Filmsim.net Dispatch May 19, 2016

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What do Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas, Kenneth Brannagh, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Tilda Swinton, Patricia Clarkson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett have in common?

Yes, they've all made their name in serious adult drama, winning semi-trailers full of awards and Oscars for their work. But here's something you might not realise – they've all starred in high profile YA adaptations.

Here's that list again with some context. Meryl Streep (The Giver), Michael Douglas (Ant-Man), Kenneth Brannagh, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon (Harry Potter) Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange), Patricia Clarkson (The Maze Runner), Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 ) and Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok).

So why, this edition of the Filmism.net Dispatch wonders, are so many prestige names taking roles in what's essentially an endless rehash of the same sci-fi story for tweens? The question isn't about why producers or directors want to cast them – the power of such respected actors to win over a few more quadrants at the box office makes that obvious.

No, the question is why people more used to challenging scripts, nuanced performance and critical acclaim want to appear next to an endless procession of beautiful and bland Next Big Things and special effects wizardry?

Sure, it might be money. According to the law of averages, there are probably more than a few famous actors who can't afford to be very picky (you've heard the story about Nicolas Cage, haven't you, that he agrees to everything because he's so terrible with money he's constantly in debt?).

But just like any artist, these people want to work, and their market has contracted a lot since the ascent of the superhero/YA juggernauts. The kind of movies that bestowed or cemented A list status on the names above like Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, Broken Flowers, Doubt, The Kids Are All Right, Elizabeth, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Master and Synechdoche, New York just aren't made at studios anymore.

That end of town is more interested in blockbuster comic and superhero properties and brand names that come with killer toy line licenses (it's hardly a surprise, but Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens' budget was more than covered by toy sales long before the movie was released).

Adult dramas are still made, in fact they're made in their thousands at small production companies and mini-studios. The problem is they're made for almost no money and with almost no promotion so they usually fail to attract big names or any attention in such a crowded market.

That whole business model of adult drama nowadays is to chase festival circuit buzz, and it proves to work for movies like Spotlight, Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) , 12 Years a Slave or The Artist. They're the last few years' Oscar Best Picture winners, and they've all come from small independent production houses or the independently run prestige labels at the traditional studios.

So maybe it's simply about staying on screens and remaining relevant to the industry as a whole, let alone audiences. 12 Years a Slave tripled its budget in the US domestic market (it did much more overseas). Birdman doubled its budget domestically, again making more overseas. Argo did much better in America than the rest of the world combined, but it still only tripled its money.

Those figures sound like box office success, but anyone in the business can tell you a big studio usually in today's Hollywood spends at least the production budget all over again in marketing, which renders the above films mildly successful at best.

Compare those results to Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, which made its money back at the box office tenfold. Or The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, which made six times its money back. Or The Maze Runner, also making ten times its budget back.

There's a lot of news around about the ascent of Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, etc, and it's true they have the opportunity to be edgier and take more risks with the stories they put money into.

But (and I have no figures on this, it's mere observation), they still don't produce anywhere near the combined output of the major Hollywood studios and their various divisions and labels. So while projects on new platforms are making headlines, there aren't enough of them around to fill the vacuum left after the big studio abandonment of the likes of Taxi Driver, The Conversation and Bonnie and Clyde in favour of The Avengers, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice or Star Wars films from now until the end of time.

Maybe streaming services are filling the void. But as long as actors who wouldn't have been caught dead in kids' films in the 70s and 80s are popping up in dystopian futures showing cookie-cutter teens how to find their true selves or rebel against the status quo, that might be the most effective barometer that we're not there yet.

Seen by me in the recent past, an interesting and challenging but quite lovely film called Last Days in the Desert, starring Ewan McGregor as Jesus during his exile wandering in the desert.

I also saw just the sort of overblown comic book orgy of special effects and destruction described above in X-Men: Apocalypse and as always, if you can turn your filter for the same tropes and visuals way up, there's enough in it to enjoy.

After the sublime Enter The Void, I was very excited to see French enfant terrible Gaspar Noe's latest film, Love 3D. It doesn't reach quite the heady sensory and narrative heights as Void, but it's certainly arresting and attention-getting and, in it's own way, beautiful.

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