Billy Gray

Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2008 at 3:23 pm
In a summer where the average American cannot afford a vacation, the movies have provided a climate-controlled alternative. The Dark Knight is the biggest audience phenomenon since Titanic;. it will likely gross upwards of a half billion dollars. Iron Man and the latest Indiana Jones installment have joined the rarefied $300 million club. Few movies that were expected to do well disappointed. However, the market lacks a summer stalwart: the sleeper hit, that elusive, modestly-budgeted, out-of-the-blue smash that owes its success not to Burger King tie-ins, but to word of mouth.

Recent buzzed about independent films like The Wackness, My Winnipeg, Savage Grace and Brick Lane have landed at the box office with a resounding thud; none has taken in over a million dollars. Compare these results to those of summer sleepers past: Napoleon Dynamite ($45 million), Little Miss Sunshine ($60 million), March of the Penguins ($77 million), Fahrenheit 9/11($120 million), The Blair Witch Project ($141 million) and, however inexplicable, My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($251 million).

There are commercial reasons for this summer’s dearth of indie surprises. The film release calendar has grown increasingly schizophrenic; prestige pictures clamor for winter’s awards season buzz (and its attendant box office bump) while shoot ’em ups dominate summer. The recent writer’s strike wreaked more havoc on small films vying for a summer release date than on event movies that had already begun their lengthy post-production schedules. And sadly, several independent distributors including Tartan, Warner Independent Pictures and Picturehouse have either folded entirely or merged with the major studios that funded them. (The indie authenticity of such subsidiary outfits is another debate.)

Another explanation for the lack of event indies is that independent-minded directors now funnel their energy into blockbusters. Just a few years and a few films after bursting onto the scene with quirky fare like Swingers and Memento, Jon Favreau. and Christopher Nolan helmed Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Guillermo del Toro applied the same lush visual imagination to Hellboy 2 that he did to Pan’s Labyrinth, only with a larger budget and ad campaign. Sam Raimi was one of the earliest examples of the current auteur career projection, graduating from the blood-soaked Evil Dead trilogy to the Spiderman series. Raimi’s evolution took nearly twenty years; the younger crop of directors seems to make the leap to the big leagues the moment their debut film takes a prize at Sundance.

Despite the void this trend creates in the low-budget market, a benefit is that long-reviled summer event movies are actually garnering critical praise: Iron Man and Dark Knight both rate above 90% on and the Oscar buzz surrounding Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker is building. Directors like Raimi, Fav and Nolan have kept their artistry intact. They’re still make cult movies, just for much bigger cults. With quality movies playing in the multiplex next door, people may feel less incentive to track down the nearest art house.