As long as the blockbuster formula works, don’t expect art


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The financial return on three Star Wars films has already made Disney’s $4 billion purchase of LucasFilm a bargain.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … filmmakers used to care about making quality films. Today, studios seem only to care about making as much money as possible.

There is no questioning the box office power of the latest Star Wars incarnation, Star Wars VII: The Last Jedi. As of Tuesday, the movie had brought in nearly $600 million in North America and almost another $700 million internationally, making it the sixth-highest grossing film of all time.

The question in the back of a lot of minds, however, is “When is this going to stop?”  When is the industry going to stop churning out sequel after sequel and create an original product for once?

The answer, in the face of such results, is “Not anytime soon.” Most films today may lack creativity and offer the same old cookie-cutter formula that most times leads to box office success and audience enjoyment at the expense of what might actually be termed “art.”

Studios and production companies are not willing to take risks when making films — precisely because it is a costly and risky venture. They want a safe way to earn back their money and then some.

That said, The Last Jedi is considered a pretty good film. It holds a 91 percent fresh rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes and has an aggregate score of 85 on Metacritic, indicating universal acclaim.

But it is that rare blockbuster that pleases critics and audiences alike.

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Star Wars fans have been dedicated to the franchise for 40 years.

Sam Frechette, an AMSA senior who also works part time at the Regal Cinemas at Solomon Pond Mall, has seen this phenomenon firsthand.

“Overall, it was a good film, and it took a lot of risks,” Sam said from the perspective of a fan. From the perspective of an employee pulling an eight-hour shift on a weekend, with packed auditoriums and long lines, the experience has been “a mess, but a profitable mess.”

The folks at Disney are particularly deft in putting out films that are designed to be popular, enjoyable, and — most of all — profitable. It’s hard to remember that the company was criticized when it purchased LucasFilm in 2012 for $4 billion.

That figure now looks like a bargain.

Disney has also acquired Marvel and, just recently, 20th Century Fox. Having already obtained Pixar, Disney controls some of the biggest and most profitable franchises in the world and it is the clear power player among studios.

But this also means that Disney will continue to squeeze every drop of blood from the franchise stones. Loyal fans are willing to see any film with the name Star Wars or Marvel attached to it, no matter how formulaic it may seem.

And it is not just movies that Disney is force-feeding the public. The company markets toys, video games, and additions to its theme parks to make as much money as possible. Nobody can touch the Disney empire.

It is up to independent filmmakers and smaller distributors to make smaller, more personal films that are better received by critics and that usually carry the day with year-end awards.  

“Once in awhile, a movie that is different enough will attract that audience,” Sam said.

At the moment, though, it is increasingly difficult to discern whether filmmaking is an art or just a cutthroat business.