Monday, March 31, 2008

Frog with no legs is deaf

On July 8, 2007, License to Wed, a critical failure, opened at the US box office, and ended up taking in $10,422,258 for its opening weekend. It finished the year 50th on the list of the top-grossing movies of 2007.

There were also five Iraq-war related movies released in 2007. Each of which started with its fundamental premise a belief the George Bush is evil, the United States shouldn't be in Iraq, the US is wrong, the military is evil - standard left-wing, blame America first sensibilities. The people involved in these movies are some of the biggest box office draws in the world. Robert Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep headlined Lions for Lambs. Brian De Palma directed Redacted. Rendition starred Reese Witherspoon and Grace is Gone starred John Cusack. Tommy Lee Jones was the star of In The Valley of Elah.

Despite the starpower, and critical acclaim vastly exceeding License to Wed, not one of those movies finished ahead of it on the list. In fact, those five films combined opening weekend box office results were $10,935,511. That's right, the combined draw of those five critically acclaimed, high-powered films was slightly less than 5% higher than License to Wed.

So, what came out of Hollywood last weekend? You got it - another "the army is wrong" film, Stop-Loss. Anyone want to guess how well it did? Maybe this headline will contain a hint: Stop-Loss DOA.

The great thing about that piece is the quote from the "studio source" explaining why all of these movies are failing:
"It's not looking good - no one wants to see Iraq war movies. No matter what we put out there in terms of great cast or trailers, people were completely turned off. It's a function of the marketplace not being ready to address this conflict in a dramatic way because the war itself is something that's unresolved yet. It's a shame because it's a good movie that's just ahead of its time."

There are really two different things in that statement that need to be addressed.

First is the obvious business issue - if the studio knows before it releases it that there is no audience for the film, why the hell are they making and releasing it? Assume, for the moment, that the source is exactly right about why there is no audience, the fact is, they're saying up front that there is no audience. They are spending money making, promoting and releasing a movie that they already know no one wants to see. Does Paramount actually have share-holders? Is anyone responsible to them?

The second point, however, is going to challenge one of the assumptions from the first point. The source is assuming that people just aren't ready for Iraq-themed movies. I'm not aware that there's any evidence to support that point of view. If you want to say that the American public is not ready for movies pointing out how venal and ugly the US actions in Iraq are, that it's not ready for movies about how evil the US Army is, well, I suppose that's true. But this studio source is acting like the scientist in the old joke*, who carefully measures how far a frog can jump with four, three, two, one and no legs, and concludes that a frog with no legs is deaf. You can't keep making anti-American movies and assume that American audiences aren't going because they're about the war in Iraq.

Well, I guess you can, if you're a Hollywood studio executive, but there's a serious flaw in the logic behind the statement. If there was a movie about the war in Iraq in which the US Army was a force for good and not evil, the results may well be different.







* - A scientist puts a frog on the floor and says, "Jump, frog, jump!" And then he writes in his notebook, "frog with four legs can jump 20 feet."

He then cuts off one of the frog's front legs, puts the frog on the floor and says, "Jump, frog, jump!" And then he writes in his notebook, "frog with three legs can jump 15 feet."

He then cuts off the frog's other front leg, puts the frog on the floor and says, "Jump, frog, jump!" And then he writes in his notebook, "frog with two legs can jump 10 feet."

He then cuts off the frog's other rear leg, puts the frog on the floor and says, "Jump, frog, jump!" And then he writes in his notebook, "frog with one leg can jump 5 feet."

He then cuts off one of the frog's front legs, puts the frog on the floor and says, "Jump, frog, jump! Jump, frog, jump!" And then he writes in his notebook, "frog with no legs is deaf."

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