There are two main reasons given for the poor movie ticket sales this year: 1. the product is inferior, or 2. the growth of DVD sales, home movie theaters, and internet bootlegged movies has caused the value of seeing a movie on the large screen to be diminished. What is interesting about both of these forces is that they appear to be irreversible: DVDs will only be sold more often, Home theater systems will only fall in price, and bootlegged movies will either continue to be rweleased through the internet or they will cause DVD prices to fall and their features to rise. As for the inferiority of the movies themselves, anyone who happens to even glance at a marque will notice an increase in remakes and adaptations. Not only that, the kind of remakes and adaptations that are being released are so shockingly poor that one wonders if Hollywood will produce a film version of any story that has ever been sold to anyone. Original films are increasingly rare. Plots are rehashed over and over again with each new incarnation inheriting less and less from their witty ancestors. Acting, unbeknown to many, has taken a tremendous fall. Watching a movie from the 30's through the 80's one finds that acting in the last decade or so is far bellow that of other times. (There are some significant contradictions to this statement, but, as usual, I am being general.) But what does this all mean?
The first thought that should come to mind we any art form experiences a slump like we find in film is that it is only a temporary problem; however, we must also consider that all forms have their beginning, their prime, and their end. Theater, Opera, Vaudeville, all these have fallen from their height. At one time each of these forms were the main form of acting/storytelling, and now, while they all still exist, they have all become forms of the past. Why is this? Simply because every art form (or genre) is limited, it has a certain number of tools and techniques it can use and when those have been exhausted nothing is left. One might argue that Art is infinite and is not confined to anything except our willingness to experiment. To answer this I will turn to an example from music. If I am a Classical musician, the type of instruments I can use is limited, the tempo and style is limited, the complexity is limited, etc...Now, if I experiment with any of these or many of the other variables that I have left out, I have some room to explore, but at a certain point I am no longer “Classical”. Statistically speaking, there is an almost infinite number of chords progressions, movements, melodies, and the like that I can use to make “Classical” music, however, most of those don't sound good together at all, so my room to explore is limited. (Unless of course I wish to make music that purposely sounds “bad”, but then my music themes are limited because I can only use themes which involve some sort of dark, conflicting, or ambiguous elements.) If I add guitars and a drum set I become a Rock/Classic hybrid. If I change the style and remove certain instruments I become Jazz. Thus, the Art itself is not limited, the genre/form, however, is. In the same way, a visual art form using acting and storytelling will always exist, it always has. The particular form that art will take will change though. How then do we know when an art form/genre is dying and when it is stagnant?
To know whether film is dying we must look at the tools and techniques and decide what else can be done. And again, there is an infinite amount of things with film that can be done, but we must narrow ourselves to things that ought to be done, things that will actually function successfully in regard to theme and form. What plot can be made into a movie that has not already been done several times? At look at the “Best films” released recently shows that they fall into one of a couple categories: 1. The plot/substance of the film is weak but the visuals are very strong and evocative, 2. the plot/substance is shallow but the epic scope of the film and the special effects are good. 3. The plot is original but experimental. Most affective plots have already been made into movies. What is left are plots that were previously unfeasible visually or, in order to be original, are so experimental that they no longer affectively communicate to the masses. (see my previous discussion on post-modern Hip-Hop). Look at Lost in Translation, Kill Bill, Hero, Sin City, or The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, all of these movies are critically accepted as great, however, none have much of any real substance; they all are filled with absolutely stunning visuals, visuals that could never have been done ten years ago (with the exception of Lost in Translation), but their themes are either paper thin (L.in T.) or totally lacking (Kill Bill). These are some of the best artistically rendered films of our time and they are sorely lacking. The other critically successful films lately have been movies such as Spiderman and Lord of the Rings, these, while well done, only have a spirit of originality in them because they would have been (or were) unsuccessful had they been done without our modern special effects. So then, what is going to happen when all the adaptations which were held back for visual reasons have been made? The only new ground being made in film lately has been in visuals and there are other forms of art which can (and I suggest will) steal the thunder of Hollywood visuals.
If an art form is in a rut, rather than dying, we can identify this by looking at its potential. Can we possibly conceive of a new approach to the genre that has plenty of room to grow? So far in our look at film I would have to say that the only approach that is fairly fresh is the visual aspect. But, as I have pointed out, this is not a comprehensive enough style to allow for a continued originality in film.
Film is a relatively old art form which has experienced a significant drop in originality and competency lately. This drop is the result of an art form which has all but exhausted its plots. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that the best artistic films of the last few years have had little substance and instead relied on visuals. Special effects and visuals, due to recent advancements in computers, are the last fronter for film. But even this fronter is being colonized by another art form which instead of dying out, has just come into its adolescence and continues to grow at an astounding rate: Video Games.