Success: The favourable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavours; the accomplishment of one’s goals; the attainment of wealth, position or honours.
Just a few short months ago – after what seemed like a lifetime of TV spots, incessant trailers and frankly way too much marketing – saw the release of Michael Bay’s over-the-top, robot action romp sequel Transformers 4: Age of Extinction starring Mark Wahlberg. Like a large portion of movie lovers, I wasn’t that excited to see it. In fact I still haven’t seen it and have no desire to do so in the near future. But from what I’ve read – and I’m not normally one to simply judge a movie by it’s reviews – I didn’t miss much. There’s no question that those brave souls who did tolerate almost 3 hours of “noise” perhaps did go in with some preconceived negative thoughts. However I’m not sure many of us were expecting quite the resounding deprecation upon it’s release.
Despite the continued negativity from viewers and critics across the board Transformers 4 has currently surpassed $1 billion worldwide making it the highest grossing movie of the year so far. Potentially it could take over Dark of the Moon and become the most successful movie of the franchise.
But how exactly is success judged?
Obviously the studio behind the movie – any movie – see it as a money making scheme so it’s main priority is to make a sizeable profit, and who could blame them? A movie is an investment after all. I think it’s fair to say that the first movie in the series is easily the best of the bunch but it never made anywhere near as much money as any of it’s sequels.
Personally I see movies as an art form rather than a money making device, but do they have to be mutually exclusive? Can movies be artistic and critically acclaimed but also be a commercial success and make a ton of money? Of course they can and that isn’t really the question here. The question is what is considered more important, money or praise?
Take for instance The Shawshank Redemption. Unquestionably one of the greatest movies of all time, a supreme masterpiece endlessly popping up on ‘polls’ and ‘lists’ across a wide array of magazines and websites. But when it was released back in 1994 it struggled to reap any profits whatsoever and commercially was only the 51st most successful movie of that particular year. It’s baffling to think how those stats can be true considering how revered the picture is 20 years later. I’m pretty sure that no sane person alive would ever be audacious enough to claim that Transformers 4 was even in the same league as Shawshank in terms of quality filmmaking. Heck it’s barely playing the same sport.
A movie can be backed by a highly experienced and adept marketing team which can perform all sorts of tricks to help get butts in seats once release day rolls around but it doesn’t mean said movie is particularly good. In the same respect a movie struggling to gather funds to help distribute it to as many screens as possible may possess the greatest display of acting and storytelling of all time, but if less people buy tickets to see it does that make it a failure compared to the big money makers? I would never believe that anybody involved in the industry – beyond the realms of the studio desk – would be naive enough to consider that cash in their pockets to be an irrelevant subsidiary to a high score on Rotten Tomatoes. However I would like to think that the majority of the industry professionals take their rudimentary baby steps in the hope of replicating to some extent the work of their peers.
Success in the film industry will always be somewhat of an anomaly, destined to forever be as easily cross examined as the flip of a coin. Like style over substance, money over praise is a thin line in the sand that draws the water in, stopping those who choose to stand on each side from drowning. Michael Bay might be smiling all the way to the bank but I wonder just how happy he’d be if he woke up every morning with an Oscar statue sitting on his bedside table?
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter