Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Six point nine billion dollars is the amount of money that AIG has “managed” to pay back to its debtor, the US government, but more importantly it is the same amount of money that the Harry Potter film franchise has banked over its eight-film legacy to this point. That number does not include merchandise, book sales, or video game sales, the latter of which has already contributed an extra $1 billion to the already staggering cash pile. That pathetic Lord of the Rings trilogy only managed to gross $1.8 billion from its films. Losers.
With J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter dynasty breathing its final cinematic breath this summer in the form of Deathly Hallows: Part 2, a giant burden will be summarily lifted from the shoulders of those who fear the terrifying, Voldemort-like menace of Potter evangelism to make a disparaging remark about Daniel Radcliffe’s acting skills. Take a look at this fascinating (disturbing) Rotten Tomatoes comments section where a poor Canadian critic’s honest review of DHP2 gets the royal treatment from a gang of throne-defending Potterites.
User Drew R. sums up the flurry of hatred, commenting that the critic’s “opinion is wrong,” (emphasis mine) admitting on behalf of his fellow commenters to not understanding the nature of opinion, and thus not being a real American.
David Thompson, a writer for Harper’s Magazine, recently noted in an essay entitled “When is a Movie Great?”, that movie openings no longer draw the same mystique as “the summer of 1975, when teenagers came off the beach, went into the dark, and saw versions of themselves in Jaws,” the perennial summer movie blockbuster. Gone is the thrill of the 90-minute theatrical escape from underpaid summer jobs at the A&P and All in the Family reruns, which is what I imagine the 1970s to have been like without drugs and Zeppelin.
These days we get fresh content, on-demand from online distribution sites, torrents, and other bootlegger websites that offer pirated material for our “open-source” perusal. If we go to the movies during the summer we want a reliably show-offy flick with as few challenges as our sun-melted brains will allow, because the Internet gives us all the story-driven serial dramas we can handle.
That’s where Harry Potter comes in: the marketing campaign behind the Harry Potter movies has relied heavily on its fanbase already knowing exactly what happens during the film. The only unknown is which elements from the book will be removed. Where’s the intrigue?
The last successful blockbuster that used intrigue in its marketing campaign was 2008’s Cloverfield ($170 million opening weekend gross), which preyed on the post-9/11 disaster fetish which continues to plague American film and television like Godzilla exploited the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in 1950s Japan. The most recent mystery-driven film marketing was JJ Abram’s and Steven Spielberg’s Super 8, whose weekend gross totaled a full $47 million less than Deathly Hallows: Part 2 at a measly $760,000.
The mounting success of the Harry Potter regime has been its cross-generational appeal, bringing not only little kids and their dragged-along parents, but droves of teenagers and 20-somethings who have followed the diet-fantasy series since its 1997 inception. Striking the balance between terrifying fandom and modest appreciation has been its golden ticket, giving its viewers and readers enough plot movement to distract from any overly complex lore that weighed down sci-fi giants like Dune or Lord of the Rings, which both had trouble getting the female demographic in theaters (the former’s film adaptation having trouble getting anyone in theaters, actually).
With Harry Potter monopolizing the cinema as usual, what alternatives do non-Potterist moviegoers have this summer in terms of light-hearted blockbusters?
Thor: Here’s an example of the perfect 21st century summer blockbuster: a good-looking no-name actor along with Hollywood’s current designated hitter Natalie Portman (OK, and the venerable Anthony Hopkins) for the masses, big time hype, comic book-based storyline to get the nerds out of their caves, and the requisite CGI show.
Captain America: The First Avenger: As its title suggests, this is only the first of possibly many Avengers movies to come from Jumanji director Joe Johnston and his newfound star Chris Evans, who was profiled in the New York Times recently for his anxiety surrounding the huge, seven-year contract he signed with Johnston. This movie made more than Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in its opening weekend gross, but it will be hard to see it come close to toppling Potter in overall box office revenue.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Not sure what to say about this that would make someone who might not see it go see it, or vice versa. Ditto on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and Transformers: The Dark of the Moon. These are all titles that require zero reviews, and to review them voluntarily with any sort of objective viewpoint is to throw oneself to the wolves.
The Hangover Part II: The increasingly oversold Zach Galifianakis and his crew of likable dipshits go Sex and the City 2 style and exploit the most disagreeable corners of a supremely un-American city (in this case it’s Bangkok instead of Abu Dhabi), making sure to do as little as possible to live up to the overrated original while retaining scraps of Judd Apatow’s know-it-all brand of comedy.
30 Minutes or Less: Jesse Eisenberg stars alongside Eastbound and Down’s Danny McBride and comic Aziz Ansari with a plot that was thought up in under 30 minutes inside a Denny’s fine dining establishment somewhere in Los Angeles. Eisenberg and Ansari have to rob a bank because McBride strapped a time bomb to Eisenberg’s body, and then the comic actors plug the holes with hilarious one-liners and moments of decent physical humor.
Cars 2: This is Disney/Pixar’s pathetic attempt at pushing their brand into “Middle America,” but if I were a “Middle American” I would take offense to how poorly executed this olive branch turned out to be. It’s one of those, “for what it is, it’s good enough” type films where seeing it won’t make you puke, but it might make you regret shelling out the cash for it.
The Smurfs: Coinciding with Summer Week here at BTR is Smurf Week in New York City, which is shamelessly hyping the “new” kids movie that recalls the old Smurfs TV series.
The summer should be a time of relative relaxation, and every year the film industry capitalizes on this mentality by releasing three months of films that reflect our expectation of reprieve. So get out there, sit down in a fat-ass theater seat with a magnum-sized soda, a $6.00 box of candy, and have yourself a merry summer movie blockbuster experience.
Written By: Jakob Schnaidt