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Los Angeles Times

 

The Right Cure For Box-Office Blues

November 15, 2006

By Brian C. Anderson

PRINTER FRIENDLY

HOLLYWOOD HAS been chattering nervously about bad box office this year. Film attendance is down a wrenching 12% from 2004. Here’s an easy fix: The more culturally and morally conservative movies Hollywood makes, the better its returns will be.

Consider 2004’s “Spider-Man 2.” Directed by Sam Raimi, the movie is a fable about traditional values of duty and heroism. At first, taking the advice of an aging hippie doctor (“you always have a choice”), Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) decides to hang up his Spider-Man costume and chase his own dreams.

Yet as the threat of the villainous Dr. Octopus grows, Parker’s conscience haunts him. Finally, his Aunt May sets him straight. “I believe there’s a hero in all of us,” she says, “that

Struck by her plain wisdom, Parker does the right thing. Spider-Man returns and saves his city from Doc Ock. The movie’s message is exactly contrary to the “just do it” ethos of liberalism and the 1960s: Sometimes you have to do your duty. The movie grossed $374 million domestically, placing it in the all-time top 50, adjusting for inflation.

Pixar’s “The Incredibles” (2004) is another box-office winner – domestic gross $261 million – with a clearly right-of-center worldview. Writer/director Brad Bird’s animated story concerns a suburban family of five superhumans. Parents Bob and Helen Parr (the former Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl) had to retire because tort-crazy lawyers slapped our heroes with spurious lawsuits on behalf of those they’d saved; super-hero financial ruin loomed.

The defense of excellence (and frustration with the politically correct war against it) is a central theme of “The Incredibles.” And the film affectionately embraces the bourgeois family. A worried Violet, the teenage sister, suspecting (wrongly) that her middle-aged father might be having an affair, tells brother Dash, “Mom and Dad’s lives could be in danger. Or worse – their marriage.”

Then there is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001-2003). Its martial values were long jeered at by liberal Hollywood – values that underline the need to stand up with massive military force to totalitarian evil. Many observers likened Mordor’s destructive megalomania in the movies to the Islamo-fascism that now threatens the West. The films grossed more than $1 billion domestically.

And perhaps the most famous recent example of conservative Hollywood is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004). A gripping retelling of Christ’s crucifixion, “The Passion” filled theaters with tradition-minded evangelicals and Catholics, many of whom told pollsters they rarely go to the movies. Made for $30 million, its domestic gross was $370 million.

IT WAS IN THE late 1960s and 1970s that Hollywood nearly stopped making such movies. Instead, it began to produce the countercultural films of “New Hollywood” – such as Arthur Penn’s violent, criminal-glorifying “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) and Hal Ashby’s paean to the sexual revolution, “Shampoo” (1975) – that wowed critics, who shared their anti-establishment attitudes.

Some of these films did decent box office, but even “Bonnie and Clyde” only lands around 850th on the all-time money list. In general, by the late 1960s, in the years after Hollywood dumped its old production code and started making edgier movies, attendance at theaters fell by half, to about 20 million from about 40 million. Hollywood didn’t crack the 30-million-ticket mark again until 2002 and 2003, largely because of the box-office success of the first two “Lord of the Rings” installments.

Why does Tinseltown churn out so few such moneymakers? The wish for recognition as artistes by liberal elites is a big factor, says Emmy- and Oscar-nominated writer/director Lionel Chetwynd. From the late 1960s on, he says, “if you wanted to be seen as an artist, you have to be a liberal.”

Yet there are signs that a lot more right-friendly films are getting Hollywood’s attention. For example, the second annual Liberty Film Festival just held in West Hollywood, featuring scores of independently made conservative- and libertarian-themed movies, drew thousands of industry insiders and fans. Conservative Philip Anschutz has bankrolled, with Disney, the upcoming “Chronicles of Narnia,” a big-budget adaptation of a story widely considered to be a Christian allegory.

There are even some younger Hollywood talents, including Gavin Polone (an executive producer of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and former DreamWorks’ producer Mike De Luca, who are on the record as Republicans. “We live in a much more conservative country than the industry had thought it was,” Polone says, “and it would be much smarter for them to move in that direction.”

As tomorrow’s Hollywood establishment turns less and less monolithically liberal, moviemakers might look for a nice bonus: the end of their box-office woes.

Original Source: http://articles.latimes.com/2005/nov/16/opinion/oe-anderson16

 

 
 
 

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