May 25, 2010

"Shrek Forever After"

From my review in Taki's Magazine:
Hollywood’s clean little secret is that many people in the industry are not, at least by natural inclination, the utter shlockmeisters that their output would suggest. They are often cultivated, tasteful, hard-working craftsmen sometimes pained by the trashiness the public demands from them.

Over the last decade, the animated Shrek franchise, a hugely successful series about a green ogre in a tawdry fairy tale land, has offered perhaps the most flagrant example of What the People Want (and Deserve to Get, Good and Hard). Yet, in Shrek Forever After, its latest (and likely last) installment, the animators have moved in a surprising new direction.

The typical billion-dollar box office property, such as the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Spider-Man series, is based on an elaborate preexisting work whose integrity is jealously guarded by fanboys. In contrast, the 2001 Shrek was a surprise hit derived merely from a 32-page bedtime book by William Steig, allowing the franchise to become a tabula rasa pandering to median 21st century tastes.

The first Shrek had evolved into a poison pen letter from DreamWorks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former Disney studio head during its Beauty and the Beast silver age, to his ex-boss Michael Eisner. Shrek’s villain, Lord Farquaad, was modeled on Eisner, who had tried to cheat Katzenberg out of his share of Disney profits (eventually settling for, reportedly, $280 million).

You might have expected that the audience for a family film would have either been oblivious to or alienated by this backstory of Hollywood venality. Instead, they were galvanized.

The meta-joke of Shrek was how DreamWorks’ crudely animated versions of public domain Disney characters (such as three small pigs or a wooden boy) tiptoed right up to but didn’t quite violate Disney’s notoriously well-defended copyrights. It’s remarkable that the public now more or less gets intellectual property humor, but also a little depressing.

Read the rest there and comment upon it below.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know, Steve, I wonder if this time your analysis is incomplete.

I think the "Shrek Forever" box-office may be poor not because the public finds the new movie disappointing, but because they found "Shrek the Third" so very disappointing they swore off Shrek movies forever.

"Shrek" was good (and even little girls liked it, according to my research sample). "Shrek II" was still okay, so people were willing to go to "Shrek III." That one utterly sucked, again, according to my research sample (as well as in my own opinion).

My research sample is hardly interested in going to another Shrek since the last one was such a stinker.

I have noticed that while Shrek I gets cable/satellite airtime, and Shrek II as well, Shrek III never does.

I wonder if Shrek Forever will do better in the aftermarket.

aafasdfasdfsa said...

I haven't seen any in the series. Looks like Drek to me. And a pro-interracist movie.

David said...

>They are often cultivated, tasteful, hard-working craftsmen sometimes pained by the trashiness the public demands from them.<

A major fallacy is there.

The public does not demand anything. It accepts whatever it is given (unless there is genuinely competitive material).

Give a hog slops. The hog will eat the slops. Give a hog truffles. The hog will eat the truffles.

The public doesn't make public taste; the makers of public taste make public taste.

With the Dreck franchise, the market is for a nationwide, well-advertised, well-produced kiddie cartoon with something to keep the trapped adult viewers awake. More accurately, it's simply for something to watch that isn't plainly offensive or depressing, for the purpose of passing the time. Dreck filled this market niche acceptably at the time of the first installment. (The current installments are satisfying the market simply by being a "proven" property - better the slops we know than the slops we don't.) But notice that even this (extremely minimal) "market need" has been manufactured by media owners.

The eternal whining excuse of the shlockmeisters is that the public DEMANDS shlock. Let's unpack that. What does DEMAND mean here? It simply means that if tons of slops are being dropped on the hogs, the hogs get kinda used to slops and the tons are more or less reliably consumed. Your exquisite truffle will fill only one hog's belly for a limited amount of time. Meaning, you will not earn as much as the slopmongers.

This is not because the public loves and demands shlock. It's simply because of the fact of scarcity: relative quality is always in short supply. They like Dreck the same way they like McDonalds.

If you make something better, and you advertise it as widely as Dreck, and you make it easy for people to access physically (it's at the local theatre), they will go for it. You will be "the next thing."

Yes, there is an upper limit of what the broad public can appreciate, but that limit is never tested by the lazy a--holes who keep the trough filled with slops and who whine "I have no choice about giving this to the hogs - they eat so very much of it."

If the only reading material provided to the public were Shakespeare and the Bible, would people stop reading?

Geoff Matthews said...

So, have you noticed how 'Blink' has been in development for 5 years now?

Anonymous said...

The public doesn't make public taste; the makers of public taste make public taste.

Agreed.

Yes, there is an upper limit of what the broad public can appreciate, but that limit is never tested by the lazy a--holes who keep the trough filled with slops and who whine "I have no choice about giving this to the hogs - they eat so very much of it."

Gotta disagree there, however.

Maybe five or seven years ago, I might have still bought into the argument that those folks were simply lazy, but since I've been studying what this blog seems to call "HBD" [although it's really more akin to something like "ethnic studies" - IYKWIMAITYD], I would have to align myself with the camp which holds that all of this filth & inanity is part of an intentional campaign to destroy our culture & our society [which, at this point, those folks have pretty much succeeded in accomplishing].

Anonymous said...

I agree with David's comments above. I would go further in that I believe the arts actively mold public standards and taste, for the majority, not for the discriminating minority of Steve's readers. I believe we are witnessing a systematic "dumbing down" of public tastes by our elites for various motives. Our moral standards are being actively eroded by the mindless violence and sexual perversions depicted by Hollywood.

I think that the film industry reached some sort of transition point in the late 90s/early 00s when standards really went to crap. I suspect this had to do with the final nail having been driven into the independent film industry's coffin, by means of various tactics, including ratings manipulation.(There was actually an independent documentary on this subject in the early 00s.) There was no longer any competition--the big studios had a lock on the industry. Now they can simply do whatever they want, and the public will come to see it because there is no alternative.

agnostic said...

David provides the clearest illustration of the loser artist's mindset. Notice how little there is that champions that common man and his ways. Instead it's some rant against rival culture-makers-and-controllers that we'd expect not from a Romantic but some tiresome paternalistic dork like Dickens.

Quality is in short supply? Cute remark for scoring points against your rival culture-makers, but get real. Information goods like movies are not like McDonald's hamburgers. If a good movie is out there, it can be reproduced and distributed incredibly cheaply.

So as far as the actual watchable movie goes, and not the human talent that created it, there is no such thing as a shortage that leaves the hogs with mostly slops and a lone unrecognized genius truffle.

In reality, if a good movie were out there and the public wanted it, it would go from shortage to abundance within a couple weekends. If we don't see that happening with whatever you consider good movies, it must therefore be because the public doesn't care for it.

Deep down, they really don't like your culture. They're not going to wake up and start inviting your culture to their parties once you lift the veil.

fasddsfasdfasf said...

Why do Hollywood/Disney movies for kids have to present such UGLY creatures? Did you see UP? Lots of fun stuff, but the old man and the kid looked gross beyond belief.

Lots of wit, lots of action, but ugly, ugly, ugly, gross, gross, gross.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but did you catch this Steve:

CIA unit's wacky idea: Depict Saddam as gay

"During planning for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the CIA's Iraq Operations Group kicked around a number of ideas for discrediting Saddam Hussein in the eyes of his people.

One was to create a video purporting to show the Iraqi dictator having sex with a teenage boy, according to two former CIA officials familiar with the project.

“It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” said one of the former officials. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.”"

"The agency actually did make a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys, one of the former CIA officers recalled, chuckling at the memory. The actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” he said."

Whiskey said...

Actually, Steve, Hollywood is filled with degenerates who think Polanski ought to get a pass because he made Chinatown. This includes, most major directors including Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Michael Mann, and Harrison Ford, Natalie Portman, and other big names.

Moreover, most of Hollywood's time and energy goes to movies like "Margot at the Wedding" or "TransAmerica" or other stuff that is so edgy and hip that it is utterly repulsive to the viewer, like say "the Reader" (Oscar winner, about a female concentration camp guard who has an affair years later with a teen, and is excused for genocide because she was illiterate).

Or take "Machete" which Big Hollywood labels a call for anti-White race war, and a ode to Mexican racial superiority over Whites.

That's Hollywood.

The WSJ reported that ticket prices, rising with inflation and 3-D, were not off-setting the falls in DVD / Blu-Ray sales. Ticket revenue was up, but attendance was down 6% from the prior year. Evidence strongly suggest that people are substituting Hulu or already owned DVDs or $1 Redbox rentals for Hollywood new releases.

Think about that -- Redbox has established the market for new releases -- $1. That to me screams most of the audience does not perceive value, and is perfectly willing to wait about five months for a movie, or perhaps never see it at all.

Consumers are under stress. Income is not rising, savings by all measurements are. Discretionary spending has been cut back. Some slack has been cut since 2009, but not much. Same-store sales by Wal-Mart dropped, last quarter, to the prior year's quarter, and "survival bias" seems to infect the rest of retail land (i.e. Same-store sales biased by lots of closures funneling customers to remaining ones). If you have 100 DVDs, you don't need a 101.

Anonymous said...

Steve is right. For all the complaining out there about Hollywood pandering to the lowest common denominator, there are way too many cases of consumers voting with their dollars to reward things like Shrek, Transformers 2, or Indy IV. Yes, Pixar has managed to take the high road, but that's largely been by establishing themselves as a brand that parents can trust.

The only bright spot is that a lot of genuinely good movies like How To Train Your Dragon have longer box office legs and end up doing well in the long run.

agnostic said...

"I think that the film industry reached some sort of transition point in the late 90s/early 00s when standards really went to crap."

Not for sex, by a longshot. I've looked up the top 10 movies by box office revenue from the late '60s to present, and the presence of T&A in movies fell off a cliff in the late '80s / early '90s.

If you haven't noticed, movie-goers have a greater taste for and demand more family-friendly movies. Competitive movie studios have responded to this demand by supplying nudity-free movies for two decades.

You have to watch older movies to remember what it was like. Nudity all over the place, even when not required, like when Dirty Harry is chasing a criminal across rooftops in The Enforcer. The criminal falls through a glass skylight and lands -- in the middle of a porn orgy being filmed, with about 4 fully naked guys and 4 fully naked girls, everything shown. We see this same mess of naked bodies when Dirty Harry jumps down there in his turn.

Just one example, but it used to be everywhere. The sexual counter-revolution of the early '90s, part of the larger family values revolution, banished all of that from popular culture. Now the hit movies are about little kids flying on brooms.

Truth said...

"I think the "Shrek Forever" box-office may be poor"

What about Avatar; how do you see that one doing?

Anonymous said...

Don't know if mass media producers are just giving the people what sells. My son wanted to play Red Dead, but I doubt that the nudity and strong sexual content are intrinsic to the attraction of the game. I'm sure he is interested in nude girls and sex, but I would bet he is not very interested in the sex lives of the characers in his video game. It is almost as if they put it in to spite us.

Anonymous said...

As a, in poor internet taste, follow up to myself: they did Leasure Suit Larry, a video game about bedding hot chicks, and it went nowhere. There was never a similar game ever after.

For sexual stimulation of males I expect pictures of real people without accompanying "quests" or puzzles are preferred. Its the females who like the chase. Putting in strong language and sexual situations probably does not increase sales an iota, even among late teens.

Anonymous said...

I think the anti-white theme present in every Shrek needs to be teased out.

Anyone going to volunteer to sit through the lot and do a write up?

Whiskey said...

How to Tame Your Dragon, according to the FT, is making most of its money from ... TOYS! and licensing.

That's the indication that the Movie Business is not making money from operations. Not from tickets sold or current DVD/Blu-Ray discs sold or rented.

But TOYS! and licensing bed-sheets. Its like GM in the 1980's, making most of its money off GMAC not selling cars.

As far as AVATAR goes, that won't make much money for News Corp/Fox. Why? Because 60% of the revenues go to the Private Equity partners who financed it. The movie was so expensive that Murdoch had to give up the upside to get it made. Which is the primary reason I guess Cameron takes so long between films -- financing is a major hurdle.

Can Hollywood play with Private Equity? Nope. Obama's rewrite of Wall Street regs has heavy hands on Hedge Funds and Private Equity. Europe is doing the same, regardless of UK protests (that's probably the point). Funds can domicile in the Bahamas or Geneva, but to raise money from the US and Europe, they'll have to play by the new, risk-averse rules.

So a lot fewer funds to make the next $500 million AVATAR.

[Shrek 4's 3-D and IMAX revenues were off DRAGON's, which in turn were off ALICE's -- suggesting that people are tiring of the 3-D tax and experience. If they wanted to see it, they'll see it in 2-D, cheaper. The 3-D craze is not saving Hollywood.]
-------------------
Nudity etc? Did anyone SEE Bruno? Hilarious but icky male nudity all over the place for shock humor -- see the Hangover, Sarah Marshall, etc. That's typical for R movies.

Most of Hollywood is leaving money on the table, constantly. Damon can't make a simple war thriller, he has to make an anti-Military/US Iraq movie and wonder why Green Zone bombed, so hard it killed the Bourne Franchise. Who would go to see turkeys like Stop-Loss or Rendition? Or the Plame movie? Or race-baiting, anti-White Machete?

Anonymous said...

isteve readers are mostly clueless with regards to the arts.

Simon in UK said...

Re screen nudity - in the UK female nudity vanished from tv and cinema (except for occasional 'serious drama') ca 1990 due to feminist Political Correctness, not a revival of family values. Was it different in the US?

Re Shrek - can someone explain how the human king & queen have an ogre daughter? I've watched all 3 movies (*sigh*) and this was never explained AFAICR. The first movie seemed to indicate she was a natural-born ogre cursed into human form. They retconned that for 2+, but without any explanation AFAIK.

Anonymous said...

isteve readers are mostly clueless with regards to the arts.

How annoying, the rest of your incisive, and no doubt illuminating, comment seems to have been lost by blogger.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

isteve readers are mostly clueless with regards to the arts."

We're not talking about art. We're talking about movies.

Anonymous said...

agnostic: Not for sex, by a longshot. I've looked up the top 10 movies by box office revenue from the late '60s to present, and the presence of T&A in movies fell off a cliff in the late '80s / early '90s...

Whiskey: Nudity etc? Did anyone SEE Bruno? Hilarious but icky male nudity all over the place for shock humor...

But that's just the thing: instead of giving us good, wholesome, arousal-inducing shots of female mammary glands [Ingrid Pitt or Britt Ekland or Helen Mirren] - which might actually inspire a budding young shkotzim stud to go out there and make some progeny with a young woman - the nihilists who shove all of this horrible propaganda down our throats give us endless shots of male nudity, male-to-male kissing, male-to-male fondling, flatulence, excrement, the act of discharging excrement, people standing around smelling excrement [or flatulence] after it's been discharged, etc etc etc.

[There's a relevant quote from the Talmud, which I could throw in here for emphasis, but my experience with Komment Kontrol has been that talmudic references are strictly verboten in these parts.]

Sideways said...

"As a, in poor internet taste, follow up to myself: they did Leasure Suit Larry, a video game about bedding hot chicks, and it went nowhere. There was never a similar game ever after."

Except for the seven sequels?

Anonymous said...

Just one example, but it used to be everywhere. The sexual counter-revolution of the early '90s, part of the larger family values revolution, banished all of that from popular culture. Now the hit movies are about little kids flying on brooms.

Part of the reason is those of us who grew up exposed to that stuff remember being freaked out and confused by it. It's a normal generation change. Children raised in an atmosphere of sexual permissiveness grow up into adults who create a prudish, sexless environment for their children, who in turn grow up into adults who get a big bang out of violating the norms they grew up with, lather rinse repeat.

Geoff Matthews said...

I agree with your point about voice actors in cartoons. Big-name actors rarely make a difference. Off of the top of my head, form Disney, only Robin Williams (the genie) and Jeremy Irons (Scar) are the only ones that I couldn't see replacing.

When I saw the first Shrek movie, I initially thought that Billy Connolly was Shrek's voice, and I'm sure that he'd do as well, or better, than Meyers.

David said...

I like a lot of movies. Didn't mean to come off like a grouch about it.

But denying that quality is scarce in this area of human life as in all others is not populism, but evasion.

Anonymous said...

I have no trouble finding wholesome quality entertainment with enough moral ambiguity to keep the adults engaged for my children. There's Miyazaki; there are older children's movies; there are movies like the Secret of Kells; if you have the internet you are spoiled for choice. What is nearly impossible is replicating the social experience of movie-going back when people still had manners.

DAJ said...

"...And a pro-interracist movie."

What happened to the concept of freedom of association?

Anonymous said...

Billy West of Futurama has commented on how lousy celebrity voice acting is and how it takes away jobs from people whose profession is actually voice acting. The producers would actually take his audition video and play it for a celebrity to copy.

http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Billy_West,_voice_of_Ren_and_Stimpy,_Futurama,_on_the_rough_start_that_shaped_his_life#The_use_of_celebrities_for_voiceovers

David said...

Have just now read an awful puff piece on a young opera diva (details withheld to avoid embarrassing anyone) in which she declared: "I realize I'm not being paid to please myself."

Tellingly, buried in the article is the anecdote that an elder teacher, judging her audition, told her, "You have nothing to offer artistically."

Now supposedly this remark of the teacher spurred the diva to work hard and develop her art. Nevertheless, her statement betrays the abiding philosophy of the no-talent: namely, that art (music, movies, whatever) is primarily a money-getting racket, the artist is an automaton programmed to please audience taste, and personality (thinking, feeling) on the part of the artist is "self-indulgent." My cruel hunch is that this diva still has nothing to offer, and that no one will be speaking of her five years from now.

For those without connections, going into the arts is a strange way to pursue money. There are easier ways to make a lot of money. (Unless you're a superstar grant writer, that is.)

Most people go into the arts because they have something to say and want to say it. Can you imagine the mentality of someone who goes into them without this qualification, the person whose personality is so bad his first rule is "I'm not being paid to please myself"? (I'm not referring to technicians, who are legitimately proud of the intelligence they can exercise in tastefully employing technology.) Other than capital-N narcissism (look at me! I'm on stage! I'm lead singer!), their motive seems unfathomable.

The irony is that narcissists call the sincere people narcissists for being sincere.

Corporate rock sucks. So does corporate opera. Both lead to the withering and death of a formerly living form.

Anonymous said...

Corporate rock sucks. So does corporate opera.

It's a little easier to start your own rock band than your own opera company though.