Has Hollywood forgotten how to tell proper stories?

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It cost $100 million to make and another $70 million to market and promote but Warner Bros’ seafaring epic In the Heart of the Sea has spectacularly capsized, taking just $11 million at more than 3,000 cinemas across America.

It cost $100m to make and another $70m to market and promote but Warner Bros’ seafaring epic In the Heart of the Sea has spectacularly capsized, taking just $11 million at more than 3,000 cinemas across America.

Globally it has racked up just over $50m. Hardly chickenfeed. But in the shadow of Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which is touted as being the world’s first billion-dollar opener, a measly fifty million bucks doesn’t do the business. Pundits are pointing to the film’s performance as being indicative of the malaise that afflicts modern filmmaking and cinemagoing: that younger audiences don’t want to watch “traditional” stories.

In other words if it ain’t got superheroes, they ain’t bothered.

Clearly there is some truth to such commentary. But there are other factors, too. Star Wars may be a part of it, with elements of the target demographic holding back their dollars to spend on multiple visits to see the latest in the space opera saga. But there is a sense that the movies are not changing for the worse; they have already changed. What’s more there is a sense that studio chiefs are almost in cahoots with audiences and, in partnership, they are driving modern cinema towards a narrow, if lucrative, genre.

In the Heart of the Sea, adapted from the bestseller by Nathaniel Philbrick, was a pet project for Aussie heartthrob Chris (Thor) Hemsworth, who took it to veteran director Ron Howard.

The ensemble cast boasts a collection of well-known and solid character players including Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw and Tom Hollander. Then there’s the villain: a white whale. (The tale is said to have inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick). But it’s a period drama about a whaling ship set in the early 19th century. Hence no guns, no car chases, no laser beams, no invading alien hordes.

What it presents instead is obsession, paranoia and madness.

And if it proves something else, it’s that even the likes of Hemsworth, when removed from the milieu in which younger audiences appreciate him most, can’t prevent an apparently seaworthy vessel from going under. Also, perhaps Warner’s moguls got cold feet. The film was set to debut back in March but was delayed in order to convert it to 3D, which makes sense given the scale of the story.

It’s clear that 32-year-old Hemsworth lacks the requisite star power to open a movie on his name alone. As Thor he’s part of the ever-expanding Avengers team. On his own – and outside that rampaging comic-book format – he’s just another rising star. But it’s worrying. If solid stories don’t get off the ground, what price cinema?

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