The big news about the movies right now is how the average tentpole Hollywood production makes at least as much money abroad as it does at home. Possibly more. Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness are case studies in this problem: the former was filmed with Chinese money and so featured some inserts shot specifically for the Mainland (from all I heard, you didn't miss anything by not seeing them); the latter was retooled that much more into an action feature at the insistence of Paramount.
It's this retooling of everything into an action vehicle that bothers me. I've said before that I don't mind seeing movies like The Avengers; I just don't want every movie of significance to end up like that. But this retooling goes even further into darkness, pun intended: it means relying that much more on action and that much less on character, dialogue, plotting ... in other words, all the things that make a movie more than just a mural of noise and motion.
Once upon a time, a big tentpole release could be any number of things. It could be a dramatic piece with two name actors burning up the screen (Burton & Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?); it could be an epic historical production (Lawrence of Arabia); it could be a snappy comedy (The Apartment); it could be an "issue" or "message" film (12 Angry Men). I'm reaching deliberately far back into the history of the movies to make a point: more and more, such a panoply has become an archaic conceit. Now big movies come in exclusively one form: a two-and-a-half-hour action vehicle based on some major pop-culture franchise.
This is, again, not to say such a thing is always a bad idea. I liked Man of Steel (and The Avengers, to a far lesser extent), and I may well enjoy the other movies set to come out further down the line. But I want variety. Even as late as the 1980s, a movie like Amadeus, for all of its flaws, could go from being an arthouse special to a breakout hit. Today, a movie like that sputters through theaters and then gets its real lifespan on video, where it plays to audiences of twos and threes who never leave their living rooms. O tempora, o mores, but the lack of a live democracy in the dark for such things is lethal. "There is no sense of audience, and yet the single most important factor in learning to be literate about movies is to be part of an audience that is sophisticated about them," Ebert wrote. Too much of our current audience experience is either an endurance test, where we get fed up with the guy behind us kicking our seat, or a "participation" event where we all holler at the screen in unison.
If the future of big movies is in overseas sales, then the future of movies as a domestic art form (as opposed to a commercial entertainment) is going to pass entirely into the hands of the self-starters -- the folks who shoot on Canon DSLRs, raise word about the projects via word of mouth, and maybe get lucky and score a few million dollars for some distributor who deems them worthy. You could do worse, I guess.
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