Two weeks ago I received a call from the Nielsen Movie Rating people. It was a survey and they often call me once or twice a year to see what movies I saw, which ones I'm excited about, and which ones I thought sucked. I like participating in these surveys, but I wasn't allowed to this particular time.
You see, it's because unlike most other three-month periods of my life, I had only been to theatre once in a very long time. And that was to see the independent documentary, Murderball. My conversation with the caller went like this.
Him: How many movies have you seen in the theatre in the past 3 months?
Me: Just one. Murderball.
Him: Oh. Is there someone else in the household that has seen more?
Me: Nope. My wife and I usually go once or twice a month, but there hasn't been anything worth seeing.
Him: Tell me about it, hopefully there will be some better movies in the winter. Mind if I call you back later in the year?
Me: Not at all, although I wouldn't get your hopes up.
Videogame makers, please take note. America is finally getting some sense of taste and self-respect. At least the movie going public is. Hollywood box office numbers are down this year big time and it's because people are finally refusing to pay their hard-earned money to see whatever drek is being shoveled onto the screen. Dukes of Hazard? Herbie the Love Bug? Bewitched? House of Wax? The Pacifier? Fantastic Four? The Island? No, I haven't seen these movies, but thanks to www.rottentomatoes.com I don't have to. Here's why: when only 2 of every 10 critics in the country recommend your movie, it sucks. There's no need for me to verify its suckdom with my own two eyes.
And it's really obvious why nobody is going. Movies these days all seem to be either a decades-old retread of a license that was barely entertaining in its prime, or a bloated action movie that does more to showcase current special effects capabilities than provide an entertaining movie-going experience. What do you know, this sounds exactly like videogames. Millions of dollars are being spent on securing exclusive licenses that remove competition, and even more being pumped into every [marketable] aspect of a game aside from gameplay. Case in point: those Fantastic Four commercials look great last month -- but I can't help but wonder why a single second of gameplay footage wasn't shown?
The only difference right now between the games industry and Hollywood is that not every movie carries a number between 3 and 7 on it. But I'm sure Hollywood has learned nothing from The Matrix and is ready to treat us to the final chapter in the Deuce Bigalow trilogy. Who knows, maybe even another Police Academy movie is in the works too. I wouldn't be surprised. They're gradually working on ridding the cinemas of original material, just as game publishers are moving more towards spectacle and sequels and further away from fun and originality. Nothing is allowed to be simple and fun anymore, everything must be complex and eye-popping, and controversial.
But there is hope.
The answer lies in independent and foreign films. Thanks to the Internet, Americans (myself included) are slowly becoming more and more knowledgeable of things outside the mainstream. Some of the best movies I've seen in the past year or two-- whether on DVD or in the theatre -- were care of movie houses that aren't household names. Seek out these movies. Rent them. Buy them. Support the theatres that show them. The major movie houses are taking notice.
Go see The Constant Gardener and the March of the Penguins and Murderball if you can find it still playing. Head to the video store and buy a copy of House of Flying Daggers, Whalerider, Bend it Like Beckham, Swimming Pool, and Life is Beautiful if you haven't already. Watch the foreign language ones with the subtitles -- a little reading is good for you and you'll be surprised to see how little it interferes with the movie.
And the next time you're looking for a videogame to purchase, consider passing up the latest installment of Madden or Gran Turismo or Insert-Generic-FPS-Here and instead, grab a copy of something original like Shadow of the Colossus or Killer 7 or even one fo the cheapie titles like Ribbit King or Dai Senryaku VII. And it doesn't have to be from a small independent company, but rather just an original title that is a little off the beaten path.
Companies don't spend money on Nielsen Ratings and NPD Group market data for nothing. Regardless of the industry, everyone feeds off imitation. Loyally (and blindly) purchasing every year's installment of Madden is only going to get you more Madden. Support the companies willing to take a risk -- you might just stumble on some really great stuff that nobody else is talking about (because nobody is paying them to) and if enough people do it, it could make a difference. When you vote with your wallet, everyone listens.