The Null Device

Blockbusters are killing Hollywood

Director John Boorman (of Deliverance fame) on how Hollywood studios' insistence on blockbusters is killing them, both by raising the bar to higher and higher budgets and by restricting plots and concepts to the most facile and simplistic ones that won't lose any of the audience.
Is there an inherent flaw in a socio-economic system whereby everything gets bigger and bigger until it collapses under its own weight?

Boorman describes what it would be like to attempt to make Deliverance in today's environment:

Today, I would have received pages of detailed notes from a number of studio executives. I would have been obliged to hone the script down to a simple, direct storyline that is clear and undemanding, and eradicate any eccentricity or quirkiness. When the script satisfied their requirements, the studio would send it out to a star. If the star passed, the studio's response would be to hire a new writer. Further rejections by two or three stars and the project would be dropped. If they found a star who was interested, the title, cast and storyline would then be test-marketed, asking people in the street if they would go to see such a film four men canoeing a river and one gets buggered.
script gurus such as Robert McKee have brainwashed a generation of screenwriters into constructing scenarios along rigid lines: introduction of characters, statement of conflict, development of narrative, division into three acts, carefully placed climaxes, conclusion. This contributes to the sameness of movies and feeds into audience expectations of comfortable patterns, and makes them uneasy if a film diverges from that formula. Little by little movies become more and more similar to each other, with marginal variations. One can imagine them evolving into a form where only an audience inured to them can discern any differences.

There are 6 comments on "Blockbusters are killing Hollywood":

Posted by: Graham Fri Jan 9 13:12:42 2004

Ah yes. And so we have moviegoers raised to the point where they bitch about Return of the King's "long" denouement. It's not really that long, in comparison to the book.

Posted by: mark Fri Jan 9 15:30:19 2004

Well, most action films end with about 5 minutes of "it's all okay, kiss the girl, meet happy families, see the sun rise". RotK was very much like an action film, at least compared to the prev two, and yet its post-climax (insert immature giggle) scenes went on for about 45 minutes, maybe more. Still would've been nice to see the Scouring of the Shire...

Posted by: acb Fri Jan 9 15:47:33 2004

Perhaps when they bring out the DVD, it should come with a menu option for the "dumbass version", which ends in the traditional fashion one scene after Sauron is defeated.

Posted by: John Fri Jan 9 18:34:55 2004

The one thing that ticks me off about the LOTR movies is the lack of a break.

Robert McKee is portrayed in Adaptation.

"Whatever you do, don't go to the deus ex machina!" (or something of the sort)

Posted by: Ed Fri Jan 9 20:47:18 2004

at film college we are taught about the Syd Field Paradigm, the standard structure for linear narratives. it's as simple as this: take a typical 120 minute movie in three acts (30-60-30). big turning points happen five minutes before the end of each act, and there's a weaker mid point (i.e. killing the first baddie). if you know this, you'll see 90% of movies conform to some slight variation of this.

it's the whole 'Seven' is a bastardized Three Little Piggies thing. in moviemaking, it's not about the story, it's all about the way it's told. which is badly, in most cases.

Posted by: Jeff http:// Sat Jan 10 04:55:25 2004

OK, then how do you explain that most hollywood movies nowadays seem to go between 2 1/2-3 hours each? I'm not so young I don't remember when everything short of some fruity art-house bizarro film was exactly 88 minutes long.

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