realistic effects. Yet Hollywood’s addiction to CGI trickery continues. The new Tom Cruise “Mummy” looks frighteningly like the Brendan Fraser version. The latter came out during the initial explosion of CGI effects.
Each relies on extensive CGI work.
Audiences are increasingly bludgeoned by these FX. The result? We just don’t connect to the story and characters as much as we should.
Tone it down. Now.
“Go Slow, Mah-hn.”
The locals in Belize could offer a tip or two to today’s filmmakers. Go slow. The island offers relaxed pleasures for stressed out tourists. Why not Hollywood?
We still love intense action (any “Furious” film). And there’s nothing wrong with that. But we need those quieter moments, too. You might even develop a character or two beyond a simple tic.
If you take any single sequence from your average “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie you might come away impressed. The same can be said for the “Transformers” franchise.
Yet those films bombard us to the point of exhaustion. Even the recent, humorous “Captain Underpants” outing proved overwhelming.
Slow … down.
The irony is that many great TV shows these days are doing just that. The pacing can be … glacial. Yet we hang on every word, every plot twist. We’re hooked by the compelling characters and dialogue.
Movies don’t have the same luxury that TV shows do. One slow episode can give way to three exciting chapters. One slow movie can cost a studio millions. Still, screenwriters should understand their audiences will stick around without sensory overload storytelling.