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Filmism.net Dispatch September 2, 2013

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It's Labor Day week in the US, which means the summer blockbuster season is officially over. And 2013 will be the one we remember as the year of the big budget bomb. The movie press has already been full of hysteria about exactly what went wrong, written by 'experts' who have suspiciously perfect 20/20 hindsight (my disclosure is that I predicted Pacific Rim would be 2013's first billion dollar movie, and I couldn't have been more wrong).

Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness did fine, but then the wrecks piled up. After Earth and The Lone Ranger were the most visible of them, but RIPD, Pacific Rim and White House Down were all greeted with headlines that ranged from 'soft' to 'sunk'. Funnily enough World War Z, the one everyone expected to crash and burn, has become a slowly-building but bona fide smash, making William Goldman's famous assertion that nobody knows anything truer than ever.

Now the studios lick their wounds and start releasing their Oscar hopefuls, they must be looking wryly back at what Steven Spielberg and George Lucas said a few months back about how a few expensive flops would cause an 'implosion' in the industry.

So is the age of the blockbuster over?

I hate to disagree with such luminaries as Spielberg or Lucas, but the only thing that really changes in Hollywood is the roster of executives, as soon as they fire all the ones responsible for the current crop of flops.

For one thing, box office revenue is still rising. With more people going to more movies (and paying more per ticket to see them in 3D) every year, the numbers are up by 10 percent on 2012.

The wild success of The Conjuring, taking $250m worldwide on a $20m budget, made everyone wonder if that's the future of Hollywood. But the anomalous hit that comes from nowhere is nothing new either. If it happens, it just goes into the Christmas bonus yacht party hookers and cocaine fund.

But wait, you might retort. We're all getting sick of the sequels and remakes and prequels and reboots and Mobius strips of endless self-reference, and when we stop going, they'll stop coming? Maybe, but none other than Gene Siskel complained about that too... back in 1976, a time we consider today to be part of a 'golden era'.

And if it's a matter of evolving fads, what will happen if we send Hollywood a resounding message and stop going to comic book superhero movies in droves? Here's what; the corporations will barely bat an eyelid as they offload rights and properties for a song and move on to the next decade-long craze (board games? Dystopian young adult? Adult-oriented fairy tales? Hollywood has given them all a stab). It's not like Disney won't have recouped its four-billion-dollar investment by then (it probably has already when you add up all the Hulk lunch boxes and Captain America bobble heads).

So no, it takes a lot more than a blockbuster season full of flops to change things in Hollywood. They've been doing this in its current form since a shark terrorised Amity Island, and nothing from internet piracy to the RED camera has changed that business model yet.

That's not to say there won't be continual tweaks to the content, mind. September 11, 2001 is obviously history enough to make skyscrapers crashing to the ground acceptable entertainment again, and if 2013 is remembered for anything else but flops, it'll be the number of cities destroyed. Both Star Trek Into Darkness and Man Of Steel featured orgiastic scenes of urban destruction that would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

It even became enough of a thing for a voice from within the system to comment, when Zack Stentz, writer of Thor and X-Men: First Class asked why it was so pervasive.

So in the interests of balance, here's a recommendation from the smaller end of the movies, a romantic, kind-of-supernatural drama starring Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson called Passengers. Never heard of it? Can't blame you, the distributor unceremoniously buried it in 2009. Bit it's quiet, lovely and affecting even if you roll your eyes and tell me you saw the twist a mile away.

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