Studios owned by super-sized corporations haven’t been in the business of making real movies in a dog’s age. Not with any consistency, for sure. We are living in an era of mass devolution, and pitiless world-market realities demand that studios create and sell the hell out of renewable brands and franchises that the least educated, least sophisticated people in the world can groove to with having to think twice.
And yet somehow and in various hard-to-figure ways, studios like Warner Bros,, Universal, Dreamamount, Disney, New Line and 20th Century Fox along with their indie-mentality “dependent” production-distribution arms (Warner Independent, Picturehouse, Miramax, Focus Features, Paramount Vantage, Fox Searchlight) manage every now and then to crank out or at least acquire films that are about something besides an untrammelled interest in making money — movies with an alert mind or a cool attitude or a delicious funny bone or a soul even.
There’s one big studio, however, with a different attitude than the others, a studio that has a “dependent” arm that’s into toney films (Sony Pictures Classics) but also one into genre material (i.e., a euphemism for mostly second-tier junk), and led by people who occasionally get lucky with a quality film in the way that a stopped clock will tell the right time twice a day.
You know who I’m talking about…of course you do. I’m talking about the studio that gave us over the last few months the agreeably made, somewhat satisfying The Pursuit of Happyness, the sad and soulful Mike Binder movie Reign Over Me, and Casino Royale, the best James Bond movie since Goldfinger, and which single-handedly gave a new lease on life to the oldest franchise around. Three films to be proud of, by gum. But the rest…my God, the rest.
When I’m on my death bed I will look back upon how Sony Studios product befouled my dreams and sucked my soul dry from May ’06 to May ’07. I will think back to the twin horrors of the ’06 Cannes Film Festival — The DaVinci Code and Marie-Antoinette. I will remember my inability to laugh (all I managed were a few guffaws and one or two titters) as I sat through Talladega Nights, and how Adam Sandler‘s Click got steadily weaker and thinner after the first act. I’ll remember that horrible feeling of being trapped in an old leather storage trunk with All The King’s Men, and how rancid and putrid so much of Running With Scissors felt, and how infuriated Stranger Than Fiction made me feel. And Nic Cage‘s Ghost Rider, and the contemptible Perfect Stranger and Are We Done Yet?, and the mere thought of all those Joe Roth/Revolution films…don’t start.
And the very possibly wondrous and soul-levitating Spider-Man 3, of course. How do I know Sam Raimi‘s film isn’t a riveting, heart-stopping, spiritually stimulating film on any number of levels? I don’t know this at all, of course, because, as many readers have pointed out, I haven’t seen it and the tone and attitude of the first two films means nothing…nothing at all.
(I probably won’t see it until May 4th, by the way. Sony distribution execs are extra angry that I ran and rah-rahed Todd McCarthy‘s Variety pan and did the same thing with Kim Masters‘ Radar piece about the alleged $350 million production budget, and are determined not to show me Spider-Man 3 before it opens.)
I’m fine with missing freebie screenings (especially of Sony product), but I wonder if anyone’s fine with the lack of sophistication and seasoning and adult attitude that’s coming off the Sony lot these days, and…I don’t know, the overall shallowness and the relentless determination to angle their movies at the mouth-breathers. All I know is, there are reasons to occasionally smile or at least feel respect when it comes to movies made by the other guys (not often but now and then), but Sony product seems to give me a headache on a far more frequent basis. They seem to be following a kind of corporate-think, crank-it-out, bottom-line stinko mental- ity, and I really and truly don’t think it’s unfair or even unkind to call them the most corporate-minded of all the studios.
And I’m wondering why. What factors have led to this? Why is it that the other studios seem to somehow churn out smart, likable, above-average movies aimed at non-idiots with a bit more frequency than Sony? Or do I have it wrong? It doesn’t seem so to me, but one of the great things about a reader talk-back section is that you gain all kinds of different perspectives and insights. It’s not such a crazy or cranky idea that one studio among all the others might have more of a lowball, gorilla-friendly, brand-dependent attitude than the others. And I’m not even saying that this studio is absolutely and positively Sony. But it sure feels that way these days.
And all the money that Sony has made and will make is beside the point. Movies are fundamentally about dreams, awe, warm hearts, spiritual connections, hopes, longings, wonderment, God…all that good stuff. And I can’t think of any entertainment entity in any medium that has shared and spread around smaller approximations of these things than Sony.