Terrorism films (IV): The view from Hollywood
Best Defense reader Malcolm Johnson, a suit at a Warner Bros. (home of my favorite cartoons) subsidiary, ‘splains why terrorism films die at the box office: I write this to you today from my cubicle at Warner Bros. International Television. You may say that I am writing to you from the belly of the Hollywood ...
Best Defense reader Malcolm Johnson, a suit at a Warner Bros. (home of my favorite cartoons) subsidiary, 'splains why terrorism films die at the box office:
Best Defense reader Malcolm Johnson, a suit at a Warner Bros. (home of my favorite cartoons) subsidiary, ‘splains why terrorism films die at the box office:
I write this to you today from my cubicle at Warner Bros. International Television. You may say that I am writing to you from the belly of the Hollywood Beast.
We don’t do ‘thoughtful.’
I originally wrote this as a joke, but realistically. . . we don’t. Bloody Sunday remains one of my favorite films of 2002, but it’s something I’m always guarded to watch because of how much it makes my blood boil.
(I must add, that my boss is Irish. I remember telling her about the film, and that it was called Bloody Sunday, and she asked me “which one?” The 1972 Bloody Sunday, or the 1913 one where the British Army opened fire at a packed soccer stadium in Dublin? — which even for a young woman like her is still pretty fresh in her memory.
In truth is, the films you are watching, the so-called “thoughtful terrorism films” . . . don’t make any money. Now, part of the reason is, of course, recent circumstance. Your local cineplex, or by extension, the neighborhood Blockbuster, is supposed to be a means of escape, or at most. reflection. Since the interesting times we are living in haven’t yet ended, how can we realistically ask an audience to “escape” by putting money down for Lions for Lambs, or Body of Lies when frankly, all it is going to do is remind them of what they’re getting for free on CNN.
I’m actually, by trade a screenwriter, and even though I had not yet generated a sale, I was known in town for doing “military action.” That all but ended on September 11th. All of the sudden, the word came down: no action films, no violence. The studios wanted confection, escapism — a usual signal for musicals and fantasies. That lasted a year or two. Then action and violence became okay, so long as it was over-the-top and cartoonish, and centered in on getting revenge (sound familiar?). Slowly, after the Iraq War was waged, then relegated to our back pages, Hollywood attempted to do Iraq films, like Lions, like Stop Loss, like In the Valley of Elah, and like The Hurt Locker. So far, of the bunch of them, The Hurt Locker has been the most successful, raking in $12 million. It cost $11 million.
Body of Lies at least attempted to explain the complicated dynamics at work in the terrorism fight. In fact, the dynamics were so complicated that not even Leonardo DiCaprio could save it at the box office. Instead of a white knuckle thrill ride (which the audiences were promised in the trailers), they got a sedate, gorgeous examination of ethics and brutality. It wasn’t a fun time at the movies. It wasn’t even necessarily that realistic (though I’ll defer to your expertise on that one). I could see why it bored audiences to tears.
So, the long and the short of it: We don’t do thoughtful because it makes our heads hurt. When we do thoughtful, it winds up making the audience’s head hurt, and no one makes any money that way.
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