The Corporate Mandate

October 2018 was a surprisingly respectable month for film, which hasn’t necessarily been the case for some time now. Gravity broke the October box office opening weekend record in 2013, which had only just been previously broken in 2011, by Paranormal Activity 3 of all movies. Audiences were willing to spend money this year, as Venom smashed Gravity‘s $55.8 million opening weekend with an $80.3 million opening weekend, and is currently sitting just $7 million, give or take, below Gravity as the highest-grossing October film of all-time, with some projecting it to surpass it by the time Venom is finished with its theatrical run. Halloween also opened to a massive opening weekend, nabbing a franchise-record $76.2 million, and A Star Is Born also cleaned up at the box office while earning raving reviews.

These three films account for nearly a third of the top-10 highest-grossing films for October all-time, and it’s interesting to note that this month is by far the lowest-grossing month for opening weekends, as January, which even has the infamous distinction of one being of the main dump months for film, has American Sniper, which grossed $89.2 million its opening weekend. I preface my article with all this information to commend audiences for speaking with their wallets, as it’s the only way Hollywood actually listens to us, but also to inform you of the mediocrity being released to theaters the last couple weeks. Bohemian Rhapsody has thus far has been the best film released this month, and while I expect Creed II to ultimately be the superior film, it’s largely been a disappointing cinematic experience this month.

The Grinch is the second remake, or reimagining, of the classic Dr. Seuss tale, returning to The Grinch’s animated roots after Jim Carrey fleshed out a live-action backstory for the character in 2000. That film actually provides audiences with a different, more over-the-top take on The Grinch that many people still faithfully enjoy every holiday season (or anytime of the year really, I mean it is Jim Carrey), and while the original, Chuck Jones-produced cartoon from 1966 will always remain the most faithful and satisfying adaptation of the 1957 children’s classic, I can honestly look back fondly on the 2000 adaptation, as it retains a Seussian feel for Whoville, has genuinely funny moments, maintains elements from the original without changing anything too much or too egregiously, and simply had fun in bringing life to the source material. 2018’s The Grinch offers nothing the previous two adaptations couldn’t, and worst of all, completely demystifies The Grinch, as he now casually strolls into Whoville and interacts with the Who’s. Illumination Animation doesn’t have a stellar track record when it comes to critical reviews, as most of their films are regarded as cheap cash-grabs for children meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and they simply apply that formula to one of the two most beloved characters in the Dr. Seuss universe.

The film earned $67.5 million its opening weekend, overthrowing Bohemian Rhapsody just one weekend after that film’s debut, and went head-to-head with Warner Bros. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald this previous weekend. The Grinch was unsuccessful in maintaining its number one positioning atop the box office weekend charts, but only by $24 million; a terrible sign for The Crimes of Grindelwald, but also a series of red flags for any cinema enthusiasts out there this month. A Star Is Born was the early Oscar bait, and with December drawing near, a whole host of films will soon be released that will undoubtedly be competing for Best Picture and Best Director, meaning until then we’ll have to settle for bland, uninteresting films conceived and marketed by corporate suits.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web was released November 9th, the same day as The Grinch, and is undoubtedly Sony’s attempt to revitalize interest in a potential franchise they gave up on earlier this decade, for some odd reason. Without David Fincher’s involvement, this soft-reboot to a franchise that wants to disregard the first installment while still carrying on as the second film in a series was always going to create problems for the film, and predictably, without Fincher, the film fails to remain faithful to the original Millennium book series. His take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was dark and uncomfortable, which it needed to be, and yet a $232.6 million box office against a $90 million budget was deemed unsatisfactory for the R-rated franchise, and since reviews were incredibly positive as well, the only logical explanation was that Sony did not want to commit to a franchise that took six months to carefully peruse the novel and write a script, and then spend another five-to-six months on actually filming the movie. The budget was cut in half for this soft-reboot, filming was only four months long, and multiple writers are credited with penning the screenplay. In other words, it’s a fucking mess.

The problems plaguing this film aren’t necessarily present from the issues in both The Grinch and The Crimes of Grindelwald, but all three share many similar underlying problems. Universal, Sony, and Warner Bros. must be held accountable, because unlike in the past, studios are much more involved in the filmmaking process these days, and often dilute their own products. All three of these films were conceived to sell established intellectual property to fans of each franchise, and none of them have earned or deserve praise for their conception. Paramount’s Overlord, the brainchild of producer J.J. Abrams, is set in a slightly cartoonish world that has a group of American soldiers dropped behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany, only to discover their evil scientific experiments have turned dying humans into brutal zombies, and it’s obviously not high art, but it’s enjoyable and gives us characters we like and can identify with. That’s much more credit than I can give to the tonally inconsistent and poorly edited Girl in the Spider’s Web, unimaginative Grinch, or flat-out boring as fuck and inconsequential Crimes of Grindelwald.

I don’t believe The Crimes of Grindelwald will be the franchise-killer that Forbes is projecting1, but I’m willing to bet the film fails to surpass the $814 million box office of its predecessor. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wasn’t well-received critically, but it intrigued fans and received decent enough reviews to earn itself a sequel, and although it’s highly unlikely this film falls below the $800 million mark the Wizarding World franchise has been expected and able to produce ever since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire brought the franchise back to the $800 million-and-up club in 2005, I would not be surprised in the least if the film petered out around $780 million, which would make it the lowest-grossing film in the entire Wizarding World franchise. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was already the lowest-grossing film in the franchise since Goblet of Fire‘s release, and when Crimes of Grindelwald features a muddled, but somehow predictable plot that’s underserving of its title, then I don’t know how Warner Bros. expects to perform better at the box office

The Grinch was just cute holiday fluff designed to pass through without much attention or offense, and it largely succeeded if not for Tyler, The Creator’s rather horrendous soundtrack, but that single issue can be forgiven. There’s just not simply much to remember it by, and that same issue is magnified when observing The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Crimes of Grindelwald. Whereas The Grinch left me with an empty theatergoing experience, The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Crimes of Grindelwald both attempted to engage the audience with complex plots that further develop the characters, but The Crimes of Grindelwald is just so lackluster, visually boring, and uneventful that even though I fell asleep for nearly 30 minutes, when I awoke in the theatre, I had missed nothing and felt as if I still had the plot figured out. There were no surprises, with the Ministry of Magic disrupting Grindelwald’s speech near the end of the film, who was admittedly played fantastically by Johnny Depp, and then Credence Barebones secret family origins are revealed, and the moment is so telegraphed that anyone can guess what the twist will be when he’s re-introduced and told his family ties are much more important than he realizes.

At least The Girl in the Spider’s Web attempted to engage the audience with some interesting action scenes, but Lisbeth Salander is regularly beaten up in hand-to-hand combat and overcome by sheer numbers in the film, which makes it hard for the audience to root for her when so much importance is placed on her and her family ties, and then she’s regularly getting her ass kicked. There’s barely a mystery in this one, with the flashback sequence at the beginning of the film providing context to Salander’s background without having to tell much, which of course they provide through relentless exposition anyway, but the conflict between Salander and her family history is firmly established and wisely played upon throughout the film, culminating in a rewarding final fight with her sister and her organization, even if the fight and the overall film is largely a letdown. The editing is all over the place, with scenes happening without much reason and often tripping up the pace of the film, dragging it out to the point where I was constantly checking the time on my phone after the first hour due to all the seemingly random plot points developing on screen.

The lesson here is a popular train of thought amongst filmgoers nowadays, but film studios need to rethink their current approach to filmmaking. I understand keeping it safe and appealing to the lowest common denominator is what drives a profit, and anyone who denies that simply needs to go back and study the New Hollywood era of filmmaking ushered in with Jaws in 1975. The difference is, studios were less willing to mess with a director’s vision, and much care was taken into each aspect of production when creating each film. Nowadays, studios are less willing to create original works of art, preferring to fall back on established intellectual property and cramming them with attempts at world building and other marketing ploys rather than putting the story and characters first. In certain cases it works, largely when the studio refrains from compromising a director’s vision, or better yet, when actual creative people are given the opportunities to oversee these larger scale releases, but much like the month we’re currently undergoing, it largely results in uninspired cinema.

Editor’s Notes

  1. Forbes – 11/14/2018 – Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts 2’ Is A Franchise-Killing Disaster
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