The people who have all the money have no art

I have fond memories of taking my newly wed wife on a date to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at the theater in downtown Eugene, back in the day. I also have fond memories of putting my toddler son Alaric in a little red wagon and trundling him over the Willamette River pedestrian bridge to the Valley River Center mall to see the next Indiana Jones movie…and also the Star War with all the Ewoks in it. These were movies made for entertaining fun, and were the background of my young adulthood. I think they also made my kids happy.

This past week, the latest Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, is playing here in Morris, and it’ll probably be playing next week as well. I haven’t felt even the most subtle stirrings of sentimentality to motivate me to go. The movie studios have milked me dry.

Also playing: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. I hope the theater is cleaning up — it’s a co-op, and I’m a member, but here I am, a guy who loves going to the movies, and I’m not at all interested. I’ve even got a free ticket tacked to the refrigerator, and the impulse just isn’t there any more.

One reason is that I’m aware that Indiana Jones is a terrible role model and a very bad scientist built on colonialist preconceptions, part of trope that has been thriving since H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The basic outlines of the adventure genre will be familiar to Indy fans, though its structure is heavily beholden to the colonialist politics of Haggard’s era: A brilliant White man, very often a professor, deploys personal reserves of cleverness, resilience and unrelenting determination in the service of exploration, discovery and resource extraction. That narrative template guides these stories even when the author attempts to push back on their ideological implications. Think, for example, about how the Indiana Jones films use the Nazi menace to distract from the fact that our hero is almost always appropriating the treasures of Indigenous or pre-colonial peoples. It’s as if they felt obliged to remind us that there’s always a worse White man, as a sort of alibi. It makes perfect sense, from this perspective, that Indiana Jones’s least-successful films are the ones that, like “Temple of Doom,” leave the Nazis out.

That contributes to my lack of interest, for sure. I feel a little bit guilty for enjoying a tale of a swashbuckling college professor fighting Nazis and also, unfortunately, looting non-white people’s history. Unfortunately, the pleasure part of “guilty pleasure” started to fizzle out as I also realized that every single movie is centered on garbage pseudoscience/pseudoarchaeology — the Ark of the Covenant with its vengeful ghosts, an evil Hindu priest who can magic hearts out of his victims, a goblet that grants eternal life, the crystal skulls of telepathic space aliens, and now in the latest, an ancient widget that allows one to travel in time. When you lay it bare like that, stripped of its gallant romanticized hero, they just look stupid. Maybe I can suspend disbelief once or twice, but not for 42 years. The well has gone dry.

I can’t help but feel that Hollywood has lost the script. It’s no longer about creativity and leaps of imagination — it’s about franchises, and repeating the same thing over and over again to wring out every last drop of profit. Indiana Jones should have been retired after the third one, going out on a high note — you could even argue that the first one was enough, time to move on. Star Wars, the same story: wasn’t the first trilogy more than enough, take a break and develop some new “intellectual properties”. Don’t get me started on superhero movies. I am so over the endless permutations of Batman. And now they’ve got this “multiverse” nonsense as an excuse to slap new costumes on tired old musclebound heroes.

It’s not just me, either. I was shocked to discover that the ever-optimistic Mikey Neumann, of Movies with Mikey, failed to find a single moment of joy in his review of Space Jam 2 (a movie that was completely off my radar, admittedly, and would actively avert any interest I might have in going to the movies). This was entirely out of character for him, but I think I share his despair at the ongoing corporatization of art. Neumann can usually find something worthy in even the most dreadful dreck, but Space Jam 2 is the product of a soulless corporate beancounter who saw the entire legacy of Warner Bros. as a fantastic collection of assets, a pile of stuff he couldn’t appreciate but could sell at an ungodly profit.

There are still a few movies I look forward to seeing, but none of them are attached to a “franchise.” That word is killing movies, just as “franchise” has killed so many small, unique, interesting diners around the country. It’s a word that makes profit-seeking landlords and accountants drool, though — too bad it has the opposite effect on consumers.


  1. says

    As long as they stop with the first Dune book. Turn it into a franchise and try to make all the sequels, and it will turn to shit.

  2. chrislawson says

    I can suspend disbelief for a good movie and highly recommend a lot of films with overt supernatural elements (a small sample: The Shining, Kairo, The Haunting). I could even put up with the crude Judaeo-Christian mythologising in the first Raiders, but I draw the line at movies that push the idea magic/divine intervention works if you believe in it enough. It’s a terrible message. And that was the big resolution at the end of Last Crusade.

    It’s even worse in kid’s films like the awful Peter Pan animated sequel, or Onward (which compounds the sin by directly ripping off the scene in Last Crusade, but does have a fantastic ending that does a lot of redeeming). Kid’s movies should not include people doing things that would kill them except they believe enough for the magic to work. (Note: not the same thing as characters needing to regain the confidence to do what they already know they can do.)

    And yes, Indiana Jones is a terrible role model as an archaeologist. It would have been nice if perhaps Spielberg and Lucas’s goal of updating 1930s adventure serials had exended to updating the cultural assumptions.

  3. salvelinus says

    @PZ Myers
    I’m sure the next 2 movies directed By Denis Villeneuve will be good. I’m looking foward for Dune 2 on November 3rd.

    But right, it will degenerate if they milk the cow after that

  4. drew says

    Maybe it’s just “a different form of cinema.”

    Seriously, though, it’s always been about profit. Why did they stop making big DeMille-style epics with lavish sets and hundreds of extras? Too expensive. The 70s auteur thing faded out because even though they were cheaper to make, the studios rediscovered sequels. If it worked for tired, repetitive material like The Thin Man and Blondie, it should work with newer, fancier things. Better than drugs, where the first one’s free – make customers pay for the first hit, get them hooked, and watch them return for Superman IV and Halloween I Can’t Count That High.

    FWIW, the new Indiana Jones has a woman doing most of the stunts and Ford says it’s his last film as Indie.

  5. profpedant says

    Hollywood has figured out how to make films that are very engaging, but they are undermining their success by not paying attention to whether the plot and character development makes sense, or are even interesting. There are still lots of films with excellent plots and character development, but over and over filmmakers seem to think that if they are going to spend a lot of money on making a film that film has be fundamentally stupid. The YouTube Channel does an excellent job satirizing many modern movies. If I were to get it together enough to start a YouTube Channel of my own I think I would try to focus on “De-Stupidizing’ various films.

  6. wzrd1 says

    Some things work well in a franchise model. An excellent example is a 7-11 store franchise makes good sense, generates good profit and few complain about the fairly bland selection in such convenience and fuel stores.
    But, when one makes a franchise out of entertainment, one gets Muzak, which while being ubiquitous, is universally loathed.

    Although, one Indiana Jones film could work, “Indiana Jones meets Geriatric Park”. I’ll play the part of Flatusaurus Rex. “Nothing at all happens at Geriatric Park, this is by design”, then Hotel California the entire cast.

    The rest of Hollywood’s output reminds me of Godzilla movies, where Tokyo was destroyed pretty much weekly by guys in rubber monster suits doing professional wrestling moves. OK when I was 5 – 8, but got boring pretty quickly, as it’d take the GNP of the entire planet to keep rebuilding Tokyo.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    At least the latest Tarzan had the former vampire fighting the mercenaries of king Leopold. I did not watch it, I just go by what I heard.
    Seriously, King Leopold’s troops were down there with the nazis.

    I recommend the documentary “Exterminate Every Brute” the title is after a quote by Kurz in The Heart of Darkness. The western colonizers were cruel beyond your worst imagination. The Japanese in WWII merely imitated the 1880s Europeans.

  8. jacksprocket says

    Now REAL archaeology is really exciting- like when I realised that as I trowelled down, a grey-orange square appeared in the orange- grey clay. Poshtole, turned out to be an early mediaeval building.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    Films- Joy Ride is said to be a good film about Asian Americans.

    The latest Mission Impossible is competently made, and regardless of what religious group Tom Cruise belongs to, he was a perfectionist during the filming.
    Archaeology- let me plug the blog “Aardvarchaeology” by Martin Rundkvist. A lefty RPG enthusiast and archaeologist.

  10. says

    Yes to all of this.
    I just read within the last couple of days a quote from somebody that we’ve entered the Paint Your Wagon phase of the superhero movie era. Basically, the genre is played out and we’re just killing time until the next thing comes along. I’ve felt that way for a long time, and have been insisting for the last 20 years that the next Batman movie should be called Again With The Batman.
    As for Dune, yes, please, stop with the first book. I recall trying to read the sequels decades ago, and not getting very far. I think that was common among those of us who read and liked the first book.
    I’ve always been frustrated with science fiction movies; Hollywood has often ignored the best authors in favor of thrown-together dreck with bad science and no thought to the implications and consequences of the technology portrayed.
    Also, the next Bond movie should be called Never Say Tomorrow Or Die, and should include a scene involving water skis and a shark. Just because.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    Re Dune: The early 2000s TV adaptation covered the first three novels. I thought it excellent. On a par with the 2000 BBC production of Gormenghast.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    “Smoking Causes Coughing” is a really weird anarchic comedy about very weird superheroes.
    “Name Me Lawand” looks interesting.
    I found these films at the Guardian, there is no guarantee they are available in USA.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    There are hundreds of fine science-fiction and fantasy novels out there which could make great movies – but clearly if Hollywood would even bother to look at any of them, they’d ruin ’em.

  14. Akira MacKenzie says

    Indy has always been good pulpy, serial-inspired fun, but you’re right. There comes a point and time where you just have to say that the story is over, move on, and come up with something new.

    But I assume that level of creativity requires money, and , wealthy capitalists don’t like spending money (on anything but themselves, that is).

  15. mamba says

    I liked the first Indy movie simply because he just kept screwing up, failing, and openly admitted he has no plan.

    It was great! A human person just messing up again and again and again…

    He tried to get the idol safely…failed. Tried to KEEP the idol, had it stolen seconds after exiting and never got it back. Tried to keep the Ark from Nazi’s, failed. Tried to re-romance his long lost, failed. Tried to re-take the Ark once he LED the Nazi’s to it, failed. Tried to destroy the Ark…couldn’t bring himself to do it and got captured. Tried to prevent Nazi’s from opening it, failed but luckily knew to keep his eyes shut at least so he didn’t die too.

    Seriously, what DID he succeed in during that movie? Nothing as far as I can tell…i fact had he stayed home the Nazi’s would have either not found the ark, or opened it in front of Hitler and his crew killing them all and ending the war!

  16. flex says

    @9, wzrd1, who wrote,

    Although, one Indiana Jones film could work, “Indiana Jones meets Geriatric Park”.

    I thought they already did that with Bubba Ho-Tep….

  17. says

    H’wood and commercial publishing (tried to figure out what made Clancy a bestseller?) have a common problem:

    None of the decisionmakers are practitioners, in any sense, of the process of creating their products.

    This is distinct from commercial music, where about 25% of the decisionmakers in “the industry” are actually musicians and/or songwriters. That still leaves 75% who shouldn’t be there, but that’s better than publishing or H’wood… let alone the “fine arts.” (Do not inquire into how working artists get noticed; it will make Congress look honest.)

    Spielberg is not a decisionmaker. He can’t get a film into the theaters; he can make a film, his name has influence with the decisionmakers, but he can’t get the funding and the other, immense logistical mechanisms rolling — let alone manage them. None of the other “name filmmakers” are decisionmakers, either; they can perhaps finance a production, but not the rest of it. (Exhibit A: Coppola… any of them)

    And this creates blind spots akin to letting classics scholars determine funding priorities in the life-sciences departments. With, frankly, about the same results; proclaiming “Knowledge Is Good”… isn’t good enough.† Of course, they don’t even go that far in H’wood (or commercial publishing) — for most of them, “Immediate Cashflow Is Good, Investment in the Future Is Coincidental.”

    † It’s rather disturbing that in Animal House, two of the Deltas were supposedly premedical students — but not once was there anything in the film related to a laboratory, or even a science lecture, or a problem set scattered on the table, or…. Not even a stereotypical colored-bubbling-liquids-in-insanely-complex-glassware-that-would-explode-if-actually-heated display! Of course, none of the filmmakers had any experience with that either — and the studio executives? Really? Or, more to the point, the writers and “inspirations,” and there we’re getting into the history of a real frat at my alma mater.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    Jaws @ 20
    One of many many examples is how Ultraviolet got dumbed down and shortened from what the director wanted.
    It was already an action/SF film, but the executives thought it was too cerebral. And since executives (like Elon Musk, för instance) always knows best, they made a re-cut version… that bombed.

  19. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 21

    …but the executives thought it was too cerebral.

    On one hand, I feel like my intelligence has been insulted. However, knowing what I know about most Americans (i.e. they’re generally dumber than whale shit) they may have a point. Capitalism is primarily supply and demand. They wouldn’t make that shit if millions upon millions of brain-dead knuckle draggers bought it.

  20. says

    Well, I just went on Fandango and got tix for Oppenheimer- I trust Christopher Nolan, and I’m probably the only person here that’s been to Trinity Site. Pretty much a must see.

  21. wzrd1 says

    Well, shit sells. How else can you explain what the other Coppola puts out, you know, Nicolas Cage?
    Or what they turned Starship Troopers into, from the first diluted mishmash to the chain of shit on a stick movies?

    As for the investors, they want zero investment, supreme profits and zero risk. Which means, garbage in, garbage out. So, we get the same resultant quality out of both Hollywood and youtube.

    Although, I did see one youtube video that was surprisingly well done about Titan. Guy has a pressure chamber, made a test cylinder out with carbon fiber and crushed a few. Got them up to around 85 bar.
    That’s good enough that I’d go with making a fleet of experimental ROV’s from it, just to explore the technology.

    Maybe even build that sub properly, outfitting it as a heavily instrumented ROV.

  22. Walter Solomon says

    My friends and I are waiting for Oppenheimer. It’s being directed by Christopher Nolan so I’m guessing it’ll be A Beautiful Mind meets The Dark Knight.

  23. wzrd1 says

    Maybe, although with Oppenheimer, there’d be plenty of chances to have explosions. They used a ludicrous amount of explosives in the Manhattan project before they called in British explosives experts, who finally managed to make a working implosion system.

  24. flange says

    Yes, it’s all about money and profits.
    But the movie industry, and a lot of corporations, are afraid of anything new, especially new ideas, new art. It’s always cheaper and safer to go with an old idea and change it just enough to avoid any risk. The product becomes expected, ordinary, bland, and eventually unmarketable. That’s the true risk.

  25. Steve Morrison says

    @#10: There was actually a brief mention of Leopold’s atrocities in the first Tarzan book.

  26. nomaduk says

    wxrd1@25: I will brooke no disrespect of Nic Cage. He is the one and only Nic, and can do no wrong.

    As to the rest of it, yes, one does wish people at the top weren’t the tasteless, brainless, money-grubbing Philistines that they are, and that they would just put up the cash and let artists do their work.

    But it was ever thus. Emperor Joseph II told Mozart his music had too many notes, or some such.

  27. chrislawson says


    Yep, Hollywood’s record on science fiction is abysmal. Even Arrival watered down the point of the story and added a nonsensical terrorist/political conspiracy plotline that was completely unnecessary — and this is one of the best Hollywood sf adaptations.

  28. joel says

    I agree with PZ and all the commenters here, BUT:

    Everything Everywhere All at Once. Hollywood can still put out really really great stuff when they choose to.

  29. silvrhalide says

    @3 Dune will be fine as long as Denis Villeneuve directs all the films and they stick only to the 6 books that Frank Herbert wrote. Avoid at all costs anything that miserable knuckle-walking troglodyte hack Kevin Anderson ghostwrote for the Dune book series. Makes the sparkly vampire books and fifty shades of crap look like Shakespeare.

    @2 Brain bleach stat for the David Lynch version of Dune. He never read the books, hated the whole idea of the movie, did it only for the $$$ and boy does it show. Forget the ticket price, I want the two hours of my life wasted on that piece of crap back.

    @13 The Batman franchise is unkillable. The current iteration is the former sparkly vampire cosplaying emo Batman. Need I say more?

    @ 20, 21 Fucking Mnuchin was listed as a producer on a Hollywood production that still somehow managed to make money. Kind of says it all.
    Sandman didn’t get made as a movie when the comic series was outselling X-Men. “Too cerebral” was the reason given.

    @ 24 I plan on seeing Oppenheimer too. Love Nolan’s work, especially since he still shoots original footage on actual filmstock.

    @ 30 Maybe the reason Dr. Jones never got tenure is because he hasn’t realized that continental drift over the course of a few thousand years is… negligible. And that it took between 30 million years and 120 million years for Pangaea to break up. I mean, yeah, he’s an archeologist not a paleontologist but come on.

  30. wzrd1 says

    I dunno, around 3000 years, with drift being around an inch (2.5 cm) per year, that’s an appreciable amount off if navigating between continents. The rate of travel is also one that would make the slowest snail look like a hypersonic aircraft.
    So, moving at such a velocity should trigger a sonic groan from any witnesses.
    Of course, Hollywood had Han Solo make the Alpha Centuri run in 1.3 light years…
    And I’ve baked meat in the oven for 45 light minutes.
    And my walk to the supermarket today was around 5.3 microseconds, alas, time dilated by not being anywhere near the velocity of light and people with operational brains knowing that a distance unit range would be a mile each way.

    Hollywood writers go on strike, their product then being superior to when they’re actually working.

  31. Walter Solomon says

    chrislawson @35

    Arrival…one of the best Hollywood sf adaptations.

    What about Contact?

    Joel @36

    Everything Everywhere All at Once

    I bought into the hype with that movie and completely regretted it. Easily one of my least favorite movies.

  32. wzrd1 says

    Frankly, they rather butchered Contact in a number of rather bizarre ways.
    The whole gist of why contact was being made got diluted to meaninglessness, listening to a radio telescope dish for some bizarre reason, the Message being hidden and societally dedication to resolving those hidden messages in universal constants, all diluted to drivel.

  33. brightmoon says

    The last movie I saw was Black Adam and I sat through the movie, in shock, thinking I would have paid for this if a relative hadnt got the bootleg . It was that bad ! I normally like silly movies like that but wow!!!

  34. wzrd1 says

    @ 41, glad that I simply pirated it. Never watched it again.
    As in, I’d rather watch Homer Simpson do the Spider Pig thing for an entire fucking week. Which is where I am for most US movies.

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