Today's General Film Audiences?
I can't really Boo! or Whoop-doo! those downtrodden folks who escape from their daily grind of shit by heading into the local multiplex to see an action-adventure film. Especially one starring the iconic Sylvester Stallone. Sure, he's pumped some foul stink into the air ducts of our American-owned movie theater system. But he's also made some of the finest thrillers on the planet.
When it comes to blowing stuff up, and decimating the enemy in new and gory ways, he hasn't stirred us wrong in several years. Sometimes, that's all we, as a culture, want and need to see on the big screen. Because it directly pulls us away from wiping some old lady's ass at a nursing home, or beading our thousandth tire at the local Wal*Mart, or delivering the same Fed-Ex package every single day, to the same old address, to have the door repeatedly slammed in our face.
It's an escape route. Most critics, interviewers, and Internet pundits forget this small fact. They also forget that they are a very small percentage of the American populous, and that they generally view movies for free. They don't have large families to cater to. Going to the theater is no longer an event, but a necessity. They don't have a grasp on the big picture, because they are sheltered inside this tiny little bubble that is impenetrable. Watching a fantastical depiction of a world set aside from their own is no longer an event in their lives. It's not a reward. It's their daily routine. Of course they're going to champion something that is genuinely neat and unique. They are being pulled out of their own daily grind of shit.
But they can't see past that. Even though they expect the rest of us too. Their opinions matter, because this is what they do for a living. They naturally assume Middle America should be all ears when it comes to their own tastes. Which have been formed and grafted by images we don't even know exist yet.
When the box office receipts came in for last weekend, this diminutive community cried foul because a project they'd long championed, from a filmmaker they've long adored, didn't quite register with the rest of the country. Their immediate reaction: Audiences got it wrong. Again. But did they? Any idiot could have told you that Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World was going to bomb. It's a fact. Because any average modern day moviegoer is perceived (at least by this small faction) as an idiot. Of course I am not talking about you. You're an artist. You are an intellect. You don't go to throwaway movies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop or Grown Ups. You are a true connoisseur of all things cinematic. And you love to find new and exciting ways to vicariously live your love life. But not Joe Arkansas. When shown a poster of Scott Pilgrim, his immediate reaction is, "Didn't that come out last year?"
The true fact of this matter is: Yes, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a great slice of cinematic life sold home with true love and a buzzing energy not seen in many modern day franchise conveyer belt flicks. Its one of the best films of the year. And most people that see it adore the every-loving shit out of it (even those idiotic, cave dwelling multiplex dwellers we spoke of earlier). But it wasn't packaged and sold to those Middle States in an attractive way. The poster looks like a rehash of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist mixed with Youth in Revolt. The latter of which was a little too high brow for its intended audience. This new Michael Cera project suffers from the same intellectual rut that has derailed his previous efforts from true financial box office gain. Let's face it. This wasn't an attractively wrapped package to anyone who hadn't been inside a comic book shop in the past ten years. Of course so-called normal, average people weren't going to go see it.
It was sold directly to Internet Blogs and those who frequent them, like a turkey neck is sold to an old ditch hobo. That's it. That's why it bombed. On the outside looking in, this appeared to be just another, samey Michael Cera comedy. Even though its not. The kid has a knack for picking out interesting projects. But to anyone who's not a fan, they all look like a looping repeat. The same idea being sold again. And again. The trailer certainly didn't do the film any favors. There should be no wonder why it only made $10 million at the box office (the Internet Film pundits don't even want you to know that Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist beat that opening with more than $11 million back in 2008). While The Expendables dominated the scene with $34 million; a better opening than 2008's Rambo and 2006's Rocky Balboa combined.
It's elementary, my dear Watson.
A lot of movies bomb. They falter, tripping over their own toes at the starting gate. So why are we talking about this particular case? Because, as stated, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is a sorta-iconic neo-masterpiece that fully upholds and cherishes its source material. Fans take the fact that it bombed very seriously. And personally. They want to lash out because of it. It's not their fault. They're passionate. They see this fiscal disaster as a tragedy. Hollywood will stop making original, inspired work if we don't get our asses off the couch and go! The fans look at this situation as though we've failed ourselves and our culture.
That's not true. Original ideas always find a way. Especially when there is real life-blood pumping through them. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is this generation's The Big Lebowski. That Coen Brothers caper arrived at number six on the box office charts in 1998. It only took in $5.5 million dollars, eventually grossing a paltry $17.4 million domestically. It was a bigger bomb than Scott Pilgrim, but unlike its competitors U.S. Marshals and Twilight (the one where Reese Witherspoon gets naked for Paul Newman),
that brisk March weekend, it lived and thrived past its intended sell-by date to become one of today's most quoted, celebrated stretches of cult cinema. It lives on in infamy. And it will always be with us. Just like Edgar Wright's latest magnum opus.
Sadly, at this point, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World fans can't see past the fact that their beloved property bob-bombed. It's a fresh wound, and it will take a while to shake this tainted sheen off its Technicolor hide. A lot of folks automatically assume that a movie is a Turkey when it bombs, but we have so many shining examples of this not being the case. Right now, box office does matter to those keeping score. Because film in this day and age is first, and foremost, a product. Its manufactured like anything else. A consumer's artifact. Movies aren't art on their opening weekend. They're flank steak. And that's a fact.
We're at a weird crossroads here in 2010. This has been a pretty rotgut year for film in general, and most audiences are bucking originality while, at the same time, bemoaning the horrid output of one reboot or remake after the other. Good films are getting left in the dust for dumpster pabulum. That, too, is irksome to the folks championing Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. But all hope is not lost. We are leaving one decade for another, and we're at the apex of this transformation. It happened in 1980, it happened in 1990, and it happened in 2000. We're just now shaking off the tropes set up in the past ten years, and soon filmmakers will be carving out a definitive niche that fits distinctively in with the teens. Good or bad, it's coming. But it's a slow crawl. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is one of the first distinctively Teen films at the very beginning of a decade that hasn't lifted itself off the ground yet.
Audiences will start to come around. Soon.
In the mean time, it's not quite fair to say they "got it wrong" this past weekend. They went to see Sylvester Stallone. Because his adventure looked more attractive and distinct than Michael Cera standing behind a red background, striking a pose he's struck before. Ad nauseum. Audiences didn't get it wrong. Universal's marketing team got it wrong. Most everyone that desperately wanted to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World saw it at Comic-Con. They obviously didn't tell enough of their friends that it was truly epic. Add to that the fact that it's a hipster flick solely for the early-thirties mindset sold through hyper-intelligent twenty-somethings, and yeah...You've got a huge disconnect there.
Does anyone not understand why parents and children didn't turn this into the biggest hit of the summer? It was never in the cards. And that's a sad but true fact.
Eat food! Kill Grandma! Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World 20th Anniversary digital mind injection? Whoop-doo!