Monday, 27 May 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1024: Who's Laughing?

The folks at The Wrap are pondering the state of Hollywood movie comedy and they don't seem to confident. A lot of expected big budget blockbusters are under-performing despite tons of hype and more tonnage of money spent, and the comedies that do perform well at the box-office aren't doing the big business that their predecessors did not that long ago.

So what's up?

There are three possible reasons:


Everything follows patterns and cycles. Sometimes those patterns and cycles are so complicated that our puny mortal minds are unable to grasp them. When we reach the end of a cycle and not know we can end up scratching our heads and furrowing our brows in a feeble attempt to understand why what we expected to happen didn't happen. 

The popularity of certain kinds of movies come and go. We can't say when they come and when they go, it involves a lot of blind luck and having the right film at the right place and time.


If a film like the first Hangover comes out of nowhere and does big business the studio mindset is to immediately go bigger. Sometimes it works, but you can easily run into the law of diminishing returns. Costs go up, profit margins thin, and the unending demand to go bigger and louder strains the imagination of the creative team. You end up with a studio thinking that bigger movies will result in bigger returns ending up usually getting the opposite.

Then there's the overestimation of the star power of certain players. Tina Fey is a classic example. If you go solely by the media hype she gets you would probably think that she is the be-all-end-all of popular American comedy. Fey is talented, but she's not anywhere near as popular as Hollywood thinks she is. She's been in some modestly successful films, but her live action movies don't crack that precious $100 million mark that even relatively small studio films need to hit for the leads to be properly considered "movie stars." Her television show 30 Rock fared even worse with audiences somehow managing to stay on NBC for 7 seasons despite it being at or near the bottom of the ratings for its entire run. However, Hollywood tends to believe its own hype, and are then shocked to see her starring vehicle just disappear and be forgotten when they were fully expecting it to be a big hit and maybe snag a few award nominations.


Back in the old days when a team that worked as well as the Hangover trio was discovered they didn't necessarily jump into a sequel if they thought it would involve the flogging of a deceased equine in the concept department. 

They would look for other vehicles that the team could participate in. This meant that the creative-starring partnership wasn't wrapped up entirely in one franchise, and if that franchise started to under perform, it would invite unfavourable comparisons to other projects they might work together on.

But instead, they would aim for sequels, sequels, sequels. That's the sort of franchise they can wrap their little brains around.

Then there's the novelty factor. A joke always gets the biggest laugh the first time it's heard. Which is a long winded way of saying that key ingredient of successful comedy is a steady stream of new ideas and new talent. However, comedy in Hollywood seems to be dominated by several small cliques of elite "A-List" stars and their immediate social circle. There doesn't seem to be much independent comedy getting much play in theatres either, which means that there's the risk of a comedy talent drought when the current crop burns themselves out.

There's a lively comedy scene on the internet, but while some make work in the slightly more open and responsive field of television, the big screen has more or less ignored it so far.

And then there's the fourth reason...


For every big monster comedy hit, there were at least ten films as bad or almost as bad as...
So you can understand why the audience might be a little leery of trusting Hollywood's taste in comedy.

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