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SUMMER MOVIE EXTRAVAGANZA

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A season we secretly love, though publicly hate, has nearly left us. This season is not necessarily weather related, but the heat characteristically can often bend our minds enough that we are often lured easily into a cavernous, cool interior -- a tempting refuge. You’ve read the title of this piece, so I won’t continue with this poetic introduction destined for a literary train wreck. I’m not talking about summer itself, but the summer movie season. But, just as these first two sentences set up the point of a paragraph for which we can already know its outcome, the same can be said finely crafted previews we witness while emptying the first bucket of popcorn. (The previews, which are nearly as produced as the movie itself, and are sometimes great substitute for willfully paying to see it.)

Visual effects, dramatic, though digestible storylines, an optimistic, heroic element, and a cathartic resolution characterize what is known as the BLOCKBUSTER. The formula has become so focused that it has become a genre in its own right, with a significant purpose: to ensure big money for movie studios that produce them.

The summer blockbuster phenomenon began in 1975, with the Universal Pictures release of Jaws, directed by a young Steven Spielberg. What is significant is that this movie was the first to gross $100 million though it was made by a freshman director and featured a no-star cast. In comparison to the film’s relatively low budget, nobody would have expected the enormous return on the studio's investment. The movie was successful largely in part to the effectiveness of its huge marketing campaign. The horror of the plot made it extremely easy to hype, dramaticizing both the frenzy onscreen and the public shame of not having seen the movie event of that summer.

The desire to repeat this success has helped this one-time phenomenon become a reoccurring event. To sell it to as many people as possible, the content relies on classic stories of good against evil, which is considered to be understood (and desired) by almost everyone. Another fascinating aspect - the marketing departments have tapped in to the public desire to participate in the "greatness" of the shattering box office records. People want to be a part of the largest grossing movie of all time, but also want to be satisfied by feeling they have also received value entertainment. Studios, hoping on satisfying at least one of these aspects, have shifted marketing to accentuate opening day participation. That way, studios can gain the most amount of viewings before the public can realize the bait and switch: a the successful marketing of a very bad movie.

Whether the judgment is good or bad, these blockbuster hopefuls happen within our culture and are influenced by the climate of the public sphere. Just as people are focused on the drama that happens onscreen, people are equally, if not more compelled, by the drama that happens around a movie. Movies that become box office disasters are not forgotten. In fact, their new depth of failure in spite of a large budget, an exotic location, great visual effects, and a star packed cast, help ensure their memory over modestly successful movies of the same type, just by being worse. Though they may regret being one of the few that watched it, people love the idea of a significant failure. For example, how many of us have actually seen all, if any, of Ishtar? Hardly any of us, but many are aware of the significance of its failure to succeed, being one of the biggest turkeys of all time.

Along with our normal fare, we at Big, RED, and Shiny are offering you ISSUE #10 -- SUMMER MOVIE EXTRAVAGANZA, where we will examine the realtionship of some of the most hyped movies of the past season to the public psyche and how they extend beyond the snack counter.

 

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