Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Grindhouse" Is, Like, Two Movies? No Way!

There was a time when ... [p]eople wrote books and movies. Movies with stories, that made you care about whose ass it was and why it was farting. And I believe that time can come again!
- Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) testifying to Congress in the year 3000 when people had gotten so stupid, an average person in 2006 was a genius by comparison, in Mike Judge's underrated feature film "Idiocracy"

I read something today that made me simultaneously laugh out loud and shake my head at the sad state of the video-game playing, Internet-obsessed, attention-span-challenged American youth.

Harvey Weinstein, head of the Weinstein Company, was lamenting the poor box office opening for his company's film "Grindhouse," the new two-movies-in-one feature directed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. After the film's shockingly low opening weekend tally, Weinstein was left with the task of figuring out how a film that got good reviews, tested well with audiences, came from two directors with strong fan bases, and featured the Holy Grail combination of senseless, bloody violence and scantily-clad and nude women, managed to gross a relatively paltry $11.6 million its opening weekend, landing it in fourth place. Box Office Figures

For those of you that have lived in a cave the last couple of weeks and haven't watched a television talk show, picked up an entertainment-related magazine (as if taking direction from Weinstein's marketing department, Entertainment Weekly featured a cover with a provocatively-posed, skin-bearing photo of Rose McGowan and Rosario Dawson sitting on a car with Kurt Russell), or read something on the Internet (which we know isn't true, because you're reading this), "Grindhouse" is a movie that contains two full-length feature films, one directed by Tarantino and one directed by Rodriguez, that are filmed in the style of the tawdry, low-budget productions that filled the "grind-house" theaters in the 1970's. In-between the two features are fake trailers for other make-believe grind-house movies directed by guest directors like Eli Roth.

So, for the price of one movie ticket, you get two full feature films. Or, put another way, you get twice as many movies you normally get for your money. Putting aside the genre and quality of the films, on its face, getting a two-for-one deal is a good thing. Only, somehow, that message failed to get across to the demographic the film was aimed at.

Weinstein said in a New York Post Page Six item, "I don't think people understood what we were doing. The audience didn't get the idea that it is two movies for the price of one."

To which I reply... How? We live in an information-saturated society. Caryn James wrote an article in the New York Times yesterday about how, thanks to the Web and gossip magazines, the existence of a total recluse celebrity in the mold of Howard Hughes or Stanley Kubrick is no longer really possible. Information is everywhere. When you are looking to go to a movie for the weekend, how hard is it to click on one of 14 billion websites to see what the new movies are about?

And yet, apparently, some people were going to "Grindhouse" and then leaving as the credits rolled at the end of the first feature, before the second feature (or the fake trailers) ran, seemingly unaware that there was more than an hour and a half more to go. IMDB Article

Personally, I do not like violent films, and while I have no objection to nudity, I am well past the point in my life where I will go to a film because there are naked women in it. (As an aside, Chris Nashawaty wrote an excellent piece in Entertainment Weekly about his experience as a teenager watching the teen sex movies of the 1980's, and how much harder it was for a teenager to find nudity back then.) So, I had no interest in seeing "Grindhouse." But, this movie was the exact kind of film the younger demographic likes to see, with plenty of pretty girls, blood and things blowing up. That fact makes it hard to dismiss Weinstein's explanation as just bitter, Monday-morning quarterbacking.

In fact, the mogul is putting his corporate money where his mouth is. He is considering dividing up the two features into individual movies and re-releasing them separately. Think about that for a minute. He is going to break the films up, so that people will get half as much for their money, on the (very plausible) assumption that people will be more likely to go. Or, put another way, kids seemingly affirmatively want to pay the same to get less. Why? Because they were too lazy/dense/busy playing World of Warcraft to figure out that "Grindhouse" was two movies. To borrow a saw from an earlier generation, it scares me that these are the people who will be running the country in 20 years. Or, at least, what is left of it.

In the Post piece, Weinstein didn't pretend it made sense. He said, "I don't understand the math, but I want to accommodate the audience." Of course he does. His company made a significant investment, and the finished product met or exceeded expectations, so he has every right to try and recoup his investment. But, really? This is what it has come to? It is not enough that the studios have dumbed down movies and glorified violence in them to appeal to the youth demographic (we live in a post-"Saw" world), but now, are you telling me the studios have to dumb down how the movies are presented, too? Like the youth audience is a two-year-old, and the studio is the mother cutting up their steak for them?

When I see that a segment of the society is so checked out that a company had to do something against the segment's interests to get them to buy its product, I get scared. The implications for the political world, when a disinterested electorate allowed itself to be fooled in 2004, opening the way to a foreign policy debacle, are staggering.

It makes me think that Mike Judge's satiric future in "Idiocracy," with citizens gorging themselves on their easy chairs while watching television shows consisting entirely of people getting kicked in the groin, is more real than any of us would want to admit. In Judge's year 3000, people can barely speak, leaving a prosecutor to say things like, "'Kay. Number one your honor, just look at him. And B, we've got all this, like, evidence, of how, like, this guy didn't even pay at the hospital. And I heard that he doesn't even have his tattoo. ... And I'm all, 'you've gotta be shittin' me!' But check this out man, judge should be like, 'guilty!' Peace." Really, how far off is that from what you see on an MTV dating show like "Parental Control" or "Next"?

It seems to me that we have moved a step further down the mountain when kids can't even figure out what a movie made for them is about. I guess the Weinsteins figure next time, they can advertise on the all-new, all-kicks-to-the-groin show, coming soon to a television set near you.