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May 10, 2005

DVD Killed the Movie Star

The New York Times' Sharon Waxman reports eleven consecutive weeks of declining movie attendance and revenue compared with last year, specifically noting that Ridley Scott's crusader epic, Kingdon of Heaven, performed well below expectations. While I'm not particulalry worried about the profits of major Hollywood studios (after all, it's a pretty safe bet that most movie executives will earn more money than I do this year), it's interesting to speculate why this is happening--or more precisely to watch these executives speculate about why it's happening.

President of Exhibitor Relations, Paul Dergarabedian, attributes the decline in box office to DVDs and home theater systems that make going to the movies less exciting, but given that DVDs have been out for some time, I don't think that can be considered a major factor, and in fact, his comments seem to perpetuate the Hollywood practice that dates back at least to the advent of television of blaming new technologies for declining attendance. Nothing new there.

I'd imagine the biggest factor is simply the astounding (and somewhat unexpected) success of last year's The Passion of the Christ, which brought out a large number of people who don't habitually go to movies and probably artifically inflated last year's box office in April and May. Ridley Scott's Crusader epic, although it might portray historical events related to the church, is no Passion. Even my parents, who attend movies maybe once a year, were planning to see Mel Gibson's film and knew enough about the controversial aspects of it (the violence, the possible anti-Semitism) to discuss it with me. This shouldn't imply that the movies that have been released recently were mediocre movies (although Kingdom did get mostly negative reviews) but that The Passion mattered to many of the people who went out of their way to see it in theaters, and in many cases saw the film several times.

Again, I'm sure Hollywood's gonna be alright. They've got Star Wars money coming in soon.

Posted by chuck at May 10, 2005 3:50 PM

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Just in case you hadn't seen it, here's Juan Cole's take on Kingdom of Heaven. My particular angle on movies and TV lately has been how they represent history and add to collective memory, so I thought he had a really interesting approach, not criticizing the movie for flawed details, but examining the characters and ideologies represented in the movie.

I haven't seen the movie, but, from Cole's description, it sounds like it's "no Passion" in many ways, particularly in making a Muslim character the most admirable player in the lot. I wonder how that plays in the redder areas of the country.

Posted by: McChris at May 10, 2005 9:55 PM

One of the major problems with the film is that it's really sort of boring, a long history-based lecture on the virtues of tolerance and discarding religious differences in order to uphold the value of human life. There's an admirable intent behind it all, of course, but but it just comes off as an inept tract on Why Religions Should Get Along. It's also clearly evident that the film has been chopped up. A NYT piece a couple of weeks ago said the film had more than an hour cut from it, and the pacing suffers dramatically. Scott's art direction is fantastic, as always, but between the top-heavy moralizing and the twitchy pacing, it's really a pretty weak film.

Posted by: Peter at May 15, 2005 6:32 PM

Thanks for the links and mini-reviews of Kingdom. My schedule is very full right now, so I'm not likely to see it anytime soon, if ever.

Posted by: Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2005 11:52 AM

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