||Hollywood uses all its resources to
create films that will appeal to the widest possible audience. This explains
why Pearl Harbor has been a great box office success, the Hollywood
money machine worked perfectly even though most critics hated it.
The divide between the audience and the critics in the case of Pearl Harbor and films like it is created because the professional critic usually has to sit through five or six formulaic Hollywood movies a week. The critic knows all the cliches in the book (or I should say film) whereas much of the audience for a highly promoted blockbuster might only visit their multiplex once or twice a year. This can be called the James Bond phenomenon, because whenever I have seen one the capacity audience always laughs loudly at the funny commercials at the start of the programme. It is apparent they have never seen these ads even though they have been running relentlessly on the same screen for months.
As paying cinemagoers most people want to stuff their faces with popcorn and escape into a larger-than-life world of drama, comedy, action, adventure, horror or even tragedy. It should have stars or special effects (preferably both) and a hit soundtrack. It sounds simple but even Hollywood can get it badly wrong even if the film seems to have all the right elements; think of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld or John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth, which were both expensive flops. The audience might seem easy to please but it is also very fickle and changeable, a star or director cannot rest on their reputation, even Steven Spielberg might wince at being reminded of 1941 or Hook. And, whatever happened to that wonder kid of the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino?
Given that cinema audiences tend to consist mainly of young people their idea of what makes a good movie is bound to clash with those of older film critics who have literally seen it all before. The latest pop idol is more likely to draw the crowds than a movie that is well-crafted, and intelligently deals with important themes and issues.
I remember attending a talk by the Guardian’s veteran film critic, Derek Malcolm, who trashed the TV review programme, Moviewatch. It was hosted by loud-mouthed Johnny Vaughan and had trendy teenagers rating the latest releases. The level of criticism amounted to whether they “liked it” or “hated it”. No reference to aesthetics or genre expectations here except in terms of “I liked the star’s dresses” or “it had lots of explosions and violence, great stuff.” Malcolm obviously didn’t appreciate the whims of youth but these are the very factors that Hollywood has to accommodate to survive and profit.
It’s easy to be snobby and wise but that’s not going to get you far in Tinsel Town, which is probably why British writers and directors go there to make one movie, take the money, then run back to independent/art house productions ‘worthy’ of their artistic talents. This can be called the Woody Allen syndrome, as he also hates Hollywood (famously its tawdry Oscars) and prefers to be regarded as an artist who isn’t interested in audience ratings, box office income or popcorn sales.
Any type of filmmaking has always been about making compromises, but you can work the system even in Hollywood. As the French cineastes of the 1950s revealed, some popular Hollywood directors can be hailed as great artists (e.g. Hitchcock, Ford, and Wilder). The likes of Spielberg, Lucas and Cameron might be destined for such accolades one day (probably when they are long dead and people will moan that “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore”. Even in academic circles fashions and tastes change...
Money, art, science, technology or just outright hype and bluff bring Hollywood movies to the screen, if they don’t have that elusive magic to entertain and move a mass audience no amount of bean counters will save them, also with that ‘magic’ no amount of critics will stop the masses from enjoying them. The really amazing thing is that Hollywood produces so many good films against all the odds.
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