Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb…
Amy Kaufman writes for The LA Times about Hollywood’s Summer Big Bets:
“Midway through a year of declining attendance and ticket sales, the major studios are betting heavily on big-budget spectacles that can fatten the bottom line if they succeed — or lead to write-offs and management shake-ups if they don’t.
“Of the 45 films being released from this weekend to Labor Day, at least 18 cost more than $100 million each to produce — and five of them were in the $200-million neighborhood. In summer 2012, just 12 of 40 pictures had budgets of $100 million or more.“
Read the full article here.
Kaufman further notes how The Lone Ranger is the one many are “keeping a close eye on” as it has all the hallmarks of John Carter and Cowboys and Aliens, two famous summer flops that are equally family-fun Westerns. She notes how the success of Django Unchained and True Grit give the impression that Westerns may make money yet … but I think we can all agree that The Lone Ranger is not worth comparing to a Quentin Tarantino and Coen Brothers film, so I think the writing is on the wall with that one.
Marketed as an unofficial “follow-up” to Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Tom Shone’s Blockbuster is a brilliant book that paves the way for the current climate we are in. Shone manages to analyse the change in the blockbuster ever since Jaws, through Star Wars, E.T. and Batman, and eventually to The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. He highlights how, ever since the late 1970s (in a huge simplification of the entire book) studios have realised that a huge budget often leads to a huge box-office. He concluded that the 1990s seemed to prove how mechanical blockbuster-making truly was through films like Independence Day and Godzilla, but by 2004 through the critical and commercial success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the future looked bright. Unfortunately for us, since 2004, studios have become more aware as to what “makes us tick” and the mechanical-nature of blockbuster-making continues – something Kaufman is aware of as she notes how the films due for release this year are “comic book characters, 3-D cartoons and the crew of the USS Enterprise.”
But ever-increasing budgets have not been the case for every 2013 release. Scott Mendelson writes in an article about G.I. Joe: Retaliation that the production on this sequel was one for the books – as the film had a smaller budget than the prior instalment. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra had a budget of $173m, while the sequel had a budget of $130m – therefore requiring a significantly smaller return to justify the production cost. As an update, in the U.S. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra made roughly $30m less than G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra – but internationally, the opposite is the case, with the sequel, overall, taking a further $50m! To summarise, when all is said and done, a significantly cheaper sequel earned a considerable amount more... despite both achieving weak reviews to the tune of 34% and 28% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes.
My point is how the ever-increasing budgets are simply not necessary – as proven by the G.I. Joe series. In fact, budgets upwards of $200m are incredibly risky, though it is worth reminding ourselves that the four films that took over $1 billion last year all had $200m+ budgets too. Maybe it is time to put things in perspective and slowly, but surely, control the cost. Maybe, knowing sequels are inevitably going to secure a built-in audience, bring the budget lower and focus time on the story itself. Too many explosions or an excessive use of CGI can often destroy films credibility – so filmmakers need to be thrifty and focus on quality filmmaking rather than assume “bigger” means better, because I don’t believe it does.