It seems that the conservative’s War on Culture remains a quagmire what with movies like the Humpin’ Homo Hombres of the Purple Sage competing with the Narnia saga for our entertainment dollars and short attention spans. Narnia has proven to be successful depite the fact they didn’t flagellate and crucify Aslan in a Mel Gibson-ian orgy of blood and piety and lion chunks, and Brokeback Mountain – The Passion of the Cowboys is starting out strong with a saddlebag full of best picture accolades.
Now we don’t expect that Brokeback will come anywhere near Narnia bucks (particularly since there has been little interest by Burger King or McDonalds with regard to including Jack and Ennis action-figures with every kids meal) but it’s still pretty early in the game.
Of course no discussion of the cinema cultural wars and ticket sales casualties would be complete without discussing the fact that people are staying away in droves because, as Michael Medved explains, Hollywood supported John Kerry:
Itâ€™s not enough, either, to explain audience alienation with cavalier references to â€œmediocre movies.â€ Anyone who reviews films for a living can tell you that most movies have been mediocre for a long timeâ€”several decades, at least. Something changed between 2004 and 2005 to cause a sharp, sudden drop-off at the box office, and an obvious factor that entertainment insiders refuse to consider is their own activism during the 2004 election. The show business establishment embraced Senator John Kerryâ€™s campaign with near unanimity and bashed President Bush with unprecedented ferocity. Despite the best efforts of entertainer activist and their political associates, a majority of American voters cast their ballots for George W. Bush this past November. If only a small minority of those 62 million GOP votersâ€”say, 20 percentâ€”reacted to Hollywoodâ€™s electioneering by staying away from the local multiplex, that alone would account for the decline in ticket sales in the months immediately following the presidentâ€™s re-election.
But what happens when Hollywood releases a values-oriented all-American film? Let’s start with the perky Meghan Barsham, Townhall movie critic (which is a lot like being the restaurant critic at the Pennysaver). As you may remember, Meghan wrote this about Elisabethtown:
Much has been made lately of Hollywoodâ€™s ongoing slump. Theories for it have ranged from the technological (DVDs and high definition television create home theaters that rival big screens) to the qualitative (for the first time, studios are openly considering the idea that bad scripts, bad directing, and bad acting might have something to do with audiences staying away).
While both are valid arguments, screenwriter Craig Titley pointed out on this site that history reveals another culprit: political hubris. Titley suggests that the film industryâ€™s blue state machinations have turned 51 percent (the red-state percent) of the ticket-buying market off by insulting their values and mocking their patriotism.
But the junket I recently attended for Cameron Croweâ€™s Elizabethtown indicates that filmmakers may finally be getting the message that if they want to sell movies to the â€œrightâ€ half of the country, they canâ€™t make America the bad guy. In fact, if the Elizabethtown marketing machine is any indication, Hollywoodâ€™s new movie-selling mantra may very well be, â€œWe love the U.S. of A!â€
During Townhall.comâ€™s interview with the cast and crew, Brit Orlando Bloom returned consistently to the idea that Elizabethtown highlights the best partâ€”the flyover partâ€”of America:
â€œ[This film] is a journey through an America that I think the whole world needs to see right now: the heartland of America. I never understood that phrase before. I never understood southern hospitality until I was thereâ€¦ I mean, Iâ€™d experienced New York and Los Angeles and other big cities around the world, but I hadnâ€™t experienced the heartland of America and I think thatâ€™s whatâ€™s portrayed in this movie.â€
Paula Wagner, Tom Cruiseâ€™s partner in the production company responsible for Elizabethtown, echoed enough of Bloomâ€™s statements to make it clear that love of country now makes for a good promotional strategy.
Said Wagner, â€œ[Elizabethtown] is about this journey through the heartland, and we havenâ€™t seen movies like thatâ€¦I donâ€™t know, I think that people are ready to have a film that gives them some love and embraces them and says letâ€™s talk about what we all have in common as opposed to the differencesâ€¦[This movie] was done with a lot of love and a lot of respect and hopefully it offers something to people who want to go to a movie and laugh and feel embracedâ€¦it kind of transcends the disagreements that have been going on in this country.â€
So, according to Meghan, America is just begging Hollywood to make films that will cause the audience to leap to their feet at the end and chant “USA! USA! USA!” while screenside confetti cannons shower their tear-streaked faces with red, white, and blue.
Well, maybe not so much:
Elisabethtown – $26,801,072 in 62 days of release.
Contrast this with the supposed anti-military Jarhead which pulled in $62,060,895 in 41 days.
And because I find it telling, how about Saw II?
$86,581,421 in 48 days.
Hollywood went to the bank.