In a recent article about the influence of the Internet on current film production, HitFlix site manager and former friend of Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles (actually, one is pretty sure the pair are still pals) Drew McWeeney came up with a clever way of describing the current rash of comment section criticism. Labeling it “fantrums,” the point of the piece was that nervous studios, investing millions in what might be another huge financial flop (read: John Carter), are far too interested in what the fanboy base has to say and less guided by their own creative aesthetic. From the racial reprimands foisted at The Hunger Games to the recent backlash against the comic tone in the trailer for Johnny Depp’s take on Dark Shadows, the social network has indeed been working overtime.
But there is actually more to the current media morass than comic book geeks speaking up over supposed cinematic slights. In fact, the entire industry feels like the final minutes of the memorable sci-fi screed from 1973, Soylent Green. In that film’s fascinating finale, Charleton Heston’s future shock police detective watches his best friend, an aging scholar named Sol, commit voluntary suicide. Heart-broken, but given a mandate to follow-up on the disposal of his body, Robert Thorn makes a startling discovery. It seems the standard issue food supply is not really made out of “high energy plankton.” Instead, after citizens in this less than brave new world pass on, their bodies are reprocessed into the popular product known as ‘Soylent Green’. Yes, it’s government sponsored cannibalism, the lack of resources resulting in such a horrifying solution to the problems of overpopulation and hunger.
Following the allegory to its current connection, Hollywood is the dystopian society of Green, their need to continually ‘feed’ the masses while micromanaging the bottom line requiring a system similar to the one present in the film. Indeed, as old ideas enter the industry to supposedly die off or be positively preserved and remembered, they are actually recycled and remade to provide sustenance for the baby bird like throngs. Instead of finding new means of providing such cinematic nourishment or investing in ideas that may not always lead to something eatable, the powers that be simply regurgitate the same thing over and over again. In fact, the recent box office ballyhoo over the numbers for The Hunger Games has less to do with $155 million and more in reference to a studio finally finding a match for other mainstream YA franchises such as Twilight and Harry Potter.
Yes, film does eat itself and film fans savor the flavor. In fact, if you didn’t know that the enticements down at your local Cineplex weren’t remakes, reimaginings or revisions of already established conceits, you’d gleefully eat it up without questioning the content. You still do. While the Internet can be blamed for fantrums - or perhaps another way to say it is fangasms, pro and con - it is also a wealth of worthwhile information on such subjects. For example, yours truly cringed when he saw the trailer for the recent Adam Sandler stupidity known as Just Go With It. The presence of Jennifer Aniston alone guaranteed an empty seat at the final press screening, but a bit of research online sealed the deal. Any movie that fails to warn you that it’s a farting frat boy take on the classic comedy Cactus Flower deserves to die a hollow, horrid death.
Of course, the suits know that most moviegoers don’t peruse their favorite film site for background information before their settled Saturday night selection. All they want is recognizability and reliability- something Soylent cinema guarantees in gut buckets. For example, the weekend of 2 March saw another CG kids film (The Lorax), a teen comedy masquerading as a found footage pseudo-documentary (Project X) and one weird entry - a surreal spoof of the waking nightmares of David Lynch by Adult Swim aces Tim and Eric. The following weekend, Eddie Murphy returned to his lamented lame under-aged demo (A Thousand Words), the RomCom got some much needed relief from Jennifer Westfeldt (Friends with Kids) and Disney gambled - and apparently lost - on a big budget adaptation of some turn of the century pulp fiction (John Carter).
Looking over the list, there’s a lot of second hand concepts here. Kid vid…RomComs…action heroics. In fact, we could fast forward a couple of months and look at the listings for 1 June. On that date, a post-modern meditation on a classic fairytale (Snow White and the Huntsman) will battle for box office receipts with yet another horror spoof (Piranha 3DD) and a dance challenge drama (Battlefield America)...and that’s just the titles already scheduled. Indeed, as the weeks play out, less and less originality will make its way onto the big screen while more and more cannibalized content arrives. And since Tinseltown knows you don’t care or don’t bother to participate in any considerable cultural dialogue outside your “likes” on Facebook, it will keep killing and carving up the artform for the sake of your disposable income and attention span.
Indeed, like the masses who riot when the food banks run out of the protein rich green variety of Soylent, audiences show their lack of support by applying their technologically advanced version of word of mouth, Tweating their take as the end credits start to roll. Before long, the consensus is built before the first day’s tallies have been added up. Used to be that, after a viewing, fans spent some time discussing and redefining the experience. By the time they reached their house and dialed up a good buddy or family member on the land line, the reaction was tempered by a little something we like to call “perspective.” Today, opinion is predicated on the already established entitlement of instant gratification. In fact, some within the dynamic actually make their determinations while the movie is still playing, lighting up their smartphone while others treat the theater like their living room.
For those of us who cringe at the notion of Soylent cinema (or Mr. McWeeney’s fascinating “fantrums”), the options are awfully limited. We can wait around along the fringes, finding the occasional indie or foreign effort that bucks the post-modern mainstream trends. We can also hang on until the end of the year, parsing out the certified award season swill for the occasional drop into aesthetic art. We can also give up and go back to the days when we too sat around wondering when the next Hugh Jackman effort was coming out…though it doesn’t really matter. Hollywood will continue to station itself next to the trough, picking through the bones of betters (or money makers) to fuel their own feedbag. And as long as you don’t care, you will gladly sup on the slick pink slime they provide. Movies may be guided by the current fanboy fascination will all things insular, but they will be made out of themselves. If Soylent Green was indeed people, then Soylent cinema is…well, it’s sadly self-explanatory.