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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Year in Review: Trends in Cinema

    After seeing too many movies to count this year, patterns tend to appear. A number of noticeable trends have emerged (or are continuing to emerge) this year in film, and as a coda to the cinematic year, I present what I consider to be some of the biggest trendsetters in the movie-making world. Note, these are not my picks for the best films of the year (“”In Bruges,”” “”The Wrestler”” and “”Religulous”” take those awards in my book), but rather the films that have had a significant cultural or industrial impact in the past twelve months. See you at the movies!

    Trendsetters in Adapted Media

    Two important models for adapting print media to film were introduced this year, both garnering huge box-office buzz.

    Last May Jon Favreau’s adaptations of “”Iron Man”” took a departure from the one-dimensional comic book kudzu that has been plaguing Hollywood lo this past decade, grounding the hero in a naturalistic reality that is rarely seen in the comic world. Sustained by Robert Downey Jr.’s sardonic yet strikingly human performance as weapons mogul Tony Stark, the film mixed high-tech SFX action with a slew of modern themes including corporate greed, terrorism, industrial responsibility and even a little office romance (featuring another unexpectedly fitting performance from Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s assistant Pepper Potts). By focusing on the character development of Tony rather than his esoteric Iron Man alias, Favreau’s film made the oft-nerd-dominated comic universe accessible and relatable to casual moviegoers and fanboys alike, earning both global acclaim and a nice, fat box office gross. Expect more superhero films to take this human, naturalistic approach to the adaptation of caped crusaders in the future.

    The second model introduced this year came in the form of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the cult phenomenon “”Watchmen””. Working with a text that had already gained massive cultural significance in print, Snyder’s objective was to preserve all of the meaning and nuance of the plot in order to appease the graphic novel’s anal-retentive fan base and to make it accessible to larger audiences. This balance was achieved by writing a script that was rigidly faithful to the graphic novel (perhaps too rigid in its indiscriminate preservation of hokey comic book dialogue) but was also marketable as an important piece of American culture that no self-respecting moviegoer could pass up. Utilizing an effortless soundtrack including unforgettable hits from Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, the film furnished its own cultural clout through association alone – an enviable feat in movie marketing. In the coming years we should expect to see more adapted screenplays striving for this balance of faithfulness to the original text vs. cultural accessibility to the masses.

    Trendsetters in Animation

    Speaking of accessibility, seldom does an animated film provide equal measures of entertainment to children as it does to the parents forced to haul their kids to the theater. The Disney/Pixar creative juggernaut always finds a way to bridge this gap, though, and they raised standards for family entertainment once again last June with “”Wall-E””. This cautionary tale of the last inhabitant of a garbage-covered Earth consistently provides something for all audiences: for the kids, an adorable, empathetic (and highly marketable) robot protagonist and the woman he loved; for parents and more mature viewers, satiric cultural commentary, environmentalist undertones and the voice acting of everyone’s favorite fat man, Jeff Garlin; and for everyone, stunning CG imagery that makes “”A Bug’s Life”” look like steaming Mickey Mouse excrement. “”Wall-E”” has set a precedent for making animated films not only entertaining and smart, but culturally reflective. The bumper-stickers write themselves: “”Save future robots; stop pollution now!””

    Trendsetters in Storytelling

    Though I personally didn’t find anything spectacular about the narrative of this next film, it achieved a cultural impact and international applause that’s impossible to ignore. Danny Boyle’s “”Slumdog Millionaire”” was produced with an unconventional premise that could have gone wrong all too easily: a Bollywood epic written and directed by an Englishman. Boyle’s Bollywood brainchild was a phenomenal success, both among critics and the movie-going public, earning eight Oscars including Best Picture. How is it that a film with an Indian style made by an English director did so remarkably well in America? For one, it’s original – a term rarely associated with the modern adaptation-afflicted film industry. Other factors include the film’s non-linear storytelling style, its uber-sympathetic protagonist, its Odyssey-like narrative structure of escalating oppressions on the road to ultimate happiness, and the themes of karma and justice that sometimes seem so lacking in the non-theatrical universe. Experimental in style but still bound by the conventions of crowd-pleasing cinema, “”Slumdog”” was a welcome change from the doom and gloom of fellow Oscar noms and Hollywood’s rampant sequel-itis. If you want an Oscar of your own, follow the “”Slumdog”” model: borrow another culture’s conventions, add lots of oppression, then wrap things up with the happiest ending imaginable (song and dance numbers help).

    General Trends

    The Great Originality Famine: The majority of this year’s most publicized and successful films were either remakes, sequels or adaptations; according to boxofficereport.com, seven out of this year’s top ten earners fall into one of these categories (“”The Dark Knight,”” “”Iron Man”” and “”Indiana Jones 4″” being the top three). A thoughtless explanation for this is that Hollywood is running out of ideas, and adaptations are just an easy way to make a buck or two (hundred million). A more cynical explanation, though, is that the American movie-going public simply doesn’t like to be challenged when it comes to entertainment; after a long day at work we just want those same familiar stories and action exploits that have defined popular media for a century. Regardless of the reason, the fact remains that originality is becoming a vanishing commodity in the media, which is why bold films like “”Slumdog”” are able to do so well for themselves in the critical community. I see sequels in the future, maybe in very unexpected places (“”There Will Be Blood II: There Will Be Blood Again””).

    HD or the Highway: The fall of originality in Hollywood is well-correlated with the rise of technical quality. Brainless adrenaline-pumpers like “”Crank: High Voltage”” are bringing innovative new hand-held high-definition camerawork to the industry, and the picture quality of animated flicks like “”Wall-E”” and “”Horton Hears a Who!”” are simply getting more and more jaw-dropping. In the not too distant future, every film will be shot in HD, and every theater will be equipped with Blu Ray projectors (or whatever replaces Blu Ray as the next big thing in a year or two). With any luck, by 2020 the industry will have phased out actors entirely and the era of all-CG, all the time, will begin.

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