Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'm sorry about the 3D mess, but Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is full of sh*t. 2011 is easily one of the best years for movies in a very long time.

Jeffrey Katzenberg is understandably upset that other studios have been diluting the value of 3D movies, something he has championed long before Avatar and believed would be the savior of the theatrical experience.  But that's no reason for Katzenberg to outlandishly whine about how much this year's movies 'suck'.  "They suck," Katzenberg states in an interview with Fortune.  "It's unbelievable how bad movies have been, right?"  He's wrong.  Very wrong.  Without question, 2011 is one of the best movie going years in recent history.  Ironically, my favorite film thus far this year is Katzenberg's Kung Fu Panda 2.  Since Katzenberg didn't specify which movies he disliked (in fact, like a lazy grade school message board commentator, he cited not a single example), I can only assume he includes his own movie in this ranking, I humbly apologize for giving his Dreamworks animated film a rave review.  I was obviously entirely off the mark, since apparently all movies released in 2011 were terrible.

I am not going to list every great film of the year, but it has been a stunningly solid and consistent year thus far.  We started the year with a deluge of relatively solid (some I liked, some I didn't), mid-budget adult genre films that mostly received decent reviews and all had relative success (The Lincoln LawyerInsidious, No Strings Attached, Limitless, Source Code, The Adjustment Bureau, Hanna, etc).  These are just the kind of films that Katzenberg championed in his infamous 1990 studio memo where he chided out-of-control production costs and ever-larger budgets.  We even had a dynamite animated feature (Rango) that compensated for last Spring's dynamite animated feature (How to Train Your Dragon).  Then summer began, and the improvement from 2010 was obvious from the get-go.  Fast Five was a shockingly solid action adventure film that basically shamed its four mediocre predecessors.  Thor was a much better movie than Iron Man 2, and Bridesmaids was a better comedy than anything released last year.  Instead of Shrek: The Final Chapter, you had Kung Fu Panda 2.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon had its usual franchise issues, but it was an improvement in the series and certainly better than The Last Airbender.  While last summer was so starved for real quality that The Karate Kid felt like a gift from the Oscar gods, this year has seen a steady stream of solid popcorn entertainment (Fast Five, Bridesmaids, Kung Fu Panda 2, X-Men: First Class, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II, and Captain America).  And on the independent cinema front, we've seen the massive mainstream success of Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris, plus the solid limited engagements for Tree of Life, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Beginners, and Jane Eyre.  I can't remember the last time there were more movies I liked than movies I disliked.  

So I understand Katzenberg's frustration at the rise and fall of 3D.  And I sympathize with his frustration at how Kung Fu Panda 2 was arbitrarily declared a flop despite opening with $66 million in five days, a stigma that did real damage to the Dreamworks stock and remains in place even as the film speeds towards $600 million worldwide on a $150 million budget.  But Katzenberg's arbitrary rantings resemble that of a pissed off child, and they should not be given credibility or declared newsworthy purely because he uttered them.  Perhaps due to the aftershocks of the 2007 WGA writers' strike wearing off, or merely due to random chance, 2011 has been a stunningly good year for movies.  Whether you like independent cinema or popcorn blockbusters, this is a damn fine time to be a movie fan.

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Lady Jane said...

Couple thoughts: for one, Katzenberg didn't express any frustration with how "Kung Fu Panda 2" was spun or downplayed in the Fortune interview (maybe he did somewhere else?). I think it's a little armchair psychoanalyzing to assume a frustration he doesn't articulate, and then read that as a motive (or even contributing factor) behind other unrelated comments he makes about general lack of quality in recent movies.

Secondly, I think he has a pretty strong case: 2011 saw filmmakers like Ron Howard give us "The Dilemma" and David Green give us "Your Highness."

Probably closer to Katzenberg's mind was a disaster like "Mars Needs Moms." We've also plenty of big budget event movies that fizzled: "Green Hornet" and "Green Lantern" and "Sucker Punch" (I know you're an articulate defender of that movie).

We also had "Just Go With It" and "The Zookeeper" (movies that didn't even seem like they were trying), and by far the worst installment of a beloved franchise in "Pirates 4." "Prom" and "Arthur" also come to mind.

I'm not quite convinced that because "Transformers 3" was better than its execrable predecessor, and "Thor" was better than "Iron Man 2," it follows that these movies represent high-quality cinema, or that Katzenberg's comments reflect that he believes their predecessors were better movies -- i.e. just because Katzenberg said that the recent crop of movies sucks, it doesn't mean he doesn't also think a lot of movies from 2010 also suck.

I agree that we had a handful of decent (and surprisingly successful) midbudget adult genre movies, but these movies are not the arena where the financial health of the industry will be determined -- THAT playing field does show more worrying signs (including the implosion of the 3D market and the worrying forecasts for the future of superhero movies and the winding down of several lucrative franchises).

If "Thor" and "Transformers 3" and even "Fast Five" are the benchmarks for future success (i.e. not as crappy as their predecessors) in the big tentpole events-movie category, I agree with Kaztenberg that trouble lies ahead...


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