Wherein unreasonably free time is dedicated to proving Jonah Hill is funnier than you.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

TransFanwanking (OR Autobot Apologetics)

My housemates were discussing an AP article on Orson Welles and Transformers[1], and one displayed shock that Transformers the Movie made ≈$6 million. It was a bust for a many reasons, but the thing to note is that animation in general had just finished bottoming out in 1986. The highest-grossing cartoon that year was Amblin's initial animation effort An American Tail,[2] which didn't even break the annual top 10; Disney made more off its Lady and the Tramp re-release than it did with the Independence Day debut of The Great Mouse Detective.

Never heard of The Great Mouse Detective? Time to put Walt Disney [Feature] Animation Studios in context. Here's the original-release and adjusted grosses of all Disney cartoons since Uncle Walt awakened to the life immortal:

Title (Original Release Date)------------Original Gross---Inflation-Adjusted Gross
The Jungle Book (1967)--------------------------------$73,741,048----$404,346,747

The Rescuers (1977)------------------------------------$29,000,000---$85,569,507
The Fox and the Hound (1981)------------------------$39,000,000---$92,309,353
The Black Cauldron (1985)----------------------------$21,288,692----$39,459,040
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)-------------$25,336,794--$44,936,955
Oliver & Company (1988)-----------------------------$53,279,055----$85,298,341
The Little Mermaid (1989)----------------------------$84,355,863---$139,814,000
The Rescuers Down Under (1990)--------------------$27,931,461----$43,448,939
Beauty and the Beast (1991)---------------------------$145,863,363--$227,976,468
Aladdin[π] (1992)----------------------------------------$217,350,219--$528,161,032

Disney was only just getting out of some 20 year-doldrums. The Smurfs and Care Bears had moderate success translating to the big screen — The Care Bears Movie actually made more than The Black Cauldron — but most cartoons of the 80s pulled in poor box office numbers. Cartoons released into 400+ theaters averaged a $2.24 million gross. In the 90s, there were over twice as many 400+ cartoons, and they averaged $5.84 million. There were more 400+ cartoons from 2000 to 2006 alone, and they averaged $8.72 million. Even accepting that current ticket prices are 2.4x those in 1980, it's clear there's simply a bigger market for animation then, even if none of it is has fire-breathing robotic dinosaurs that can fly.

Back to my housemates: they suggested that the forthcoming Transformers[4] is intended for people who could remember the first cartoon, and I brought up the fact that Shia Labeouf is getting to be a bankable star for precisely those people that couldn't tell Optimus from Opie. I don't know enough about the toy market — I mean, really, knights are popular??? — to track those trends, but I'd say the base for Transformers nostalgia can't be very big. Unlike Harry Potter there isn't a creepily large contemporary base, unlike LoTR the story was too vapid to keep people interested,[5] and it hardly has the pedigree of any superhero movie this side of Mystery Men. When the director is suggesting people would rather die than watch the '86 movie[6], you can't seriously believe Dreamworks is wooing anybody with a soft spot for Stan Bush.

For now I'm inclined to believe that there's nothing like Transformers: it's a movie built on an awesome premise that was almost never well-executed and has minimal staying power. I'm also inclined to end this post because it is long and increasingly esoteric.

[1]Personally I prefer my paper on Orson Welles and The Incredibles
[2]Which of course lead Don Bluth to believe he could beat Disney at its own game. Let us hope Chris Sanders learns from his mistakes.
[3]BoxOfficeMojo doesn't have the grosses for
The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973), or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
[π]At which point Disney "realized" if it made pop-cultural references for the old-folks, it could be entertaining for more than just kids, meeting its logical end in the surprisingly charming but nonetheless unprofitable Emperor's New Groove. Then for some reason they decided to make aesthetically unpleasing action movies like Atlantis (cel-shaded CGI is boring), and Shrek latched onto the pop-culture-caboose, putting Spielberg back above Disney for the first time since...An American Tail! ... Well, I think that's funny.
[4]Produced by Steven Spielberg. Dun-dun-dun.
[5]No offense to Bob Forward and other folks behind 'Beast Wars.' Seriously, it was good stuff.
[6]Wired used "urtext"? +3. +Less Than Three, even.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Deez Postmodernuts

I've recently encountered two fairly old memes:
1) Lolcode, a "love letter to very clever people who are slightly bored" which is dying as a meme even while I write this.
2) DeezNats apparel[1], in particular, the "Mets Suck Deez Nats" shirt, which is at least a year old in meatspace time.

Both are examples of what I call "the pomo rake bit." Kung Fu Monkey[2] defined the notion of "the rake bit as:
Something that's funny, goes on too long so it's not funny, then goes on so long that it becomes INCREDIBLY funny.

A "pomo rake bit" transcends time and/or space to reference a prior joke, especially a prior rake bit. I advance this neither as a new theory or new phenomenon, but as something I enjoy. Layers of indexicality often elude me in other genres/media, such as musical motifs, literary allusions, and cinematographic styles. Comedy, however, is often brash and immediate; consider that if you reach the proverbial parking lot before you get a joke[3], then it's relatively deep. You are not supposed to need to unpack a joke, and so to have referential rake bits — to have humor that on its face proclaims to always, already entertain — is both comforting and refreshing.

Some people might think that either rake bits are lazy and/or appropriating them under the aegis of postmodernity/irony/unabashed-hipsterdom just highlights the cultural bankruptcy of the contemporary era. We might be so far removed from originality that reiterating a phrase that was tired a decade ago, or making an ever-increasing-array of websites dedicated to games of write-your-own-caption is what passes for clever. I admit insecurity regarding where to demarcate the distinctions between smugness, salience, and stupidity when the object of contention is Star Trek-cum-kittens.

Then I think about would I would do if I saw a "d33z n4+5" shirt: sigh, chuckle, and write a contented blog entry about it. Maybe[4] it's just me.

[1]Why not "DC's Nats"? Too far from the urtext?
[2]I've actually been calling it "the rake joke" for at the past year or so, which is still better than what it's called on the TV Tropes Wiki.
[3]Ron G told a joke once and said, "That's some clever stuff; you gon' get that in the car." How did Ron G not win? Anyway...

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Raise Your Hand if You've Seen 'The Adventures of Ford Fairlane'

In full on MSM-hater/symbiosis mode:

The Los Angeles Times made a list of 8 "summer sleepers," in anticipation of Knocked Up being the next one[1]:

1) 40 Year-Old Virgin (8/19/05)
2) Wedding Crashers (7/1505)
3) Mean Girls (4/30/04)
4) My Big Fat Greek Wedding (4/19/02)
5) The Sixth Sense (8/6/99)
6) There's Something About Mary (7/15/98)
7) Forrest Gump (7/6/94)
8) Ghost (7/13/90)

I'm not going to suggest additions but I did double-check to see if these movies were really unexpected hits. For example, Mean Girls was the widest release on the weekend it opened and the 4th widest release in April[2]. Calling Mean Girls one of the greatest summer sleepers of all time is like calling Disturbia the same because both had no real competition.[3] With the MTV Movie Awards coming up tomorrow, it also reminds me that Shia LaBeouf was once just "That curly-haired kid from Holes[4] with the thing for Lindsay Lohan."[5]

Ghost is the one choice that really enlightened me. It was the number 2 grossing movie of 1990 — behind the juggernaut Home Alone — but had the 71st biggest opening. Of the 70 opening wider, I can remember seeing about 20 in theaters, and of the other 154 below it, I saw but one (Fantasia) in theaters and can at least recognize only 5 others.[6] Point being, Ghost really did come out of nowhere, and, furthermore, I'm probably not going to remember Mr Brooks in 2024. As is, I've already forgotten everything else Kevin Costner did between and Thirteen Days and The Guardian.[7]

[1] Although it seems paradoxical (if not quite oxy-moronic), I can't convince myself that something shouldn't still be a sleeper if everyone picks it to be, and for that I blame Bill Simmons
[2] Behind
13 Going on 30, Kill Bill vol. 2 and Home on the Range, the last of which I really do still plan to review.
Disturbia was acutally this April's widest release. 2, 3, & 4 were Are We Done Yet?, Firehouse Dog[!], and Next.
[4] /'Even Stevens' which I assure you I never watched. Really. ¬_¬
[5] Just My Luck, Prairie Home Companion & Georgia Rule COMBINED made less than 'Disturbia.' Let's not even speculate on Surf's Up, Transformers, and Indy freakin-4. Considering how things have been going for him, I'm surprised LaBeouf doesn't have Justin Long's role in Live Free or Die Hard to boot.
[6] Mo Better Blues, House Party, Dances with Wolves, The Freshman, Green Card, and Edward Scissor Hands.
[7] Ooooh...stylin on Kevin Costner? I'm mad edgy, manky.