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May 13, 2006

Audiences Are Stupid

There, I've said it.

Okay, fine, I'll say it more accurately. Audiences …

I can't. I don't know how.

Anyways, it was something that got me thinking. There are a lot of movies out there, like The Fast and the Furious which was perennially agreed to be one trash of a movie, and yet the bloody thing has spawned a second sequel set in Tokyo. Who wants to watch stuff like that? Trashy stuff like that?

Apparently, lots of people.

Instead, there are lots of intelligent films, films where both critics and audiences can agree are quality films, and they tend to … earn less. Much less.

(Things are never simple of course. M:I–III was generally well–received – compared to other blockbusters – by both audiences and critics as well. But I'm blogging, if I don't generalise, I don't get to put across what I want to say. In fact, do you know that probably half of the argumentative comments generated from any particular discussive blog post are pedantic 'corrections' about what the commentator says the blogger said wrong, and the counter–arguments to that, and … you get the picture. Generalisation is essential. There a whole paragraph just to clarify that. What was I talking about before this?)

I was thinking about … films about historically traumatising events. United 93 was just released in the US, and the film will not earn a lot of money becoz it was ... a well made film. As in, critics all said that the film was even-handed, did not preach, nor comment, did not even dramatise the events, did not give the characters heroic characteristics, did not demonise the terrorists, did not milk or manipulate. It just shows it as it is.

That the experience was too recent and hence too painful for certain sectors of the population aside, the audience for this movie should still be huge. There isn't a lack of publicity for this. But no, people are avoiding this.

Instead, movies like Pearl Harbor get their audience easily. And this one seems to be fairly unanimously rejected as a quality movie.

Notice what I'm saying. I'm not saying that all films should be true–to–life, realistic, grim and depressing – gosh, what an extreme. (Commentators online have a tendency to do that as well. Blogger expresses one viewpoint against a certain extreme, commentator retaliates by saying the blogger must logically belong to the other extreme. The concept of middle ground and spectrum of opinions seem alien.) I do like to enjoy films that are all for entertainment and escapism. The Scary Movie franchise, for example.

What I'm unhappy about is the fact that films that are well made like United 93 don't earn much. Why is this relevant? It's relevant coz I'm not actually thinking about all of this in relation to Hollywood. I'm thinking about the film industry back home, in Malaysia. The industry is still lying at the gutter, but is slowly making it's way up, hampered by heavy stones in the form of politicians and the censorship board (though, kudos to the board, they are making changes for the better). Still, there is potential for the industry to rise up magically, wipe the dust of its shoulder, wear a suit, and run to the world and show what it can do.

But no. Silly, ridiculous, melodramatic, sappy, basically low quality films tend to be the ones filling the theatre seats. Films that try to be different, that are actually worth watching, will, at this point, never see itself garner more than a few thousand audiences. Instead, they have to rely on overseas market just to break even, with no profits left over such that more ambitious films can be made.

Again, keep in mind that I'm generalising. I suppose one reason why the audience is not to be blamed is becoz of the problem of adverse selection. If one were to pick between Malaysian indie films in the cinema, say, The 3rd Generation and Gubra, by just looking at the titles – how would you know which one is better? Only the urban professionals who read a lot and spent time online who knew a lot about the director behind Gubra would say I'd rather see Gubra. (In fact, The 3rd Generation turned out to be the worst, most pretentious arthouse shit I've ever heard.)

I may come to regret typing out this post in the future. I may change my mind and say that bad films need to be made along the way, for filmmakers – especially in a young industry like Malaysia – to make mistakes to get better.

But, at this moment, I feel like there is nothing to watch at the cinemas. Neither in Hollywood nor a home.

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