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Feb 9, 2009

HOLLYWOOD (AND BLU-RAY) GET NO RESPECT

This weekend in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein did his year end analysis of how the studios fared not only financially, but artistically as well. (The article can be found here: STUDIO REPORT CARD). Most major publications that cover the entertainment business do this annually, and they always seem to get on their soapbox that Hollywood Studio movies are all dreck . I have to say, that this argument is sounding like a bad broken record and has done so for a long time now.

I listen to a weekly radio show on KPCC (Pasadena's NPR affiliate) that reviews all the week's films, and I love the format and the show (and have blogged about it before). I find the more I listen, the more disgruntled the critics become. The show inevitably starts out with the reviewers trashing all the studio movies (and granted, a lot of them deserve it) then raving uncontrollably about all the smaller films that come out. Most critics I believe see themselves as the conduit for those smaller unsung movies -- good or not -- and while trying to remain highbrow cannot allow themselves to (GASP) praise Hollywood.

It seems to me that all entertainment reporters want to do is to tell Hollywood what they're doing wrong. I wonder if it is the overload of having to sit through every picture every week, and not because they really want to. Or is it the common case of when we age our taste changes drastically, and what we once saw as fresh and new is now just the stale run-of-the-mill movie we have seen time and time again.

I'm going to pick on Mr. Goldstein's LAT article once again as when he explains that he grants the studios a letter grade for their quality rating, he throws in a very catty remark in () that studios very rarely if ever get an A. He follows this up by being more generous than his comment would suggest giving Universal an A- for quality thanks to MAMMA MIA!, WANTED and THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR(???!!!???) with the rest of the studios (except Fox which he gave a D) getting a B or B-. While I agree that one should not be so freely apt to assign an outstanding rating to anything, the comment itself sounded like a snobbish power play and another assertion of the writer's taste trying to sound like he is above Hollywood studio films.

Peter Bart in his great Variety Blog picked up on this in a recent blog post (seen here: HOLLYWOOD'S CULTURAL WARS)when he commented on the great divide between the New York and Hollywood critics. In his column, he comments on how the New York critics complain that the films nominated this year for Academy Awards aren't "artsy" enough, while the Hollywood critics complain that they aren't commercial enough. Whatever happened to that whole idea or judging a movie by it's merits...or did that ever actually exist?

I mention Blu-Ray in the subject of this post because it seems like all the major outlets, including Patrick Goldstein's weekend article, all want to tell you that Blu-Ray is dead on arrival when the sales numbers show otherwise. Mr. Goldstein makes the proclamation that "...Blu-Ray looking more and more like a Dud..." without ever backing up the statement.

Yes DVD sales have flat lined and the studios are trying to figure out how to fix that and Blu-Ray may not actually exceed previous DVD sales numbers (the chances that people -- many of which have accumulated large DVD collections in the hundreds -- are likely to re-buy everything on Blu-Ray like they did when switching up from VHS is highly unlikely given the cost involved) many research firms and industry papers such as VIDEO BUSINESS and HOME MEDIA MAGAZINE predict that Blu-Ray should make up for those lagging DVD sales by bringing the number back where the studios need it. The Studios themselves have also admitted that Blu-Ray is not the end all solution, focusing their efforts on making Digital Distribution more accessible through legal means (rather than those evil people who steal movies off the Internet) even going so far as to include digital copies with most new releases as well as standard DVD discs with bigger titles so that consumers can enjoy their purchase anywhere and anyway they like (Disney has been doing this with all their new family titles, a move that I personally think is great and hope that more studios follow their lead). Again though the press always seems to focus on the negative rather than comment on say how great Blu-Ray is or that people are actually buying it to take advantage of those great HD TV sets, they make blanket (uninformed) statements like Mr. Goldstein's this past weekend.

So why are these reporters and critics so quick to jump on the negative? Is it just in the nature of reporting these days to point out all that is bad and be uber-critical? Is it because critics are quickly finding themselves out of work thanks to massive layoffs? Or is it because of the blogsphere where suddenly anyone can review a movie, and that personal word of mouth is more relevant than some guy feigning "high brow values" who is paid to do it (I am one of those bloggers as my other blog WIX PIX II: THE WRATH OF SEAN is dedicated solely to reviews). I am also very curious as to why the press is so hard on Blu-Ray. Perhaps they still feel burned when they had to re-buy all their laserdisc titles on DVD.

Like any industry Hollywood has its ups and downs -- even more so thanks to the product being somewhat glamorous and more publicly visible than most others, and is subject to the tastes and desires of an always fickle general public.

I see just about everything -- from the smallest independent to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster because not only is it my chosen profession, but I also love films. I have seen my share of duds, and critically can be harder on movies more than most general viewers, but I have never found myself beating up on Hollywood because usually before all those movies are some great trailers for coming attractions to get excited about. This is a business, and to get these movies made people have to go see them, and most people go to the movies to be entertained especially in these hard economic days where coaxing $10 out of anyone is a difficult thing to do. I sometimes wonder if these critics forget about that, and position themselves as some sort of cultural guardians -- which in many ways they are, but do they seriously have to be so pessimistic about it? Not to mention I have switched home formats now 4 times from VHS to Laserdisc to DVD and now to Blu-Ray. I am happy that Blu-Ray is at least backwards compatible with standard DVD making it so much easier to move forward without the added cost of re-buying everything (especially since I have about 2000 titles).

Film criticism in itself has changed drastically -- again thanks to the quick and easy nature of the Internet, the Thumbs up/Thumbs down and star ratings that so dominate the field these days. I love a good, well written and thoughtful review, and also like seeing the bad movies get their comeuppance (slamming a really bad movie can be a load of fun after all). I love the work done by Pauline Kael, Richard Schickel or David Thomson and even Roger Ebert (more with his written reviews than with his television show) who all write intelligently about the movies, but no matter what they still love (loved in the case of Ms. Kael who has passed on) the act of movie watching, and still believe in Hollywood as the great dream factory -- which, corporate conglomerates aside -- it still is.

Another great source for optimistic and less catty Entertainment news are the Variety blogs, in particular Peter Bart's which I referenced earlier (and his fantastic show on AMC, SHOOT OUT co-hosted with Peter Guber) and Anne Thompson's THOMPSON ON HOLLYWOOD both of which still have faith in the Hollywood system albeit with some (intelligent) criticisms.

Back to the whole Blu-Ray issue, and I'm sorry Mr. Goldstein but Blu-Ray is in fact not a dud. While it may not be the dominant component in the Home Entertainment Center of the future, thanks to the enhanced content and 1080p resolution picture it will sit nicely along with digital downloads and VOD -- something that Hollywood is very aware of. We as consumers now have infinite ways to view films in addition to seeing them the way they are intended to be seen -- on a big screen with an audience.