As the battered residents of New York and New Jersey clean up from Hurricane Sandy, the rest of us await the onslaught of the more benign fury of the holiday season. In this calm before the storm, Hollywood is fretting over whether any of us will seek to entertain ourselves with their offerings in the movie theaters.
Will we pay $10.50 and up plus the equivalent of caviar prices for popcorn to see LINCOLN and LES MISERABLES, THE HOBBIT and the last installment of TWILIGHT, or will we stay home and stream slightly older movies on our computers and satellite feeds? This is the time of year when the Oscar buzz begins in earnest and studio profits and losses are counted up. Somehow the looming Mayan apocalypse (December 21, 2012, in case you forgot) pales in comparison to the thought that Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI could sink and take an entire industry with it.
Like publishing, the film industry is suffering a crisis of identity right now the likes of which it hasn’t seen since the 1950’s, when a television in every home meant bi-weekly trips to the movie theaters became a thing of the past. The question is whether digital and Imax and Dolby sound and 3D can keep people coming into the theaters when they have so many—and much cheaper—viewing options at home. The film industry execs are fighting back—I love the theater ad that shrinks the big screen picture to a tiny computer screen, then blows it up, with a title that says no story “deserves to be reduced to this”—but even they suspect it’s a losing battle. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Disney has bought Netflix sometime in the not-so-distant future.
Science fiction/fantasy films demand big effects—monsters and moonscapes, starships and space battles, aliens and alternate realities can’t be made real without them. The big screen and all the new sight and sound technologies are a huge plus for such films. Audiences will always be drawn to theaters to see an AVATAR or a STAR TREK, an AVENGERS or IRON MAN or MAN OF STEEL. This holiday season will be a bit short of such blockbusters, though, Hollywood having apparently decided that the summer is more appropriate for “that kind” of film.
We do have the final installment in the TWILIGHT series, BREAKING DAWN, PART 2, in theaters now. Don’t know about you, but I don’t consider this series science fiction/fantasy or SFR. Paranormal romance and in particular, YA romance, yes, but SFR, no. So for purposes of this discussion, let’s leave the human-vampire-werewolf triangle aside, as hugely popular as it may be.
Only one film slated for this holiday season, Peter Jackson’s long-awaited prequel to the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, THE HOBBIT, AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, truly promises to bring in the SF/F audience. If Jackson and his co-writers (Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) can recreate the magic they wove with the LOTR films, this first in three hobbit films is bound to be another instant classic. (Of course, this one is missing the talents of Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn, but you can’t have everything.)
Now, if you’ve been following the story of the making of this film, you know that is a great big IF. The film has had more than one director. Guillermo del Toro, a genius with special effects, but a notoriously difficult creative type, dropped out as director and Jackson took over early enough in the production that he is now listed as director, when he swore he would not do the film. There were delays and casting issues early on. Some critics thought the film would never be made.
But LOTR fans are a dedicated lot. (Some of us have been around for a LONG, LONG time.) Pressure was applied and Jackson submitted. Much of the original cast signed on (Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee). The film is almost here at last. THE HOBBIT opens December 14 around the country.
I’m not the only one who recognizes the bonds between audience members out there. In a “marketing by association” kind of moment, THE HOBBIT filmgoers will be treated to a nine-minute preview of the new STAR TREK 2 movie, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, due out May 17, 2013. And the new year promises a whole new galaxy of intriguing science fiction, fantasy and, we hope, SFR films coming to screens everywhere.
That is, if we all survive the Mayan apocalypse.