As a moviegoer, aspiring screenwriter, and lover of stories, there is nothing more depressing to me than the current state of affairs in what we call “Hollywood”, i.e. the film industry, studio system, what-have-you.
In a recent New York Times article, A. O. Scott sums it up well with the terse question, “Have the movie studios completely given up?”
Look around. There is nary a film in sight (at least from the major studios) that doesn’t have a Roman numeral appended to it. Common advice given to start-up writers like me is to come up with a unique script. I fear that if I did so, assuming I’m that gifted, I’d send readers running for cover.
Even the stuff that is “new” seems based on some tired formula. Superheroes have been white hot for some time. That’s why Disney bought Marvel. They can now safely return to that stagnant pool as often as they like. And by purchasing Pixar and pushing sequels for “Toy Story”, “Cars”, and “Monsters, Inc.” (at least), Disney has effectively suffocated one of the few production houses that had been generating utterly unique (and, not coincidentally, consistently hugely successful) product. (Do you think Disney would greenlight “Up” or “Wall-E” on their own?)
What is to be seen as the cause of all this redundancy? The conventional wisdom is that the studios are growing more cautious. Cautious? By producing fewer films at higher costs? Is that the cautious path for investing for retirement as well? Put more money in fewer high-priced stocks? I don’t think so. What happened to “diversify”?
There are still good movies being made… though I can’t think of any offhand. “Invictus” was good, but could have been a lot better. I loved “Book of Eli” and “Gran Torino”, though they are older fare.
Which reminds me, I just watched one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I love romantic comedies. I’ll watch almost any. “Sleepless in Seattle”, “It Happened One Night”, and “Roxanne” are movies I could (and do) watch again and again.
In that spirit, I rented “When in Rome” from Netflix. Ouch. There’s a couple of hours of my life I’ll never get back. Films simply don’t get any worse than this (except MI:2, of course). The script (at least in the form that made it to the screen – that’s a whole ‘nother story) was laughable only in the ways it shouldn’t have been. There was scarcely a smile in the entire 91 minutes (though it seemed like a lifetime) that we endured it. If it were romantic, it would be a romantic comedy, if it was funny. This was embarrassing for all involved. And some very good performers were involved: Angelica Huston, Danny Devito, Jon Heder, for example.
This is the kind of film that encourages people like me to think, “Hey, I can write better than that!”
To sum up: When in Rome, run away! Run away!