The film industry is a tough business to crack. Millions are spent each year trying to figure what things audiences most want to see, and after all that, it’s still just anyone’s guess. It’s especially risky when you’re making a massive blockbuster meant to spearhead a potential franchise. Studios have a lot riding on big fantasy action flicks, and they want to hit the widest audience possible.
There are plenty of tricks that production companies employ to connect to that elusive “general audience” and get them to relate to their stories and characters. Unfortunately, a lot of these methods fly in the face of what fans want. They also get so lost in these details that they forget to start with a strong movie in the first place. Here are just a few tropes that negatively impact Hollywood blockbusters.
Making Things “Realistic”
Movie studios often underestimate the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief and accept fantasy elements. To them, it’s too much of a risk to challenge people’s imaginations with something out of the ordinary. Instead, they make changes to the source material to remove “silly/over-the-top” concepts, with the mission of promoting “realism.”
The changes they make can have a wide range. Sometimes, its as simple as updating the costumes, such as in 2000’s X-Men where the comics’ yellow and blue spandex were replaced by black leather suits. It can also be as drastic as a complete character overhaul, like when they took the giant planet-eating man Galactus and turned him into a slightly foreboding cloud. You know, because the orange rock man and the flying surfboard weren’t a stretch already.
Inevitably, these “realistic interpretations” end with fan disappointment and outrage. It often doesn’t attract the general audience either, since what could have been striking and unique gets replaced with some homogenized, generic junk. We can accept much more than the studios are willing to give us.
Another way studios ease audiences into fantasy concepts is by presenting it from a more “normal” perspective. This often comes about as an average Joe type who, like the audience, experiences the fantastic events as a newcomer or outsider.
This can be a clever way to introduce the audience to new ideas, but it’s done poorly almost as much as it’s done well. Usually, these characters end up being wet blankets, such as Agent Myers from Hellboy, or awful, annoying runts, like Shia LaBeouf in the Transformers movies.
The biggest crime these audience stand-ins commit is wasting space. They eat up run time that could be better used by the main characters that people are actually paying to see.
In film, an actor’s face can be a great tool in expressing emotion and depth to the audience. However, most filmmakers forget that body language can get the point across just as well, especially when they’re making superhero blockbusters. If the directors even let the character have a mask, they spend the whole movie finding excuses to get rid of it.
Spider-Man series director Sam Raimi was a major proponent of this idea, leading to a variety of annoying creative choices: Spider-Man losing his mask by the third act of each movie; the Green Goblin’s eyes lifting up for pretty much no reason; and the obnoxious way Venom’s face peeled away each time Topher Grace delivered a line.
This preoccupation with relatable faces gets taken to ridiculous extremes when dealing with nonhuman characters. For example, when Michael Bay made Transformers in 2007, it was decided that audiences wouldn’t connect with Optimus Prime if he had his classic mouth plate. Instead, his plate opens to reveal…his disgusting, horrible, snoot-face. Ugh.
Real World Adventure
Sometimes, it’s the setting that studios fear will scare off viewers, particularly fantasy or medieval-based settings. Instead of having a strong story within that setting, there’ll be an inter-dimensional portal or something to spirit the fantasy characters away from their fantasy world and into ours. Usually, these “fish-out-of-water” heroes end up in New York or L.A., with scenes of “What’s a cell phone?”, “I love this topical pop song!”, and “Man, shopping malls be crazy!”
It’s a trope that not only simplifies the writing process (by descending into cliche), but also opens the film up to product placement it otherwise wouldn’t have. We see time and time again. It was done by The Smurfs, Masters of the Universe, the third Never Ending Story, and the most out-there fantasy tale of them all…Fat Albert.
Whitewashing is the lowest that studios can stoop to when trying to reach a general audience. Changing the race of a minority character to Caucasian for the sake of box office returns is never okay. It erases the identity of the source material and denies the people of that race representation. So why does it keep happening?
Whitewashing is based on two erroneous assumptions: First, that there aren’t enough big name minority actors to attract audiences; and second, that a predominantly white audience won’t want to watch a film starring somebody who isn’t white.
With adaptations of Asian media on the rise, this has become an increasingly relevant issue. Scarlett Johansson was heavily criticized for taking on the role of Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, and studios have been trying to get a Keanu Reeves-led adaptation of Akira off the ground for over a decade despite massive fan backlash. And let’s not even talk about Dragonball Evolution.
Fortunately, some people have gotten the message that whitewashing is no good. Recently, Ed Skrein stepped down from a role in the Hellboy reboot after finding out the character was originally Asian. Box office smashes such as Moana and Black Panther have also proven the flawed logic of Hollywood wrong. Hopefully, studios can take this lesson and more to make movies that aren’t relatable, but enjoyable.
What do you think about Hollywood films thinking the masses are idiots? Do you think it’s time for change? Tell Nerdbot in the comments and get the conversation going!