Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Lengthy Post on Two Movies We Didn't See

Plans had been made, you see. Xavier Dolan’s new movie Laurence Anyways was getting an under-publicized, barely-there theatrical release, appearing on one of the like 17 screens in San Francisco’s Metreon. New to Dolan’s work, but excited by what friends were saying about this movie, I was keen to see it, and thought that the day off on July 4th would be an ideal time for it.

Only to hear on July 3rd that Laurence Anyways would be closing that night. Certainly movies would be opening on July 4th, but didn’t movies usually get at least a full week in even low-profile releases? (ANSWER, IN RETROSPECT: Of course this is not guaranteed.) Is the allocation of a screen to a foreign release like Dolan’s movie just a gesture made for PR reasons? (THE LIKELY ANSWER FROM AMC MANAGEMENT: Feel grateful it played for even five days, lowly patron of the cinematic arts.)

So come the 4th I’m still set on filling the daytime hours with a movie. Checking the listings I find that, back at the Metreon, The Lone Ranger is playing.

On five screens.

I was never predisposed to see The Lone Ranger. I’d had no attachment to the character, and director Gore Verbinski had lost me after the second Pirates movie. I was happy to simply give the movie a miss, but in the run-up to its release it had become very difficult to ignore. Trailers and TV spots seemed to be everywhere, and yet they always seemed to play to indifferent audiences. None of the surges of excitement that you feel when the audience around you is genuinely psyched by the footage they’ve just seen. Indeed, I had to remind myself that the people behind this movie had made other movies, a fact not supported by the trailers themselves.

The movie’s gotten a huge release, as if Disney is going to make us see it and like it. One can only describe the huge media blitz and wide rollout of the movie as a shock and awe campaign. (Poor Laurence didn't stand a chance.) And yet the audience is largely staying away from it, despite its ubiquity. The reviews of The Lone Ranger have been largely negative, though all of the pieces I’ve read have grappled with and credited the movie’s use of genuine locations, non-intrusive uses of CGI, and genuine chemistry between the movie’s leads.

That said, The Lone Ranger is finding some audience members who enjoyed it, and their response to the crummy reviews has been interesting to track. Some are condemning the reviewers for trashing a movie that was only trying to provide fun. Multiple commenters have suggested that “sometimes, I just want to go to a movie and watch things blow up” and I always wonder if these people ever see any other type of movie. These responses (and this defensive post from Lone Ranger editor James Haygood) have, in turn, raised a little dander in the critical community, and the ongoing conversation is well worth a look from anyone interested in the future of mainstream cinema. (New York Times film critic A.O. Scott has let loose some fascinating points on Twitterhe’s well worth following.)

The failure of the movie to attract an audience that'll recoup its CONSIDERABLE costs is noteworthy, and bound to have repercussions beyond Disney's bottom line. The dire prognosis of Spielberg and Lucas may already be coming to pass, and though The Lone Ranger isn't the first 2013 summer movie to not recoup its costs its failure to do so is certainly the most spectacular. So far. If it makes studios think twice about bankrolling such films and ultimately leads to slates of smaller, smarter films being released I won't complain. We can only wait and see.

Despite the length of this commentary, I’m happy to simply let The Lone Ranger go unseen. I’m not going to slam a movie I’ve never seen, though the failure of such a huge and fundamentally Hollywood blockbuster movie, and the events occurring in the wake of that failure, are certainly worth tracking and discussing.

But at the end of the day The Lone Ranger kept me from seeing Laurence Anyways in a theatre, and man, I am NOT going to let that shit slide.

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