×

Are Tentpoles Too Much of a Good Thing?

Hard times and pricey tix are turning auds off

It’s summer tentpole season, and this summer has been a veritable groaning table for visual effects fans like me.

I’m an oddity: I see all the big visual-effects pictures. Since I cover the beat, I pretty much have to. Generally I like those tentpoles. Lately, though, they have me worried.

There are more of these movies than there used to be, and they look and sound better than ever, but I’ve come to think that they can’t possibly be made with the intention that anybody would actually see all of them. Because the more I see, the less I want to go to the movies.

And I don’t think it’s just me. Movie bizzers have long felt successful movies help the whole business, that if people have a good time at the multiplex they’re more likely to go again. I have this gnawing suspicion that tentpoles, the majors’ flagship movies, have stopped being the best advertisement for movies.In fact, they may be having the opposite effect.

I’m not saying studio tentpoles are bad. There are good ones and bad ones, and different pics for different tastes. Technically, even the worst of them is superb. Sound is more powerful and precise than ever. With digital intermediate, every frame is incredibly polished. CG visual effects are so sophisticated and pervasive that pictures like “The Avengers” are almost a different art form from their forbears like “Ben Hur,” “Spartacus,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” or even early Bond pictures.

Sometimes these pictures let us re-experience the guileless joy of a kid with a new comicbook. Sometimes they prick our intellects by using “kid stuff” forms like superheroes to explore sophisticated themes, as Bryan Singer did with “X-Men” and Christopher Nolan with “Batman.”

But today’s tentpoles are to movies what Thanksgiving is to dinner — nice for a special occasion, but not something you’d want to have every week. Unfortunately, “every week” is about how often they open for several months a year, starting in May. My colleague Peter Debruge puts it another way. He observes that with so many entertainment options available, tentpoles are designed to overdeliver — to be bigger, louder, longer and longer — just to get people into the multiplex and leave them feeling they got their money’s worth. The resulting movies are as rich and heavy as a super-sized meal at McDonald’s.

You might be thinking I’m the problem, that these movies aren’t aimed at me, that I’m old and that I see too many of them. But in some ways, I’m the perfect tentpole audience. I’m a genre movie geek. I grew up on comic books and Famous Monsters of Filmland, then on the Steven Spielberg-George Lucas generation of summer blockbusters. I’m not spending my spare time playing video games or extreme sports. When I want a dose of adrenaline, movie theaters are my first stop.

And as for the idea I see too many of them, well, shouldn’t the movie business want people to see a lot of tentpoles? That’s the problem. For these movies to succeed — for the industry to succeed — millions of people have to see several of these movies every summer. But the tentpole experience doesn’t encourage that.

Is it a surprise, then, that an alarming number of tentpoles are underperforming? I sense a growing dread in Hollywood that America’s moviegoing culture is withering. There’s reason for that worry. Admissions in the U.S. and Canada have been basically flat since 2005 even as the population is growing, so per capita admissions are trending down.

Box office grosses are holding, more or less, thanks to upcharges for 3D and Imax on spectacle films. But those upcharges make moviegoing expensive, so people don’t go to the movies as often. Which in turn fuels the drive to make more ginormous spectacles that auds will feel are worth the expense. It’s a vicious circle.

I suspect the combination of overstuffed spectacles, hard times and pricey tickets is turning tentpoles into a zero-sum game, where it’s impossible for all tentpoles to succeed and the success of one hurts others more than it helps. I’d sure love to be wrong, cause I really do love these movies. But too often now I emerge into the lobby not wanting to see another movie again for a while, even if I liked the picture I just saw. That worries me. It should worry Hollywood more.

Bits & Bytes: A trio of vfx artists, Shant Jordan, Shahen Jordan, and Ken Gust have launched a new boutique shingle, Synaptic VFX. Burbank-ased facility will offer vfx design, production, 3D conversion and digital intermediate for features and commercials. Rebecca Ramsey is also on board at Synaptic as executive producer. Company’s website is http://www.synapticvfx.com. … DFT Digital Film Technology has promoted Pietro Troilo to software product manager. He will be based out of the company’s offices in Weiterstadt, Germany. Motion graphics studio Fish Eggs has hired TJ Welch as executive producer and Andrew Marshall as senior designer. Welch’s TV credits include SyFy’s “Ghost Hunters” and MTV’s “Randy Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crew.” Marshall joins Fish Eggs from Aerodrome Pictures, where he did title design for “American Idol,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “America’s Got Talent” and “TMZ.”

TV facility management software maker Xytech has upped Greg Dolan to chief operating officer. Dolan had been executive VP. DigiKore of Pune, India, is moving into 3D conversion of studio library titles. Company’s senior producer, Abhisek More, said they are negotiating with Sony and Fox for library title conversion deals and hope to announce NBC Universal has settled on MTI Film’s Control Dailies Enterprise and Cortex::Control Dailies for processing digital camera dailies. NBC U has also purchased more seats of MTI Film’s Correct DRS, increasing its digital film restoration capacity.

Answering strong demand for color grading at Narduzzo Too at Pinewood Studios, Narduzzo Too has teamed with Goldcrest Post of London. Goldcrest has adopted Light Illusion’s LightSpace CMS for color management and calibration. It’s the same system already in use at Narduzzo Too, Pinewood and at Goldcrest Post’s Gotham facility. SMPTE has extended its call for proposals for technical papers for the 2012 SMPTE Technical Conference & Exhibition. Abstracts must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time Friday, July 13. The conference is to be held in Hollywood Oct. 22-25. … Creatasphere will present its Post-Production Master Class at the New Yorker Hotel in Gotham on Sept. 27. … Rising Sun Pictures of Australia will offer a 10-week intensive vfx training course at Flinders U. in South Australia, beginning in August. … Qube Cinema has released version 3.0 of its d-cinema server software. … Vancouver visual effects studio Image Engine has installed a Christie 4K projector for its new screening room. It’s the first such installation in a Vancouver vfx facility. … Golden Village Multiplex in Singapore has installed Barco digital projectors at all locations. … ABC reality/competition show “The Glass House” is using Panasonic AW-HE120 HD remote cameras throughout the set. … ABC News VideoSource has expanded and updated its online video library, including tens of thousands of video assets from the ABC News library. Stock footage provider Footage Search has made an array of its underwater, wildlife and adventure footage available for screening and download through search platform Footage.net. MLB Network has purchased a Grass Valley Kayenne Video Production Center switcher for “MLB Tonight.” … New Delhi Television (HDTV) has switched to HD file-based workflows, using Grass Valley K2 Summit Transmission Servers. … Want to comment or suggest a column topic? Email david.cohen@variety.com

More Film

  • 'The Lion King' Ruling Box Office

    'The Lion King' Ruling Box Office With Dazzling Debut at $180 Million

    Disney’s “The Lion King” has jolted the North American box office back to life with an opening weekend in the $180 million range, estimates showed Saturday. “The Lion King” will record the second-best opening of 2019 — and could replace “Incredibles 2,” which launched last year with $182.7 million, as the ninth biggest North American [...]

  • 'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in

    'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in Hospital After Stabbing

    Hugely popular Hong Kong actor, Simon Yam was stabbed while on stage Saturday at a presentation in Zhongshan, Guangdong province in southern China. He is in hospital recovering. The incident happened at the opening of a branch of the Beijing Easyhome building materials company, where Yam was a guest. A man was seen rushing on [...]

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolosnaro attends the

    Bolsonaro Threatens Brazil’s Central Film Fund with Censorship or Closure

    In typical shoot-from-the-hip remarks, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has declared that Ancine, Brazil’s powerful state-backed federal film agency, should accept “filters”or face closure. “If it can’t have a filter, we’ll close Ancine, or privatize it,” Bolsonaro added, attacking Ancine, which plows some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film and TV industries, for supporting [...]

  • TSOM-MASK

    Director Sara Gouveia on ‘Looking At Resilience Through Art’

    DURBAN–The Mapiko dance of Mozambique’s indigenous Makonde people was long used as a tool for social commentary. But during the colonial era it became an act of political resistance, prompting the Portuguese to stamp it out during Mozambique’s 10-year war for independence. Decades later, the art has been revived as a celebration of freedom. For [...]

  • Don Edkins

    Documentary Filmmaker Don Edkins on ‘Creating an African Voice’ 

    DURBAN–For the 10th Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, a new strand was created to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing documentary filmmakers in Africa. The two-day program, Durban Does Docs, offers a series of conversations, seminars and workshops with an intensive focus on the aesthetics, funding, distribution [...]

  • A Faithful Man

    Film Review: 'A Faithful Man'

    French actor Louis Garrel has been married twice, first to Iranian talent Golshifteh Farahani, and now to model-cum-actress Laetitia Casta. He has also directed two features, the first a free-wheeling love-triangle comedy called “Two Friends” in which Garrel plays the cad who comes between his best friend and the object of his obsession (played by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content