A note before we get started — the LA Times has long, and irritatingly, kept its entertainment coverage behind a paid-subscription wall. Well, it looks like they’ve finally realized what a terrible idea that it — CalendarLive is finally accessible to everyone (included us) who don’t treasure the LA Times‘ coverage enough to shell out for it, but who’ll happily check it out for free.
"Kingdom of Heaven"‘s tepid box-office draw this past weekend seems to indicate that America, at least, has no interest in a lavish epic with enough of a conscience to make the majority of its characters, Muslims and all, well-meaning liberal-humanist types. In a now-available LA Times article, Patrick Goldstein is frustrated both by the passivity of Ridley Scott’s chosen hero and by what he sees as Scott’s sidestepping the similarities between the bloodier, greed-driven moments of the Crusades (that would be most moments) and current events. The Guardian‘s Jonathan Jones is far more fond, starting off by saying he went in expecting a fabulously tacky exercise in bad taste, considering the subject matter, but instead finds that Scott makes a good point: we’ve essentially slipped back into medieval times, fighting holy wars, and that "if we’re going to lose the Enlightenment we might at least rediscover chivalry."
For more dire than "Kingdom"’s suggestions that we have not learned from the past and are indeed doomed to repeat it are what it’s BO numbers mean for Hollywood. "Kingdom" was a lush historic epic, with epic battles featuring CG knights hacking each other to death for the fellas and a rising waifish heartthrob of a star for the ladies, and yet it will probably end up at best breaking even after its DVD release. Sharon Waxman in the New York Times reports on how the weak weekend marks eleven weeks in a row of declining movie attendance and revenue compared with last year, and how the studios are, like, stressed. We gave you ORLANDO in CHAIN MAIL! they shout. What else do you people want?!
A.O. Scott suggests that we really want the indulgent fantasy that comes from comic books, in his Sunday NY Times piece on the genre:
Indeed, one might go so far as to say that as a cultural figure, the superhero is the opposite – the nemesis, the secret alter ego, the evil twin, the Bizarro-world double – of the movie star. And in their battle for world domination… the superheroes are winning.
"Kingdom" is being read by many as a lesser-"Gladiator," lacking the beefy leading-man shoulders of Russell Crowe to hold it up. But "Kingdom" and "Gladiator" are far different movies — after all "Kingdom" is a movie about someone having to discover what heroism is in a morally ambiguous world. "Gladiator" is, essentially, a superhero movie, in which Russell Crowe martyrs himself for revenge after brooding and suffering alone. And let’s be honest, the brooding and solitude are easy — actually interacting with people is far harder, and far less interesting to watch in a film.
Anyway, Time magazine has a look at what’s next for out, blockbuster trend-wise: "What has changed in the past few years is that instead of escaping into novelty (that shark! that spaceship! that dinosaur!), we now flee to the familiar." So, welcome to the great age of the remake. When outward-looking pop culture doesn’t seem to stick, it’s always safe to look inward.
+ How’s this for a Crusades concept? (LA Times)
+ What the Middle Ages did for us (Guardian)
+ Hollywood Worries as Decline Continues (NY Times)
+ Heroes vs. Stars: Revenge of the Nerds (NY Times)
+ Once More, With Feeling (Time)