Why Imagination Matters In Original Hollywood Movies

Many moviegoers, not everyone, bemoan the onslaught of franchise films, universe entries, remakes and sequels that are announced every week (day?). It’s true, the idea of an original movie in Hollywood is a rarity. Even when something original does hit, it’s not likely to create the quasi-original imitators that were once the staple of formula film success. It’s the era of the Hollywood franchise and we’re just watching it.

I don’t see as many new movies as I used to. Of the 50+ movies I’ve seen in a theater this year, less than half were new releases. (It’s one of the perks of living in Austin, the repertory cinema capitol of the planet.) Most of the new movies on that list were part of the SXSW Film Festival.  So I’m not as concerned or committed to the idea of a seeing original Hollywood cinema as I might have been when I had fewer options.

Still, there’s something annoying about the defense of the original Hollywood film that appeared on Geeky Tyrant a couple days ago. The article called out moviegoers who didn’t support Tomorrowland because “the audience decides what movies Hollywood makes, and that’s whatever they are willing to spend money on, and right now it doesn’t seem to be on original film ideas.”

Original Isn’t What it Used to Be

The logic behind the argument is that even though you might think Tomorrowland sucks, which it does, that supporting it would encourage Hollywood to take big bets on original ideas. Ignoring the fact that Tomorrowland is actually based on the same formula that brought us Pirates of the Caribbean and pretty much stole its main premise from the video game Bioshock, the “original” film was such a dud visually, aurally, and intellectually that supporting it would only promote equally mediocre filmmaking. Isn’t that counterproductive?

Not every original blockbuster Hollywood makes is an Inception or Edge of Tomorrow. Hell, most of them aren’t even Interstellar, a film I haven’t seen and have no desire to. Original Hollywood blockbusters are mostly Jupiter Ascending or Sucker Punch quality films, new ideas from filmmakers with clout that land with a whimper. Tomorrowland, if you consider it original in the first place, should fall into this category.

Let’s face it, this isn’t the Golden Age of the blockbuster anymore. It hasn’t been for about 20 years. You’re not going to see Spielberg or Carpenter quality films. It’s hard to even expect Zemeckis, Johnston or Lucas level movies anymore. And there is a reason for that.

The Boring White Guys

The blockbuster era that launched in the middle of the 60s/70s New Hollywood, effectively ended that movement and sputtered out in the mid-90s with the rise of the indies was driven not by originality, but imagination—and there is a difference. Are the superhero movies coming from Marvel original? Not really. But Kevin Feige’s movie universe took imagination, the idea that all of these super guys and gals could live in the same world and you’d want to live in it with them (most of the time).

Imagination is what’s missing, and even Christopher Nolan, lauded as he may be, doesn’t have it at the level we once expected. It’s very much missing from Tomorrowland, as well, which is hugely ironic given the film’s central thesis. Very few filmmakers that are heralded as cinematic heroes today, Gareth Edwards, Rian Johnson,  David Robert Mitchell, Damon Lindelof and most recently Krisha’s Trey Edward Shults, have the gravitas and wherewithal to live up to the over-hype of their mostly limited imaginations.

Many of the voices getting promoted today are echoes of a past. They certainly aren’t harbingers of the future. And cinema in the hands of boring white guys who’ve had their imaginations spoon fed to them by real dreammakers like Lucas and Spielberg isn’t a future I want to live in.

After all, isn’t that what Hollywood is for? It’s not challenging or controversial. It’s not visionary or subversive. We have countless other cinematic outlets for that these days. When it comes to blockbuster filmmaking, Hollywood is still a dream factory. That dream may a come by way of a universe film (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), a mega sequel (Fast and the Furious films), a fantastical adaptation (Harry Potter) or even the occasional original (Gravity). But if the movie doesn’t make you want to believe in the first place, is it even worth the screen it’s projected on?

photo credit: Hollywood Sign hike