What’s killing Hol­ly­wood?

The Phnom Penh Post - - OPINION - Sonny Bunch

ON MON­DAY, Unicef stated that some 200,000 chil­dren housed in the Ro­hingya camps in Cox’s Bazar are at se­ri­ous health risk as the camp pop­u­la­tion has crossed 370,000. Housed in makeshift struc­tures, these chil­dren have ar­rived hav­ing sur­vived an or­deal that has left them hun­gry and weak and in need of im­me­di­ate re­lief. Their needs go be­yond sim­ple nutri­tion as thou­sands of chil­dren have suf­fered the trauma of hav­ing lived through con­flict, many be­ing sep­a­rated from par­ents or hav­ing wit­nessed bru­tal deaths of fam­ily mem­bers and close ones.

While the pol­i­tics of recog­nis­ing or con­demn­ing Myan­mar’s treat­ment of this mi­nor­ity group rages on in­ter­na­tion­ally, this large and vul­ner­a­ble group is in need of safe drink­ing wa­ter and ba­sic san­i­ta­tion which Bangladeshi au­thor­i­ties work­ing in co­op­er­a­tion with var­i­ous UN agen­cies are strug­gling to meet. UNHCR has started to air­lift emer­gency re­lief ma­te­ri­als for the Ro­hingya refugees but these sup­plies will pro­vide aid to meet the needs of only 25,000 refugees. Plans are be­ing un­der­taken to in­crease emer­gency aid to about 120,000 refugees in to­tal, which ba­si­cally means the vast ma­jor­ity of refugees will not be cov­ered.

The in­flux of peo­ple from Myan­mar shows no signs of let­ting up and the Bangladesh gov­ern­ment, de­spite its best ef­forts, is over­whelmed and over­stretched both in terms of re­sources and man­power to han­dle this hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter. It is time for con­sol­i­dated ac­tion of all na­tional and in­ter­na­tional agen­cies to stave off se­ri­ous health is­sues that now ex­ist in the camps. This re­quires in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments by the global com­mu­nity, for the sake of hu­man­ity, to de­ter a dis­as­trous health epi­demic that threat­ens refugees, par­tic­u­larly chil­dren, who are stranded on Bangladeshi soil.

IWAS sur­prised to learn last week that the most pow­er­ful peo­ple in Hol­ly­wood were not named We­in­stein, do not have the power to green­light films, and don’t have Brad Pitt on speed dial. They’re not rich and fa­mous; they don’t throw bashes at Cannes or host cock­tail par­ties dur­ing Os­car sea­son.

No, the new Hol­ly­wood power­bro­kers are a far sim­pler sort – you’ve prob­a­bly never heard of most of them. They’re lit­tle more than data points, truth be told.

That’s right: the crit­ics who make up Rot­ten Toma­toes are the big­gest, bad­dest vil­lains Hol­ly­wood has cooked up since Darth Vader (and I’m one of them). And just like Alder­aan be­fore it, La La Land may soon be so much space dust.

At least, that’s what the ex­ec­u­tives who talked to the New York Times’ Brooks Barnes would have you be­lieve. Sure, some of the movies were bad, a few ex­ecs were will­ing to ad­mit. “But most stu­dio fin­gers point to­ward Rot­ten Toma­toes, which boils down hun­dreds of re­views to give films “fresh” or “rot­ten” scores on its “To­matome­ter”, Barnes re­ported.

Brett Rat­ner said at a fes­ti­val last year that the re­view-ag­gre­gat­ing site would be “the de­struc­tion of our busi­ness”, and the biz’s bright­est lights seem to agree with the di­rec­tor of Rush Hour 3 and pro­ducer of Santa’s Slay.

“Mr. Rat­ner’s sen­ti­ment was echoed al­most daily in stu­dio din­ing rooms all sum­mer, although not for at­tri­bu­tion, for fear of giv­ing Rot­ten Toma­toes more cred­i­bil­ity,” Barnes wrote. “Over lunch last month, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of a ma­jor movie com­pany looked me in the eye and de­clared flatly that his mis­sion was to de­stroy the re­view-ag­gre­ga­tion site.”

Moviemak­ers reg­is­ter­ing com­plaints about the power of the crit­i­cal corps is noth­ing new, of course. In Com­plete Trans­form­ers;TheLastKnight, His­tory of Amer­i­can Film Crit­i­cism, Jerry Roberts high­lighted the grow­ing power of Rogert Ebert and Gene Siskel in the 1980s and the angst that caused with film­mak­ers. “Hand in hand with suc­cess was a power un­prece­dented in film crit­i­cism,” Roberts wrote. “Siskel and Ebert go, ‘Hor­ri­ble pic­ture’, and I’m telling you, [they] can def­i­nitely kill a movie,” Ed­die Mur­phy said in 1987.

Con­versely, the duo is cred­ited with “sav­ing” small films that were lag­ging at the box of­fice. Tom Sherak, a top ex­ec­u­tive at Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ryFox, once called a thumbs-up from Siskel and Ebert “the Good House­keep­ing Seal of Ap­proval for movies”.

The To­matome­ter is some­thing like a hy­per­pow­ered ver­sion of Ebert and Siskel’s patented thumbs up/thumbs down rat­ing sys­tem. The site ar­guably has an even greater reach than the duo from Chicago: Barnes notes that Rot­ten Toma­toes drew 13.6 mil­lion unique vis­i­tors in May, while Roberts wrote that Siskel and Ebert drew “be­tween eight and eleven mil­lion view­ers a week” at their peak. Cer­tainly this fully op­er­a­tional film crit­i­cism sta­tion has the power to de­stroy the hopes and dreams of wide-eyed dream­ers work­ing at stu­dios who just want to pro­vide au­di­ences with a mod­icum of en­ter­tain­ment in the form of five­quels to Trans­form­ers and Pirates of the Caribbean, right?

Well, no.

In a study pub­lished on Medium, Yves Bergquist, the di­rec­tor of the Data & An­a­lyt­ics Pro­ject at USC’s En­ter­tain­ment Tech­nol­ogy Cen­ter, rather thor­oughly de­mol­ished the idea that neg­a­tive scores from Rot­ten Toma­toes are hav­ing a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on box of­fice to­tals. Bergquist found vir­tu­ally no cor­re­la­tion be­tween over­all grosses and RT scores and an even lower cor­re­la­tion be­tween RT scores and open­ing week­end fig­ures – ar­guably the time when crit­i­cal opinion should have the great­est im­pact on box of­fice to­tals, since po­ten­tial au­di­ences have lit­tle in the way of word of mouth from friends and co­work­ers to go on.

In­deed, con­tra com­plaints from ex­ec­u­tives, the me­dian Rot­ten Toma­toes score is ac­tu­ally climb­ing, even spik­ing in re­cent years: “Over­all, Rot­ten Toma­toes scores for all movies gross­ing more than $2 mil­lion world­wide have been pretty sta­ble since 2000: the me­dian score was 51 dur­ing the 2000s and 53 dur­ing the 2010s so far. It’s ac­tu­ally gone up quite sig­nif­i­cantly from 2015 (46.5) un­til 2017 (71).”

Bergquist notes that au­di­ence and critic scores are be­gin­ning to align, writ­ing, “There’s vir­tu­ally no dif­fer­ence be­tween crit­ics’ scores and au­di­ences’ scores, and the more suc­cess­ful the film is at the box of­fice, the smaller the dif­fer­ence.” He sug­gests this is be­cause au­di­ences are get­ting smarter about what they go see; it prob­a­bly has more to do with RT ex­pand­ing its ranks and bring­ing on a less-dis­cern­ing qual­ity of critic, one closer in tune with the taste of the masses. What­ever the rea­son for the spike in fresh scores, how­ever, there’s no rea­son to be­lieve that Rot­ten Toma­toes is drag­ging down box of­fice be­cause crit­ics have amassed greater cul­tural clout.

The real rea­son for Hol­ly­wood’s woes seems much sim­pler: Au­di­ences are bored. Bergquist gets at this when he notes that CGI-heavy ef­forts are see­ing di­min­ish­ing re­turns at the box of­fice. But it’s not just the in­flux of spec­ta­cle: It’s the re­duc­tion of ideas. This sum­mer has been an end­less river of se­quels to fran­chises that should be dead (the afore­men­tioned Trans­form­ers and Pirates movies; an­other Fast and Fu­ri­ous flick; an­other Alien movie) and the at­tempted birthing of fran­chises that have no rea­son to ex­ist ( The Mummy; Baywatch; Kong: Skull Is­land). Au­di­ences don’t mind spec­ta­cle or fran­chises, so long as they are ac­com­pa­nied by solid sto­ry­telling, as the RT scores and box of­fice fig­ures for the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse have shown.

It’s easy to blame Rot­ten Toma­toes. It’s much harder to make a movie peo­ple want to see. No sur­prise, then, which tack the suits have taken.

Op­ti­mus Prime and Bum­ble­bee in does and then com­plains when we don’t take it se­ri­ously. be­cause this is the kind of thing Hol­ly­wood

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