Fading To Black And White – Eventually
By Mike Cervantes
An important date in history is July 14, 2000. What’s that?, you ask, since it’s not a date that sticks out in many people’s minds. It should to movie fans, specifically those who enjoy the heroic adventures, gargantuan explosions, dazzling special effects and hype of a Hollywood blockbuster.
July 14, 2000 was the day modern films could be made about any subject and make boatloads of cash at the same time. It was kids’ stuff, really, but profitable kids’ stuff. July 14, 2000 was a Friday, a day my friends and I had off because we were still in college and summer school often didn’t bother scheduling classes on Friday. We felt the hype of a summer movie that never seemed possible: X-Men. Now, comic books, young-adult novels, Disneyland rides, cartoons, and even toys can be movies. In fact, if a studio doesn’t have these tentpoles on its schedule, it’s not one of the major players.
X-Men didn’t feel like a half-assed comic-book movie. A lot of serious Hollywood talent suited up in this film. Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation assumed Professor X’s wheelchair, sexy seductress Halle Berry played Storm, and respected thespian Ian McKellen donned Magneto’s mask. A little-known actor named Hugh Jackman took on the role of Wolverine. He looked just like X-Men’s most popular character, with bulging biceps and a pointy hairstyle. Of course, he had a disagreeable attitude. Jackman is an A-list actor now.
On opening day, we went to AMC Theatre at the Puente Hills Mall in City of Industry, Calif. We caught a matinee performance of X-Men. The theater wasn’t that packed. Today, a big blockbuster would have a long line on opening day at any time, even a midnight showing. X-Men, with its $75-million budget, made more than $296 million worldwide, proving that a modern comic-book movie could be profitable. Tim Burton’s Batman did very well at the box office (more than $411 million worldwide), however, that franchise soiled after sequels turned the movie public against the films in which Batman’s batsuit had nipples and the settings resembled a circus act rather than a gritty and dark Gotham City.
Turning The Page
After the success of X-Men, Hollywood started churning out comic-book adaptations, Harry Potter films, and Transformers movies. It didn’t happen overnight. Kids born in the 1980s had soft spots for cartoons and toys from that era, so when movies were released featuring this nostalgia, box offices blew up. Those kids were adults now; bringing younger siblings, cousins, or even their kids became the norm. Tickets sold like mad.
Director Sam Raimi set the bar extremely high with 2002’s Spider-Man. Raimi had been a huge fan of the webslinger, and it showed in his adaptation.The film smashed box-office records with a staggering opening, more than $114 million. Previous summer films would have been pleased with making that during an entire theater run. Spider-Man went on to make more than $821 million worldwide. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Peter Parker, but even I couldn’t deny its appeal. Spider-Man featured terrific action sequences, funny dialogue, and a sense of intrigue that seemingly brought the audience into the pages of one of Marvel Comics’ most popular characters.
Spider-Man became the blueprint for blockbuster success. You need likable characters, a plot that’s not overly complicated, flashy special effects, and ultimately, the film crew must take the genre seriously. Since then, we’ve seen Jack Sparrow (well, he’s made rather silly by Johnny Depp, but still, a fine performance), Clark Kent, Katniss Everdeen, and others star in major motion pictures. Many of these films have received positive reviews; however, nearly all of them fattened the pockets of studio executives, directors, actors, and anybody else involved with these film juggernauts.
Seventeen movies have made more than $1 billion worldwide. Only three of those films were made before X-Men. As long as these continue to be profitable, they’ll get the green light. This golden age of blockbusters can only go on for so long though, right?
Ah, yes, the law of diminishing returns. Too much of a good thing isn’t so good. I may enjoy a double bacon cheeseburger, but I will hate having to eat four of those behemoths. Eventually, might we get tired of movies with inflated budgets and booming explosions? Michael Bay can only crash so many cars. Yoda can only bust out the lightsaber so many times. Marvel Comics can only recycle the Avengers so many times. A well-timed Hulk smash is a crushing spectacle. A dozen Hulk smashes are overkill.
Personally, I am enjoying this golden age. But even I see a slowdown of quality flicks. Last year, Marvel’s The Avengers flexed its collective superhero muscle to the tune of more than $1.5 billion, third best all time. The Avengers main team members consist of Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. Robert Downey, Jr. has resurrected his career thanks to his portrayal of billionaire bad boy Tony Stark, the not-so-secret man in the Iron Man suit. Downey’s acting is always top notch. The second and third Iron Man movies have not been. Without Downey, who has said he’s done with Iron Man films — although he’s still game for The Avengers sequels — will the Iron Man franchise fall apart?
It’s inconceivable to think mega blockbusters are on their way out. Then again, at one time, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were kings of the Hollywood action films. In 2013, the two of them starred in Escape Plan. Neither I, nor the general public, seemed to care. In their prime, a movie with these two muscleheads would have stopped time at the box office. Today, it barely gets a mention.
There are failures even today. Green Lantern, a top-tier DC Comics property, didn’t live up to expectations. Starring goofball Ryan Reynolds, a very weak actor who should be losing his leading man credibility every year, the budget reached a mammoth $200 million. The film made just $219 million worldwide. With a budget like that, results should have been closer to the billion-dollar mark.
I see the bright side in every blockbuster. While some critics blast the costly spectacles, I embrace them. People didn’t like Man of Steel; I thought it was the action-centered Superman movie we’ve all been waiting for.
I worry about the future of Star Wars, which seems to me as if the newest incarnation is being rushed. I’ll never forget the time my friends and I waited in line to watch Episode III: Revenge of the Sith at 2 p.m. for a midnight showing. My friends and I brought two beach balls to bounce around before it began. The AMC ushers didn’t know what to do when hundreds of people started cheering as a couple of beach balls traveled near them.
Surprisingly, the anticipation and waiting in line on Day One for these premieres never irks me. I have a small contingent of friends and family who meet up with me. We wait, tell stories, and talk about what we hope to see in the newest blockbuster that won’t be shown for several hours.
The power of blockbusters will never fade. I can see a scenario in which these types are scaled back. Maybe we see half of what’s released simply because the budgets have gotten too big. I don’t know exactly when that is. The wonder and excitement of watching mutants, aliens, magical beings, monsters, adventurers, and other heroes on the big screen is something special that a novel or comic book cannot replicate.
In 2007, I took part in a gathering similar to a rock concert. Anime Expo somehow pulled major strings to show Transformers a day before it was released. I swear, I heard very little of that movie. Fanboys and fangirls cheered, yelled, and screamed at every Optimus Prime transformation or during any battle scene. Every few minutes the crowd had something to roar about. Normally, I would want to hear a movie in its entirety. But this was different. This blockbuster was its own event, an experience. Thanks to movies like Transformers, my summer schedule involves going to the theater a lot. I like what I see on an almost weekly basis. I am enjoying this golden age of movies while I still can.
Color Drawing: The Rolomite