How Not to Make Money: Film Homages Gone Wrong - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

How Not to Make Money: Film Homages Gone Wrong

Super 8 looks to open a little soft at the box office this weekend, but before long people will be considering it a disappointment and wondering where things went wrong.  I believe it is way too early to consider the film a missed opportunity because it could have legs. I can see why it didn’t have the gargantuan opening some people were expecting the main problem is the film is too much in love with the past. I am not here to review the film-- I leave that up to my colleague Jacob because I am interested to see what he has to say (and because he called dibs).  I will just say that I enjoyed the movie and thought it was very heartfelt.  I also watched the film and could just tell it was not going to be an out of the box smash hit.

Actually I could have predicted that it wouldn’t be breaking records on the opening weekend when I started seeing the shape of the advertising campaign.  The marketing was way too focused on Spielberg’s name and guaranteeing a Spielberg like film circa the late 70’s and early 80’s that they forgot one crucial thing: the younger generation dictates the opening weekend and the younger generation couldn’t give a damn about a movie feeling like the 70’s.

Did Spielberg do enough in this movie to have equal billing with Abrams?

I could go even further and say the name Spielberg doesn’t mean nearly as much to the 21 and younger crowd as it does to us older people.  To really stop and think about it the movies that Spielberg is associated to the closest are between 35 and 13 years old.  While I might think one of his best directing jobs ever was Munich and I really love Minority Report, those aren’t the first movies that come to mind when thinking the name.

You think Jaws, Indiana Jones (I know that he made a 4th Indy movie not long ago, I just choose to ignore it), ET, Jurassic Park and possibly Saving Private Ryan. Talk to a 16 year old that goes to movies regularly and ask what he thinks of some of those movies and most would be before their time and be dismissed as “old”.  I honestly believe that Spielberg’s name is on so many credits not for the kids of today to get excited about the film but to reassure us 25+ people that there are redeeming qualities to the film.

Seeing his name on Transformers could pretty much be the equivalent of the PR department reassuring us that there will be dialogue and characters in the film and not just special effects and explosions. I don’t know it to be true but I would not be surprised if J.J. Abrams became as big of name for the upcoming generation as Spielberg.  He is the man behind Star Trek and Lost, and his name has been used to sell almost as much stuff as Spielberg’s.

I would be curious to go live in an alternate world where there were a few minor tweaks to Super 8 like making it set it modern day, not invoking Spielberg’’s name as much in marketing and letting the movie play as a J.J. Abrams film and compare the final box office numbers to see what was bigger. I loved the fact that the movie reminded me of E.T. and Stand By Me but my generation already has those movies. This generation wants something of their own and not a retread of some director’s beloved films.

Another film recently from a big director that underperformed was Superman Returns. Now the movie still made $200 million in the US, but with the name behind the camera and the fact it was the first Superman movie in over 20 years should have made this film the biggest thing around, yet it was easily killed by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest when it was released a week later.

Superman Returns has some major flaws, but it's not a bad film.  I watched it with fresh eyes a few weeks back and remembered that the film was beautiful and I liked some of the themes of a lonely God finding someone similar to him in a most unexpected way.  Yet the film was so in love with the Richard Donner Superman film of the 70’s that it felt more like a rerelease than a new film. As much as I might personally like the original Superman film, it is also dated, a bit hokey and would seem foreign to today’s movie audience.

Again people seeing films today want to have their own movies to love and not remixed and greatest hits packages from the director's favorite films.  I believe that director Bryan Singer had a great Superman film in him and you could see it on the outskirts of Returns, but he made an imitation of another director’s film instead of one of his own.

Singer and Abrams aren’t alone in making a film in homage of their favorites that underperformed.  Tarantino had Grindhouse, Jackson had King Kong and Sam Raimi and Sony parted ways after three successful Spider-Man films because Raimi loved the 60’s Spider-Man and Sony wanted something fresher. Some of these movies were good and some weren’t, but they all fell into the ego-driven thinking that younger fans are interested in movies from 30 years before just because they themselves are. Directors must remember that, although it pains me to say it, there are too large a number of people that are disgusted or afraid of older films. They want movies shot and produced the way THEY like them.

Exposing people to new directors, films and styles of the past is always rewarding, but you don’t shove it down their throat.  Thanks to Cameron Crowe I now love Billy Wilder and he did it by mentioning his love for him in interviews and books, not by remaking Ace in the Hole or Sunset Boulevard. One of my favorite books I read because I heard it was an inspiration for the fifth season of Lost.

There are ways to make the past come alive for new generations that aren’t so on the nose.  If J.J. really wanted to honor his biggest influence then he should have followed his lead.  When Spielberg wanted to make a film that harkened back to the movies he loved as a kid he got together with Lucas and just made an action serial that felt like a throwback to the past but made in that day’s style called Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Posted by Ryan

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