Sometimes you look at the state of Hollywood and wonder why you bother; this week has seen a higher than average number of such moments, a week of long sighs and exasperated eye rolling.
At the Cannes Film Festival Bong Joo-ho’s Okja (2017) received boos as Netflix’s logo appeared at the start of the film ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-39972987), the largely French audience not happy that the distributor has chosen not to release the film in cinemas across the country.
Earlier in the week Jessica Chastain, running the press junket gamut to promote her new film Miss Sloane (2017), bemoaned the lack of female ensemble casts and close-minded critics (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-39843540). A few days later Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) took just $15million in its opening weekend, leaving Warner Bros. sweating over whether it’ll even earn enough money to break even on its $175million production budget.
All of this compounds a simple point that Hollywood and its large cast of players seem to be missing; film fans don’t give a shit where the film comes from, how much it cost, who is distributing it, whose behind the camera, or what the sex of the cast is. All we care about is whether the film is any good.
The Cannes Film Festival booers seemed to have the hump that Netflix is having significant success with its alternative method of film production. The ‘traditional’ studios might be offering them some sideways glances, but when the quality of their productions is so good, the average viewer is happy to hoover up all they can offer. With such delights as Beasts Of No Nation (2015) and Stranger Things (2016) up for grabs who can blame them. It’s certainly a lot more inspired than yet another remake, reboot, reimaging being offered up by Hollywood’s main studios.
Just as the studios seem to think movie viewers care how their films are distributed, Ms Chastain made a similar mistake thinking that we care whether the people on the big screen have a penis or not; we don’t. Did we care that the main cast of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) were all women? No. Did we care whether it was a good film; absolutely (and it was). Conversely, were we bothered that the cast of Ghostbusters (2016) were now all-female; despite the noise a minority of internet chauvinists made, no, the average film fan didn’t care. What we did care about was whether the film was any good; disappointingly it was rubbish.
And then we get to poor King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Warner Bros. seemed to forget the recent calamity that was King Arthur (2004) now only remembered for the furore that was kicked up by photo-shopping Keira Knightly’s breasts on the film’s advertising poster. They also seemed to forget recent sword swinging period flops Hercules (2014), Dracula Untold (2014), Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), The Last Witch Hunter (2015), Warcraft (2016), Ben Hur (2016), Gods of Egypt (2016), and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016). They had fair warning; reaction to the movie’s early trailers was underwhelming. Film fans were nonplussed by its exclusively brown and grey palette. Worse than that they were confused as to what exactly was going on; a true take on the sword in the stone legend, or some weird hybrid of history and super power flinging heroes and villains. With added elephants.
Jude Law was never anyone’s idea of a menacing villain, no one had David Beckham pegged as a character actor, and poor David Hunnam was the unknown tasked with carrying the entire film. A script which had his Arthur switched permanently to swaggering arrogance mode helped about as much as the decision to have him look like a bearded hipster throughout; all that was missing was the top-knot and skinny jeans. Eager to have their own version of Marvel Studios’ ever successful cinematic universe, Warner Bros. were hoping King Arthur would be the starting point for a run of films around the Arthurian legends. The one thing they forgot though, and the key component Marvel always work hard to ensure, is that the film itself is actually decent, a good script with the right actors for the job.
Its lazy filmmaking from Warner Bros. Assuming that all the audience wants is a recognisable property title or product on the movie poster, Warner Bros. chucked $175million at a script the Syfy Channel would have thought twice about making in to its next movie of the week. A familiar name isn’t a short cut to quality or profit; just look at recent offerings Alien: Covenant, Ghost In The Shell and Assassin's Creed. All known products that spawned mediocre films which garnered an underwhelming box office take. Compare that to John Wick (2014), a completely unknown product which, because of the quality of filmmaking behind it, almost tripled its small $30million budget.
Take heed Hollywood. We don’t care about product recognition, we don’t care about studio distribution, we don’t care about political in-fighting or the struggles of well-paid actors and actresses to get recognition. We have little spare cash to spend on the ever increasing cost of cinema tickets, and even less spare time to spend sitting in cinemas. All we care about is that the two hours you offer us is fun, original, and entertaining. Focus on doing that and you’ll have our admiration; neglect it and your coffers will be seeing a lot less of our coin.