C. Robert Cargill June 15, 2010
Recently Devin Faraci over at CHUD posed an interesting question — one that has been echoed by a number of folks in the press for the last year or so, from Drew McWeeny at Hitfix to Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly: Many have wondered if Hollywood has listened to the fan voices just a little too much. Looking at this summer’s slate of tentpole movies, we see nerd-geared comedy, video game adaptations, science fiction extravaganzas, and a number of comic book adaptations. Devin’s particular argument stems from his frustration that a number of smaller, more intelligent films keep getting swallowed up by competition from dumbed-down geek fare — and wonders if fandom has become fickle, wanting only expensive, geek-driven movies rather than cheaper, smarter alternatives.
Unfortunately, Devin’s complaint misses the forest for the trees. One need only take a gander at the box-office chart for 1982 to get an idea what is going on today. Fresh off hits like Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, geek and nerd movies had hit the mainstream — 1982 is the holy land of movie years, the year when so many incredible films entered the collective consciousness of geekdom. I wrote about this year here, three years ago. In an attempt to capitalize on this mysterious and ignored science fiction/fantasy-loving underclass, Hollywood greenlit an unprecedented amount of geek entertainment. While there were a few successes, most of it failed. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial cleaned up (over time), as did Star Trek II and Poltergeist, but you have to clear the top 15 before you begin seeing a number of films that are considered timeless fan classics now: The Dark Crystal (16), Conan the Barbarian (17), Tron (22), Blade Runner (27), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (29), The Road Warrior (31), Creepshow (37). And what about The Thing, long heralded to be one of the best science fiction movies ever made — if not one of the best remakes ever made? Didn’t even clear the Top 50. It’s number 56 with a paltry $13 million domestic. They were swallowed up by mainstream comedies, buddy action movies, and gripping Academy Award-winning dramas.
If anything, the past few years have shown us why Hollywood has benefited from listening to the geeks. Fifteen of last year’s 20 films were animated or what one would call “geekcentric.” Why? Something studios discovered a bit too late in the ’80s – before the scene became flush with terrible geek entertainment and the market was strangled to death: that dads who love geek entertainment like to bring their kids along with them. And kids love genre movies. Giant robots, spaceships, super-soldiers, monsters, aliens, dragons, superheroes — these are things families love, because everyone can get in on them. By listening to the geeks and making our properties their own, we’ve been afforded the chance to share our joys with the next generation.
As a result kids are playing with Transformers and G.I. Joes, dreaming of being aboard the Starship Enterprise or solving a crime with their assistant Watson, surviving the end of the world, and dressing up like vampires and even werewolves. Likewise, we’ve been able to learn from them by falling in love with their boy wizard Harry Potter or watching them train dragons.
What have we lost? Have we seen a number of our favorite franchises manhandled and done a disservice? Sure we have. Have we watched as studios try to invent geek franchises of their own out of similar-looking properties? Yeah. But it’s no different from what we’ve seen before. I remember the Dune fiasco and how up in arms fanboys got about Richard Donner getting the Superman story wrong or lame attempts like Megaforce or The Sword and the Sorcerer that did more harm to the industry than good. But I also remember that fandom and time got behind a little gem like The Thing, held by IMDb to be the 163rd best movie ever made — the third best in 1982 — sitting at #56 in box-office total 28 years ago. Box office and current public opinion doesn’t make a fan film a fan film. We do. Over time.
This studio geek stuff? It’s a good thing. A good thing I will continue to enjoy. The A-Team and The Karate Kid being released on the same weekend? Thanks, Hollywood! And I mean that with all sincerity.
Categories: No CategoriesTags: Geeks, Hollywood, The thing