Has Hollywood Embraced Mediocrity?

“Drive” vs. the Predictable Cinema Conundrum

Recently, Hollywood has been struggling to produce films of much note at all. Sure there are a few good films out there, but most seem to be rather predictable stories, which make for predictable films working to established structures that lack originality. These films can be somewhat satisfying and even enjoyable but they are also often forgettable… and innovative? Rarely. The seemingly relentless number of adaptations and re-makes confirms this.

I blame the economy and associated fears. Few Producers and Studios seem interested in risk-taking during this time of economic instability. Like everyone else these days Hollywood is watching its pennies and going for safe bets, both in production and in what it chooses to honour.

These days, Hollywood execs are more often than not choosing to invest in what they believe are sure-fire concepts for films rather than new, unique, and innovative ideas. The recent Oscar/Academy Award nominations are evidence of this attitude of “playing it safe and predictable”.

Hollywood seems to be content to wrap itself in comfort and predictability. This rarely makes for exciting cinema. More often than not it seems special effects and pre-established concepts win out over great original storytelling; this is unfortunate.

Great, exciting, memorable cinema comes from unexpected performances, nuanced scripts, surprising camera work, and creative risks.

ryan gosling oscar

 

In 2011, a film called Drive was released. This film had all of the above and more. It broke conventions while firmly planting itself within the unexpected. From the first opening scene right through the final moments the film gets its hooks in you. It takes hold of you and lures you into the dark and hypnotic world of a mysterious driver in L.A.

Drive is effortlessly beautiful and mesmerizing even in its brutally violent moments. It is subtle, restrained. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn creates exquisite moments that hang in the air, showing an innate understanding of human emotion and character.

Each and every shot is extremely well thought out to evoke specific emotions about each character. Meanwhile the score moves us through each moment giving us space to breathe and feel the interactions between characters, the building sense of dread and the horror through the eyes of a man as his life unravels before our eyes. The simplicity of the script is magical. It allows room to let the characters live and the emotional arc do its magic.

But what makes Drive so incredibly wonderful is that it flawlessly embodies the structures of a western film, only supplanted on modern circumstances. Our character is ever the cowboy, coming in to save the day only to have his life turned upside down.

As someone who has studied film (from a scripting/storytelling, theoretical, and production perspective) it baffles me that this film has been so underrated by the Academy and cinema awards in general. I wonder if perhaps the predictability of cinema has numbed the general movie going public and indeed those who vote for cinematic awards to only accept certain types of stories and certain predicated methods of storytelling?

The future of cinema may indeed be quite bleak if Hollywood continues to shun originality and honour cookie-cutter productions. Do yourself a favour and watch Drive. Or if it’s not your thing, watch an indie film, a low-budget film, not an adaptation or a re-make.

Go to a film festival.
Broaden your horizons.
Don’t let Hollywood dumb down storytelling for good.

Drive should have been nominated for many Oscars, but so should many other brilliantly original, well thought out, and innovative films.

Only you, the audience, can help Hollywood execs learn that we want more originality. The choice is up to you, dear cinema-goer.

@kimberleynewey is a writer of films, comics, and web content. She currently writes some content for MWVC.co.uk which offers great deals for leasing a Nissan NV200 van, the kind of deal Ryan Gosling’s elusive Driver might go for… if he drove vans.

4 comments

  1. I couldn’t disagree with you more in the fact that Hollywood isn’t willing to take risks on new projects or even create something original from established brands or concepts.

    Hollywood have thrown out an array of interesting and unique films that may not have worked but show that they are willing to look outside the box. Sucker Punch comes to mind immediately, even if it was utterly ill conceived. It showed a director trying to tell an original tale with an $80 million budget. A risky story in context of it’s narrative (both plot and structure) and if Snyder was a better craftsman then it might have been pulled of.

    Then you have films like Rango, Hanna, The Tree of Life, Warrior and Super 8. Pricing from $25 to $135 mil. Each one has flares of originality, they even have nuanced performances, striking visuals and solid narratives. Hell the most expensive production, Rango, is perhaps one of the most visually unique animated films the big studios have produced.

    As for the problem with special effects and pre-established concepts. Drive may look and sound different from other films, and yes it’s a good film, but it still adheres to narrative cliche. In fact it’s basic plot is reminiscent of something produced by video game companies.

    Special effects can be a great boon to film making and although we have Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean, we also have Inception, District 9 and even Black Swan. Like any creative tool in the right hands it can be used to dazzling effect. Bringing with it one of the great aspects of this visual medium, one of spectacle. You only have to look at Hugo and see that visual effects allow Scorsese the freedom to tell his heart warming tale.

    The same is said for pre-established concepts. They work for a reason. Cliches are cliches because they are popular and there is nothing wrong with that. The beauty of a film like Super 8 is that it trades off on it’s nostalgia and well worn narrative, but mixes in pitch perfect performances from it’s young cast which are as surprising as they are entertaining.

    And as for Drive being this forgotten gem. You only have to look at it’s $72 mil worldwide gross, the fact it was released in nearly 3,000 cinemas in the US (bear in mind the new Transformers was release in around 4000 so not such a huge difference and films like Piranha 3D, Haywire and The King’s Speech where released in less!). Therefore it has had a bigger visibility than people assume, due to it’s slight “arthouse” moments. From what I can tell it will do well on the home market and the sheer buzz on social media sites is akin to a new Tarantino film.

    It maybe a hard pill to swallow but it has a mass market appeal and even though the academy has mostly shunned it (sound editing is not a “real” award). It has won big at many others. Best Action Film at the Critic’s Choice, wins at the satellite awards and countless American award shows (Boston, Utan, San Francisco). But the biggest would be Best Director at Cannes. Cannes, the Hollywood version of legitimate cinema.

    The future of cinema seems a brighter place. Yes it will have sequels and remakes, but there is a large and healthy alternative from around the world and including the indie market. From Nolan finishing his serious take on Batman to Alfonso Cuaron’s new $80 million sci fi, it would seem Hollywood has covered it’s corners with both sure fire hits and ambitious new films from unique directors. Hell The Avengers film is perhaps the most ambitious thing to come out of Hollywood in a while, creating a shared universe with corny/unknown to the mainstream market Superheroes culminating in a essentially a team up film. Ambition in Hollywood is not dead.

  2. While I can appreciate the annoyance that comes when ones favourite film of the year isn’t given the praise you feel it deserves, I can’t help but feel that the ultimate point of the article lands a little bit wide of the mark.

    Has Hollywood embraced mediocrity? In a year in which the Hollywood studio system has produced such films as Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, Steve McQueen’s Shame, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret it seems a little odd to launch a tirade claiming that “Hollywood” is reliant upon “safe bets”. And lets not forget, Drive is a product of the very same American film industry that you seem to be decrying.

    Just out of interest, what specifically was innovative about Drive? Don’t get me wrong, I love the film itself, but to hold it up as some kind of bastion for creativity in the cinema strikes me as a little obtuse, and, dare I say it, a little sixth-form. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of its relationship with the cinematic form, nor does it break any boundaries in terms of its relationship with the outside world. And why is academy recognition so important to you? Would it make the film any more enjoyable?

    • Sorry, I meant to add that Hugo and The Tree Of Life are both creatively driven pieces of semi-mainstream Hollywood cinema that have a strong presence at this years Academy Awards. Drive was a much greater commercial success than the Malick film, which is in itself a far greater exercise in cinematic creativity anyway.

      And lets not forget The Artist, which is quite possibly the least, in theory at least, mainstream film to be nominated for the Best Picture oscar for thirty years. Sure, it might not be an American production, but it is being lauded, celebrated and revered by the American film industry (aka the Academy).

  3. While I’m not sure this article makes its point (I agree with the author re Drive, but don’t think that it makes a wider objective point about Hollywood in general) if you take a look at the statistics and there’s no doubt that Hollywood has embraced if not mediocrity then at least the “safe bet”: reboots, franchises, remakes:

    http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2012/01/05/has-hollywood-lost-its-way/

    In 1981, out of the top 10 grossing films, 8 were original.

    In 2011, not a single film in the top 10 was not a remake, reboot, franchise, adaptation or sequel (to be fair, Drive is also an adaptation of a short story).

    I would love to look at the net figures (worldwide) of films like Inception vs films like Transformers 4 and see if Hollywood’s risk aversion really does pay off or not. This is also why it’s sad that institutions like the UK Film Council no longer exist, to ensure that it’s not purely the market controlling what we see.

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