Did ya hear?
So that’s the end of that. The “slump,” (read: the consistent lower performance of films this year as opposed to films in the same period last yes,) has now been “broken.” Oh, the overall theatrical market is still in deep trouble, and all the various forces driving the lower theater takes are all still in place. BUT, this past weekend the overall U.S. boxoffice was just slightly higher than it was last year, and so now the studios will celebrate: The “streak” is broken, so the “slump” is now over.
First thing’s first: The now-defunct “slump” is, was and ever-shall-be a silly industry trade-paper non-story, and it will remain so.
And, so: What did it?
Or, more importantly, what will get the credit and what will it mean?
Let’s first get to the actual facts: There was no magic-bullet that did this, it was a simple matter of stacking up enough blockbusters on top of one another to hit a high number. The “slump” is now over because “Batman Begins” and “War of The Worlds” are still playing to huge crowds, and the newly-debuting “Fantastic Four” made about $20 Million more than it was projected to. But that’s real-world logic.
The studio-logic, on the other hand, changes completely from day to day based on whatever the current situation is. As I’ve been saying here since the early days of the “slump,” whichever film was #1 the weekend the damn thing was “broken” would get the lion’s-share of the credit and thus shape the studio thinking in the near future in a profound way. As of right now, the movie getting that credit is “Fantastic Four,” and as of right now that feels like kind of a mixed blessing.
The Good: Apart from any actual merits (or lack thereof) “Fantastic Four” is a big-budget comic book adaptation, cast mostly with lesser-knowns and sold on the concept of it’s characters. To my way of thinking, better to have this be the “slump-slayer” that the studios will aim to emulate as opposed to something like “Monster In-Law” or “The Perfect Man” (or “Passion”, for that matter.) If nothing else, this likely means the studios will continue to mine the comic world, or scifi/fantasy genres in general, for stories and not retreat from them.
The Bad: BUT… a comic-based scifi/fantasy/action pic “Fantastic Four” may be, yes. But it’s a godawful one, to put it gently. A half-assed throwback to the “old way”… the “Batman and Robin” way… of doing these things: The source material stripped of it’s vitals, self-consciously embarassed to exhibit any of the qualities that made it worth making a film about in the first place, reshaped into a generic formula-blockbuster, resulting in something little better than a bloated Happy Meal commercial. What “lesson” will the studios take, for example, from this type of comic-adaptation being the golden-boy who broken the infernal “slump”; while “Batman Begins,” practically a three-act how-to guide for making great films out of comic books, was not able to accomplish the “same” task? Nevermind that “Batman” (and WOTW, for that matter) will likely out-earn “Fantastic Four” overall, and that it’s solid week-to-week earnings helped break the slump just as much as F4 did; all that won’t fit in the Variety headline. “Fantastic’ End To The Slump!,” does.
I know, I know… I’m being negative, a big grouch. Whatever. The point is, “Fantastic Four” now being annointed the “slump-slayer,” however better it might be than to have had some Hillary Duff vehicle do it, means the following: The studios have no real reason to STOP making films like it. So yeah, they’ll keep giving us these nifty superhero movies, I’m glad. BUT, they’ll also have one LESS reason NOT to half-ass them.
After all, why go to the trouble of going the “Batman” route… hiring a fresh top-tier director, stocking the cast with high-end acting talent, nailing down a complex, intelligent screenplay and taking care to approach the material with respect… when you can get the same kind of bottom-line financial result AND “slump”-busting bragging rights with the director of “Taxi,” a generic script mostly knocked off from prior, better genre films and an approach to casting typified by a leading-lady primarily qualified by her ability to fill-out her costume?
Or maybe I’m reading to much into this. I dunno, what do you think?