Hollywood is funny. Not ha-ha funny, but, as my late grandfather would say, peculiar funny. As in not-enough-sense-to-come-in-from-the-rain funny. As in put-the-TV-in-the-bathtub-with-me-to-see-if-it-floats funny.
As in not-able-to-tell-its-asshole-from-a-hole-in-the-ground funny. You know ... funny.
The movie execs are wringing their hands over a long streak of disappointing box office figures, and there is some trepidation whether the typically blockbuster summer months will be all that blockbuster. With the notable exception of Revenge of the Sith, Hollywood's sure things are proving to be duds, a surge of mediocrity that, according to Reuters, apparently kicked off with the summer release a few weeks ago of Kingdom of Heaven. It was the weakest movie to launch the summer in the eight years since Hollywood moved the season earlier to the start of May.
Now the studios are beginning to freak out. The New York Times' Sharon Waxman reported recently that Kingdom of Heaven's meager business was par (or below par) for the course with steadily dwindling attendance figures in movie theaters. The Memorial Day weekend marked the 14th straight weekend of decreasing box-office receipts.
"The decline has provoked speculation that a rising DVD market and the advent of more elaborate home entertainment centers, along with the shrinking window of time between a theatrical release and the appearance of the DVD, is causing moviegoers to stay home and wait for discs," Waxman wrote.
"Still, some of Hollywood's most seasoned executives insist that this year's problem is a simpler one: The movies have not been good enough. Usually, they said, a sleeper hit comes along in late winter or early spring to wake up the box office, like last year's Mean Girls or Starsky & Hutch -- or the crucifixion blockbuster The Passion of the Christ."
But some industry observers suspect there is something larger at work besides crappy pictures. The New York Times' Laura Holson notes that this marks the third straight year of a box-office slide:
"Studios have made more on DVD sales and licensing products than on theatrical releases for some time. Now, technologies like TiVo and video-on-demand are keeping even more people at home, as are advanced home entertainment centers, with their high-definition television images on large flat screens and multichannel sound systems."
The statistics are impressive, according to the Times. DVD sales have jumped more than 676 percent since 2000, with more than 60 percent of all U.S. homes now boasting a DVD player. And Hollywood is feeding that beast, too, with four months the average period of time between a movie's theatrical release and its release on DVD and video.
And that ain't all, adds the Times:
"Time spent on the Internet has soared 76.6 percent and video game playing has increased 20.3 percent ... Last year, consumers bought $6.2 billion worth of video game software, an increase of 8 percent from 2003, according to the NPD Group, which tracks video game sales.
"This does not mean that the $9.5 billion theatrical movie business is anywhere near its last gasp. It still plays a crucial role for the studios in generating excitement. But movie makers recognize they have to be more on their toes if they want to recapture their core audience. "
The record industry has wasted a lot of time and resources over the past few years blaming sagging CD revenues on Napster and its file-sharing copycats, rarely stopping to consider that perhaps poor sales were linked to poor product. Just as the Recording Industry Association of America seemed unable to examine the situation outside of its own hubris, now the movie industry appears headed the same direction.
The explosion of entertainment media -- DVDs, the Internet, cable and satellite TV, video games, etc. -- means simply that consumers have more choices and therefore can be more discriminating. No longer will cynical revenue producers alone do the job of filling seats at the cineplex, but a good movie will always find an audience. Only a decade ago, the major movie studios woke up to the enormous promise and implications of indie films. Do these idiots have narcolepsy? Already they've gone back to sleep.