On Friday, June 27, 2014, two geek cultured films hit North American theaters. One was heavily promoted from a longstanding popular children's franchise, while the other was a creator driven foreign project that refused to sacrifice its moral compass for ticket sales. If there ever was a time worthy of a David vs. Goliath analogy, this would be it.
This is an article about the day the idealist film, "Snowpiercer" went up against the juggernaut franchise, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and why we American film viewers are hypocrites.
First let us discuss Goliath. By now, you should have heard about the massive opening weekend of the newest Transformers movie. If you go by box office success, the honor of best summer film belongs to "Transformers: Age of Extinction," the fourth film in the Hasbro franchise headed by director Michael Bay. The beginning of the new trilogy raked in an astounding $100 million in its North American opening weekend. However, profits aside, the film currently holds a 16% from critics on movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.
Now lets take a look at David. "Snowpiercer" is a South-Korean film based on the 1980's French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige" by Jacques Lob.
Here's the synopsis of the story. The remains of human society on the brink of extinction due to a man induced ice age are forced to take refuge in a perpetual-motion engined train. Humanity may no longer set foot on Earth. The survivors on this train live in a new world with class hierarchies and social systems all within the confines of the moving vehicle that travels around the globe in a year's span infinitely. In an attempt at a better life for his poverty end of the train people, Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a revolution, battling his way up the train against the highborn.
There hasn't been a lot of discussion about "Snowpiercer" by American moviegoers despite starring A-lister and Mr. Captain America, Chris Evans. The reason for that lies with the film's director, Bong Joon-ho. The rising Korean visionary tackled this unique sci-fi in a gory and dark tone, attracting critical acclaim worldwide with enormous box-office sales internationally. This attracted Hollywood and the rights to the American release were purchased back in 2012 by The Weinstein Company. Upon submission of the film to The Weinstein Co., Bong was told he would be required to cut 20 mins off the run time to be worthy of a North American release.
The studio was afraid that the complexity of the moral message in the film would deter American audiences from watching. Bong refused to comply with the studio demands and was determined to stand behind his creative vision. Upset over the director's reluctance to comply, The Weinstein Co. decided to give the film a limited release to about a hundred theaters in Los Angeles and New York. If it generates enough money without any publicity and marketing, they would give it a wide release. That noble decision by the Korean director could cost the film millions in potential profit that a wide North American release could bring in.
Faced with the uphill battle, "Snowpiercer," currently holds a 93% from Rotten Tomatoes but has only grossed $200,000 due to the limited release plan by the disgruntled distributor.
We as an American society thrive on contrarian and hypocritical actions. The online community often criticized and disparaged Michael Bay and the Transformers' franchise, yet when push came to shove they still showed up in droves at cinemas.
Numbers don't lie.
After we watch the films, we bash and dissect how horrible it was for years until the next chapter of the franchise comes out. When we hear about a terrific film with rave reviews, we give high appraisal in our general discussions with one another, but we avoid paying money to see an unknown brand. American moviegoers prefer safety and recognition over exploration and art. Of course we will never admit that because we want to appear cool in front of our friends.
Remember "Avatar" in 2009? Initially, droves and droves of audiences were wowed and proclaimed James Cameron's alien flick to be the greatest film ever made. But after a few jokes here and there on late night talk shows, a couple "cool kids" throwing the word overrated around and "Avatar kinda actually sucks" became a thing.
Whether a movie is good or bad is a moot point. The concerning factor is how easily our perception is swayed by others and that we continue to be addicted to things we proclaim we dislike.
Is this why American studios view their audiences as lacking creative foundation and not mentally invested enough to intake complex stories?
Are they right?
The Transformers box office numbers seem to confirm their belief. We complain and complain about the lack of a well-written story in Michael Bay films that are only filled with sfx and things blowing up, yet we cannot resist watching them.
On the other side of the coin, here is a terrific film in "Snowpiercer" that consists of a morally stimulating plot that also contains a lot of sfx and things blowing up, yet it isn't deemed worthy of American audiences by the distributor.
We can't complain about studios releasing mindless content to us when we flock in droves to watch that mindless content and then criticize it for sucking. Fool me once shame on them, fool me twice shame on me.
This is the fourth Transformers... with a 16%.
Its on us, the hypocritical American movie consumer.