Stay Tuned/Hype and Giant Reptiles

From Eccentric Flower


stay tuned

Hype and Giant Reptiles
31 May 1998

I started to write a column about advertising items related to recent news stories, but when I hit the Godzilla portion of the column, I just kept going and going and going, like the Energizer bunny.

I looked up and realized I had over 2000 words of material which had only the slenderest of connections to Stay Tuned's regular range of themes. (I know you don't particularly care, but I do.)

I had three choices: Throw it out completely, put it somewhere else and start over with this column, or leave it as is. I left it as is. 2500 words is about all I have in me tonight.

Once you read this - possibly a little more hot-headed than coherent - you may wish I'd chosen option one. I hope you can look past the angry prose and find the legitimate points lurking therein.

I went to see Godzilla and I liked it, but everyone seems to be talking about the movie in the press like it was a dud. Until I get next week's Entertainment Weekly, which will have the box office for that weekend, I'm suspending judgement. (Yes, I could look it up, but I don't want to spoil the suspense.)

Wouldn't it be amusing, though, if all those promotional tie-ins sank like a stone? I'm sorry to sound so malicious, but I get really tired of relentless marketing of entertainment. Hershey's got the candy franchise and put purple banners on all their bagged candy. Can you imagine the costs of putting out a special printing run of those bags? Consider how long those bags are going to stay on some shelves, a reminder of their misjudgment for consumers to stare at, if the movie flops. Of course, Hershey could just pull the bags from the shelves - another cost to eat.

Hershey also is one of the companies who got product placement in the film itself. I don't usually notice things like that, oddly enough. I suspend disbelief fairly easily, and if the film has caught my attention at all, I won't notice ads, billboards, etc. (The only one I noticed - mostly because of the lighting - was a Blockbuster ad in the Madison Square Garden sequence.)

I can easily work up some schadenfreude thinking of Hershey execs wincing at their stupidity every time Mayor Ebert munches on some of the Hershey's Kisses he's always carrying around.

Maybe if the film flops, it'll remind people that movies, like all entertainment, are a transient and fickle medium, not a budgetable, reliable product - and films will lessen in status and importance, a lot of studios will go bankrupt, there'll be a nice shakeout ... and the world will be safe for the low-budget film again. And I mean low budget.

Or perhaps this wouldn't do any good. The last few low-budget films to come out of indieland didn't interest me in the least. I happen to think this is because indieland's lost it - or at least, the crowd of seminal filmmakers I grew up with have. Let's consider some of the small filmmakers who were my idols ten years ago:

Although I never liked his attitude, I have to respect his work, but Spike Lee isn't indie or even particularly edgy any more. His most recent film looks like an extended Nike ad. Steven Soderbergh made one of the best films ever filmed (Sex, Lies, and Videotape) at an astonishingly tender age, and has done nothing but dreck ever since. John Sayles seems to only make a film every forty years or so now, and neither Lone Star nor the one about the selkies inspired me enough to see them. Bill Forsyth has vanished completely. Tim Burton gave in to big-budget bloat a long time ago; if he does great work like Ed Wood for cheap, the Hollywood reasoning goes, then we will throw lots of dollars at him ... and end up with Mars Attacks, which was a fun piece of fluff, but fluff nonetheless - you couldn't remember it five minutes after you left the theatre.

Only the Coen brothers and Erol Morris, for all that they are hit-or-miss, seem to not have compromised what they want to do.

Meanwhile, the new crop - the Sundance wunderkinder and the slacker set, like Kevin Smith and whats-his-face Linklater - don't do it for me. Like a lot of material involving the twentysomethings, most of the new folks' films strike me as nothing but whiny introspection.

As much as I dislike teen films with the classic "let's see if the hero can contrive to lose his virginity before the film ends" plot, I think I'd rather watch a kid conspire to sleep with the lead cheerleader than whine about how his main lust object is actually a lesbian and doesn't that just suck and how screwed up his generation is. In short, I'd rather watch Revenge of the Nerds than Chasing Amy. I admit it.

I'd rather watch a good John Hughes film - to watch a bad John Hughes film is to know the true depths of evil - than watch any Kevin Smith film. I'd rather see characters overcome their neuroses than rant about them. (Which, by the by, is why I cannot abide Woody Allen.)

I'm admit I'm being a little hypocritical. After all, most of the time I won't go see the sleeper and indie films. The Spanish Prisoner didn't interest me enough to get me to the theatre, despite the seldom and blessed presence of Campbell Scott. When it comes to the small films, I want dark, quirky, and wryly funny - sans whining.

Examples from (moderately) recent memory that I have liked: Benny and Joon, Grosse Pointe Blank, French Twist, The Player, L.A. Story, The Game, The Crying Game, In and Out. Let's face it, I either want someone to be the next Hitchcock, or I want the return of the screwball comedy.

Beyond that, I'd just as soon go see the latest explosions and car chases.

Even so, even with the films that are obviously pure spectacle and nothing but, there's no need to overhype them or spend so damn much money on them. Star Wars wasn't an expensive movie and it's just fine. A little dated, but then, so's M*A*S*H.

One problem is actors. I have an easy solution for that: Stop hiring them. There's a huge inflow of wanna-bes in Hollywood. Surely among them are enough talented young'uns who are willing to do a movie for guild rates - or better yet, guild rates plus a small percentage of the take - I firmly believe in royalties and profit-sharing.

And if, by the time their next movie comes around, their price has skyrocketed, find someone else.

Does that sound unfair to the actors? Tough. I love films, but I don't respect their profession. We idolize the wrong people in this country. Entertainers, for the most part, don't deserve the money they make. There is absolutely nothing Jim Carrey has done in his life that was worth twenty million dollars. (And I like at least one of his films - I'm rather fond of The Mask, I thought he made a great Riddler, and I'm eager to see if he and Peter Weir can pull off The Truman Show.)

Wouldn't it destroy the star system? Yes. Good riddance. Then we might see some new actors and Hollywood wouldn't, for example, be in the ludicrous position of hiring forty-year-olds to play twenty-year-olds (or vice versa) because they only know twenty male actors and ten female ones.

Now, about those special effects.

They're nice only when used sparingly. Too many of them, and the movie becomes Wagnerian and the senses dull. They're also very expensive. Seems like the corollary's obvious, eh? Not to Hollywood. It has not escaped a few critics that in the new Godzilla, the most effective monster scenes are the ones where we don't see more of the monster than a passing tail or a descending foot.

The original Jaws was the best of the series, mostly because the shark was seen so seldom - and the fact that this is because their mechanical shark was a lemon and they had to use a fake-looking shark for a lot of the movie just adds a layer of irony. Technology alone cannot save a film.

You would think that Hollywood might have learned by now that the implied monster's always scarier than the visible one. I can't remember who it was (either Roger Ebert or Harlan Ellison) who pointed out that the Emperor in the third Star Wars movie had to be a letdown - he could not possibly have been as scary as the image we'd been building in our heads all those years. This was the only man Darth Vader feared, right? What can he possibly look like that's as imposing as his rep?

Is the Wizard of Oz less impressive because it was all done on soundstages and sometimes the seams show? Does Godzilla gain anything from its extremely expensive on-location shoots?

Here's the big problem: Hollywood doesn't trust the imaginations of the public anymore. They feel they have to spell everything out for us. The problem is, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not saying children are forgetting how to have "non-programmed play," as the educators call it ... but they are certainly forgetting how to read books for fun, which is one harbinger of low standards. There are others.

Perhaps it's time to stop blaming the film industry for promoting violence, sexism, crime, et cetera and to concentrate on something more important: How they undermine and deteriorate our collective sense of wonder.

And now back to our program.

Other Business

In non-Godzilla news, please note that the first Viagra-related lawsuit has been filed already: A woman alleges that her husband, who is in his seventies, took the wonderdrug and then was inspired to leave her ... and that it's Pfizer's pfault ... er, fault.

Boston Market, which was once Boston Chicken, has made many missteps in the last year or so. The very first Sunday Papers column documented one of those mistakes, and I've commented on several others since then. (Of course, I felt the name change itself was a misstep, but never mind that.)

Now I see (as noted in the Boston Globe's Saturday business section) that they may be in danger of defaulting on their debt, which is currently in hundreds of millions. The article says it's because they had trouble finding a niche in the fast-food marketplace, which is very crowded and rather ruthless. I continue to maintain that they goofed by leaving the "family restaurant" niche in order to be a fast-food restaurant in the first place.

You probably don't care about this. Why do I? Well, they were really good at the things they did best, and I'll miss them if they vanish. That's all.


For the record: The Truman Show did, in fact, deliver; Hollywood in recent years has realized what a hole they've put themseles in with star salaries and are slowly trying to buck the trend; Soderburgh has redeemed himself to me, but my views on the others mentioned in that paragraph haven't changed; I still don't like any Kevin Smith films except Dogma, but I reserve judgement until he makes some other movies that aren't about his usual crowd of Jersey annoyances; and this was obviously written before Lucas dragged the good name of Star Wars into the dirt.

And apparently Godzilla was genuinely a flop, barely making back its costs in release, but I still thought it was a pretty entertaining piece of eye candy.

I am happy to say that as of 2007 Boston Market is still around, but sad to say that I don't eat any of their food anymore - they have mostly moved into branded supermarket goods, and though I hear they still have some restaurants, they are apparently few and far between.

and now back to our program

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