Sunday, October 30, 2016

October 30, 2016 - A Flop is not a Disappointment (and vice versa)


Almost twenty-five years ago to the day (I wanted to save it for the November anniversary, but there were too many other good topics, and it's a quiet week), I was browsing magazines at a Barnes & Noble, flipped through the Entertainment Weekly that week, and read one of the most elusive, unexpected lightning-bolts of accidental GENIUS I had ever read about movies. I don't even think the columnist quite knew what he'd hit upon either.  
But twenty-five years of quoting and expanding upon the theory later, it was probably one of the first great influences that set me on the road to Movie Activism, and not following the crowd of entertainment-newsthink.  It was like the movie-nut equivalent of the Theory of Relativity.

Video columnist Ty Burr (now critic for the Boston Globe) had been handed the home-theater review for 1991's "Hudson Hawk", only a few months after it'd become one of the biggest theatrical money-losers to date, and since he hadn't already seen it, tried to find a "hook" that would liven up the column.
Trying to put aside the cheap "so bad it's good" angle--which it WASN'T--he asked the simple question, is a Flop a "flop", and if so, how do you know for sure?  Maybe it's just "misunderstood"?
For all those years, until the miracle of Google, the Internet and magazine-website archives, I thought I'd never find it again.  And now you can read it too:
EW.com - Video, "Hudson Hawk", November 22, 1991

A quick summary for the Too Long, Didn't Read crowd:
A "Box office disappointment" is an otherwise reasonably watchable movie that didn't fare well for reasons beyond its control--bad timing, poor marketing, being put up against tough-competition weekend, etc.--and might be rediscovered later on video.
A "Flop" makes its own mistakes through bad creative decisions at the highest production level, and has no one but itself to blame.  And because they have a bad habit of making the same mistakes over and over, you can judge a Flop by testing it against the bad decisions made by other more famous established Flops:
  • "The Howard the Duck test:  Is the movie’s very concept ridiculous?
  • The Heaven’s Gate test:  Was the director given insane license to splurge?
  • The Leonard Part 6 test:  Is it vanity fare from a star no one dared say no to?"
And these were just the flops we knew of from the 80's to 1991, folks.  Look back at the summer of '16 and consider, how innocent were we thirty years ago?

For some reason, I remembered the article as being longer.  Over the years, every time I quoted the article, more 80's "tests" seemed to crop up in my recollections of EW's '91 column, like:

  • The Dune test:  Was the absolute wrong/unsuited director chosen by the studio for the genre?
  • The Annie (1982) test:  Were large portions of the budget spent on opulent set details that would spend little time onscreen?
  • The Ishtar test:  Did the studio put too much faith that star-value alone would rescue a weak script?
I somehow remembered the Heaven's Gate test as the "set detail" one, and the Howard the Duck test as "Was it made by a director who was his own executive-producer, and no studio had higher control over creative decisions?"...Or maybe that was the Willow test.

Moving on from the innocent screenwriter-80's into the corporate-franchise big-studio 90's, 00's and 10's, I was able to apply other more specific tests, like:
  • The Godzilla (1998) test:  Was a familiar property handled in a willfully wrong or inaccurate tone compared to what the core audience expected?  (See also:  Batman & Robin, Dark Shadows, Green Lantern, Jem & the Holograms)
  • The Lone Ranger test:  Was the studio/director so confident that a hit director was reuniting with his star from a previous hit, they tried to change the new film to incongruously copy the earlier one?  (See also:  Battleship, The Wild Wild West)
Looking back at Michael Lehmann's work on Hudson Hawk, we can even today say it chiefly failed:
  • The Green Hornet test:  Was a major big-budget studio genre film for a wide mass audience instead given to a director of small, quirky cult films? (See also:  Fantastic Four (2015), The Dukes of Hazzard)
The very definition should be in the name:  
A Box-Office Disappointment raised your hopes about it, and circumstances disappointed you.  
A Flop, onomatopoetically, trips over its own feet.

Last summer we had a bit of confusion with two of Disney's underperforming movies, which was already news considering they had the monopoly on almost every other hit film that year:
July's "The BFG", directed by Steven Spielberg, had an almost non-opening in fourth place, followed by August's update of "Pete's Dragon" which struggled in third behind two front-loaded cult-films before disappearing without a trace.
In entertainment headlines, that's the stuff that gets reporters to pass the popcorn--The need to validate all good and bad box-office figures as "true", for obviously being the movie's own fault, had analysts dancing around the fires.  And when Spielberg's "BFG" unexplainably did poorly, it was a time for vanity-bonfires and crackpot theories.  
Variety and other industry sites jumped on the unexpected headlines with bloodlust claiming "Spielberg can't make a summer hit anymore!  Is his career over?"  (Hey, got a little drool there, might want to...)


It's not a bad film, actually.  In fact, it's rather cute:  Spielberg had wanted to film the script adaptation by "E.T."'s Melissa Mathison for years, and the project suggests a labor of love after Mathison had passed away during production.  JK Rowling had once mentioned wanting Spielberg to direct the first Harry Potter movie, and here, she almost gets her wish--Spielberg gives Tom Hanks a rest and puts aside his usual Jewish/wartime agendas of his past few films, lets Mark Rylance as the title character transform Roald Dahl's nonsense-word jabberwocky into a natural North-country dialect, and turns the keeping-calm and carrying-on of British-fantasy whimsy up to eleven to give us, basically, the Early Harry Potter movie he never made.

So why did the movie do so badly?  Here's where we get into the theory of what makes a Disappointment different from a Flop:
First, it had just about the year's worst release date imaginable--Maybe Disney was modestly not expecting their own Pixar's "Finding Dory" to be the year's biggest box-office hit to date, but it certainly couldn't have helped Spielberg's film to be released two weeks later.  Many who saw BFG felt it would have done better later in August, when less competition in theaters finds it easier to attract parents with back-to-school kids, as well as end-of-summer audiences who've spent out the tentpole blockbusters and are willing to try something different.  Unfortunately, Warner's "Suicide Squad" had the same second idea, and Disney had tried to steer clear...Not to mention, they'd already saved that slot for their own other summer oddity.
Second, the marketing was difficult, as Disney was overestimating the children's-book literacy of the audience--Roald Dahl's book is a staple in England, but over here, not too many Yanks past their fourth-grade reading lists know their Dahl apart from classic Gene Wilder candymakers, giant peaches and smart telekinetic waifs. No one quite knew what a "BFG" was (a Big Friendly Giant, in case you're wondering), and groused that it was the movie's fault for not telling us in the trailer.  Thus, they wondered who the funny-looking character with the big ears was, since they had no idea that Rylance's CGI-enhancement had been crafted to resemble Quentin Blake's well-known illustrations from the book.
Do any of these complaints have to do with the movie itself?  No.  They have to do with the audience, the studio, and the pre-release marketing.  And when a movie unfairly suffers for the crimes of the audience and the studio, that's, well...DISAPPOINTING.

Disney's remake of "Pete's Dragon", although it doesn't quite extend far enough into the "mistake" territory of the Flop (at least not as much as the bizarre bait-and-switch of Disney's flop "Tomorrowland" did the summer before) did rather puzzle its intended audience:
An old-school singing-and-dancing 70's-Disney musical set in a 1900's Maine town was instead turned into a serious realistic TV-styled contemporary non-musical drama--with gripping action climax--with no resemblance to the sentiments of the previous movie, except for the baby-boomer money-title and central concept of a boy and his invisible dragon.  Parents wooed by childhood Disney nostalgia were disoriented, and kids who hadn't grown up with their parents' DVD's had to take a relatively generic movie at face value...Along with an even stranger all-CGI virtual-character than just an old grandpa with elephant ears.

Neither movie seems to outright fail any of the Flop Tests, and yet we're left with the sense that Dragon was the guiltier party of the summer--
Many Disappointments find amnesty years after video, with their theatrical numbers long forgotten, while a Flop is when the central reasoning or appeal of the movie itself doesn't make sense, and causes the audience to ask basic questions any normal audience member would ask--Like, "The Lone Ranger rides a freakin' elephant??"
(Or, in the case of Disney's summer movie, "Who the heck ever heard of a FURRY dragon anyway?  Seriously.  That's like...no.  That's even stranger than the 'no musical' thing!")

The point is, every Flop and every Disappointment has to be taken on a case by case basis, and some even manage to have their "criminal records" cleared.  The trick is just in knowing which questions to ask.

Years from now, who knows, experience may provide us with even more new tests like, 
"- The Fantastic Beasts test:  Was too much studio focus misdirected to minor side franchise characters/details that held no interest for the main audience?  (See also:  X-Men Origins: Wolverine)", etc., but the theory remains.
The science of forensically testing our "flops" will help determine the Innocent from the Guilty.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

October 23, 2016 - 


I know I'm not the only who's noticed, and neither are you.  The move of corporate Hollywood from the story-encapsulating images of 70's posters, or 50's monsters carrying the girl, has now given way in 00's-10's Hollywood to a sort of generic portrait gallery, with the same pose meant to "ritually" identify each particular sub-genre.
It's already become a favorite viral joke among Internet wags on Tumblr and Pinterest, to put together Genre-galleries by poster image--Like the "Eye is the Window of the Soullessness" scifi/horror movie, or the "Back-to-Back 'Pretty Woman' Dueling Rom-Com-Couple":

It's not that complicated an idea--Studios, after all, have a jealous habit of wishing they were Somebody Else's Movie You Liked Better, and dressing up like their favorite role models.

But this blog isn't here to do viral jokes.  We're on a proactive mission.  Anyone can viral-gag asking a question, the hard part is in trying to answer them.  If we know the cause of the disease, we're that one step closer to finding the cure.  (If any.)

If you want to find some root cause of the disease, think back to the exchange between Geoffrey Rush and Tom Wilkinson in "Shakespeare in Love":
"But I have to pay my actors and author!"
"Share of the profits."
"There's never any." 
"Of course not!"
"I think you may have hit upon something..."
Actors today are a little smarter than they were in Shakespeare's time.  After the case of Art Buchwald v. Paramount Pictures, suing for his stolen story on 1988's "Coming to America" and winning, discovered that the #3 box-office smash of 1988 "hadn't turned a net profit" under Paramount's "Hollywood Accounting", and thus had nothing to pay out, actors know they're not stupid enough to ask their agents for a share of movie profits anymore.
What they now want are Points--Points that will establish their "sales ability" as recognizable studio stars, share in the investment, a legal co-producer credit if they do share in the production, a profit off of any marketing of their character outside of the movie, and negotiable value as a Hollywood power-player staple that will allow them to leverage more demands on their next movie contract.

Among other complicated studio entanglements, this now means two things:
1) Actors are chiefly interested in marketing their faces for a living, and
2) Marketing those Faces For Sale now comes at a PRICE.  Talk to their agents, or face the consequences.
Studios, however, are interested in only one aspect of marketing, apart from what agents demand:
1) Audiences already know the movie they're buying a ticket for, walking in.  You're selling them the intimate in-knowledge of an old friend who's come back again, not some total-stranger movie out of nowhere they, like, wouldn't know.

Sometimes, the actor has negotiated his character to be the entire selling point of the marketing.  
Often this can be achieved with just an arresting ultra-closeup of nothing but the actor's face, and the teasing word-economic story ambiguity of the Vertical Tagline:
The teaser poster for the 2013 Carrie remake showed Chloe Moretz's face, with the vertical tagline "You. Will. Know. Her. Name."  The teaser poster for 2016's Jason Bourne showed Matt Damon's face, with the vertical "You. Know. His. Name."  
Well, now that we're all familiar on a name basis, let's have some drinks; who's for a game of Pictionary?

But this brings up the obvious question:  How can you tease an action movie, which is 90% ABOUT the lead actor/character hero, and not contractually show his face for another month or two?
Simple:  He's there, but with his back to us.  He's too busy Facing His Lone Destiny.

Or just carries some instantly recognizable weapon in his hand.
Don't worry though, the hit franchise character is still iconic to his fans even from the back or other isolated body parts, so You'll Know His Name.

But the most crucial Job One of a franchise sequel is to sell not a hand or nape of a neck, but to sell the LOGO--Like the logos of opera masks and French orphans that now ride atop every NYC taxi on Broadway, a shaped symbol logo must singlehandedly conjure up an entertainment movie-studio franchise.  
And with six months to a year to wait for the "You Know Its Logo" sequel to the earlier hit movie, the most arresting image is that the abstract presence of a logo you thought was gone is now beginning to reappear (ooo!), and won't fully take shape until next May, June or November.  (The one thing a teaser poster must sell is not the title or tagline, but the DATE--One look at the logo, and You Know Its Title.)  As with the damage to Starfleet Headquarters in 2013's "Star Trek: Into Darkness": 
And as usual, Chris Pine--or is it Benedict Cumberbatch?--has his back to us.  Not that we would really be able to see his tiny face next to all that big wreckage even if he was allowed to turn around and show it to us from the front.

But once the title is teased, taken hold, and started production, presumably all the major actors have their contracts ironed out, and are now free to show their face.  We have the second problem--WHOSE face gets to be shown?  Who is the true "star" of the movie?  Ask an ensemble movie of several lead characters, and you may find each actor had an agent who told them they were.  And no studio wants to start that argument.
This brings up that Points problem of "Character marketing", as even a major supporting character who was contractually cast now has to assert his presence in the movie.  Standup comic Robert Wuhl once joked about the system after appearing in 1989's Batman:  "I get a percentage of the marketing of my character--I play the wisecracking reporter who disappears halfway through the movie and doesn't get the girl; I'm hoping for those action-figure sales."
Studios solve that problem with something that allows them even more "Lobby space" for promotion--A poster for each character.  (A practice that started during the early comic-book movies, like the '99 Star Wars: Episode I or '00 X-Men, when anal-retentive fans couldn't wait to judge their first peek at what each new character would look like.)  


To take a harmless example, here are upcoming posters for a 2017 Power Rangers reboot--First we have nameless silhouettes, an abstract tagline against a still-abstract lightning-bolt-logo sky, and no title but a date:
Now, five similar posters on a theme, each with the clear, negotiated face of one of the marketable characters in costume/gear, also with no title but the logo, date and cultural-nudge tagline--Which one are you rooting for?  Red? Gold? Pink?  (I don't care, I never watched the show as a kid.)
Yes, like those old third-grade school days...everyone's special enough to get a poster for participating, and no one gets left out.

And, of course, when a movie does finally open with its final marketable sales image, title and cast/credit list, it doesn't have six posters.  It has one.  With a lot of people who were legally told they would be on it.
To understand this concept, you have to understand about medieval art--In the old days, before Italian Renaissance painters like Brunalesschi developed the 3-D realism of perspective, "flat" 2-D medieval religious art had to determine the size of the figures by who was more important in the hierarchy to the scene depicted.  The saint would always be more ginormous than the almost equally big faithful king/noble patron featured, who was bigger than the normal-sized priests and teeny peasants, and so on, in terms of relative flattery.
This brings us, in our modern days of feudal Hollywood, to the final poster, or "Head salad"--It's the studio's last chance before opening to give every actor the poster-representation they negotiated for, and like the class picture, EVERYBODY has to be in shot.  Just how big we see them in the shot, however, depends on their negotiable role in the movie.

So, as we said at the beginning, it's really not that complicated.  All major-studio movie poster campaigns today boil down to one simple formula--Nobody, Each & Everybody.
Let's take an example from last summer:  "X-Men: Apocalypse", Nobody, Each & Everybody.
Take a look at the Everybody final-poster graduation shot:  James McAvoy/Xavier and Michael Fassbender/Magneto, they're the A-list focus of the story, they're front, center and in your face.  The new breakout supporting-character actors?--You can just spot them somewhere in back, they didn't get as much screen time.  (Insert Sesame-Street Grover voice:  "Near.....Fa-a-a-ar!").  The returning actors from the earlier film?  Don't worry, they made sure they're big enough to make out their faces clearly somewhere in the middle behind the front, or they wouldn't have come back for the sequel.
The villain?  Well, he's this entry's plot, he always has to be looming in back before he can show his face, like Donald Trump looming behind Hillary Clinton talking about healthcare.

Now let's try it with a big upcoming movie we haven't seen yet...Umm, I know:  "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"!
If the theory holds, we should have the teasingly abstract suggestion of a cool recognized pop-image/logo with no discernible actors and a date, a themed closeup of each supporting character as uniquely market-identifiable dramatic partner of the whole, and one graduation-shot where we get to see Who's Bigger Than Who.  Nobody, Each & Everybody.
There you have it--Told you it was simple.   The answer to the Internet question, "Why do all movie posters look exactly alike?":  Because the studios have no choice.
Because Hollywood Accounting, corporate franchising and agent negotiation have forced them to market every movie exactly alike.  Well...duh.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October 18, 2016:  The TV Activist, Pt. 4 - It's Just Like the MOVIES!!


We've heard a lot of praise lately that TV is currently in some "Golden Age", and "Better than ever!"  And by "better", the definition usually given is that we now have more of it.
Budgets are bigger, and shows are determined to spend them, so long as it's not on anything unimportant.  Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead push new limits on violence, sex, and general cinematic candy, that broadcast never could.  Viewers now have "a wealth of options" at their fingertips, bold, uncut and immediate, can happily cut the cord from cable systems' overpriced reality shows, and be set for life, never having to watch a vintage twentieth-century movie or rerun again if need be.

Broadcast, cable and streaming-era TV certainly seems to be all those things.
It's certainly Available.  It's certainly Bold.  It's certainly not on those old poopie commercial networks with their fascistically enforced airtimes or choices of channels anymore, that only showed you one episode a week.  What many are noticing, however, is that in the last few years, what it hasn't been is Fun.


Grimness is now the order of the day.   Series are season-arcs, in which no plot will ever be satisfyingly complete without an unsettling cliffhanger development.  Former A and B-list actors now act serious and important, trying to justify their career moves, while the show treats them front-and-center to justify their salaries.  Editing is harsh and bullet-point, and cinematography is dank and steely, trying to be "cinematic".  A "pivotal series moment" usually means that a character will be killed off (fan sites regularly gush over predicting who will be killed off by the end of every season, instantly assuming someone will), or catastrophic 9/11-style disaster will "change the characters' lives forever".  So-called "Glass Ceiling" series now feature female attorneys, female doctors, female investigators, etc., grimly determined to be taken seriously in a male profession, and never daring to betray their sisters with a smile, unless a righteously vindictive one against the un-PC.  
We're invited to spend some grim, bold, important, unsettling time with characters who, well, seem too determined to be having any FUN.

Why would TV knock itself out to be More Important Than Entertaining?
One year, in an expensive high-profile ad during the 2013 Oscars ceremony, ABC tried promoting their current ratings hit, by targeting the obvious movie-fan demographic with the appeal of all those neato CGI effects and wild fantasy premises on "Once Upon a Time".  
If you ever needed any explanation about what happened to TV in the 10's, it's one of those things you can't un-see or un-hear:

Yes, ABC knows:  Why do we watch a big-budget effects-heavy show, like Game of Thrones, Walking Dead or Doctor Who?  Because it's just like going to a big-budget effects-heavy movie EVERY WEEK! 

Some right now are hearing crickets after that, where they thought they would be hearing thunderous applause.  Why?  Well...it's kind of a weak sell, when you come right down to it.  We already have movies pretty much at our fingertips now, and usually in the same places we're finding the TV shows.  And having the two together has not only confused us about which one is which, or should be, it's confused themselves as well.
TV now tries to be as Cinematic as the movies, while Movies sell themselves as favorite cult-watch big-budget series, and sell their studio-tentpole franchise entries with post-credits teases to "Tune in next year, for our next exciting episode!"

Things were a bit simpler in the early days:  Television was what television had always been since the days of radio--An hour of drama, or a half hour of comedy, variety or information, so long as you remembered to buy the sponsor's soap.  
Movies, well, those were different.  New movies were things you dressed up and went out of the house to see, and old movies that people used to go out to see were now favorite secret pasttimes during the late-night filler and local-advertising hours, and you got your me-time space ready in the dark with recliner and popcorn.  
When a big Hollywood-studio movie premiered on TV--right in your own home and you could stay up to watch in pajamas!--it was an event on Sunday night when all America would be in their living rooms to tune in, and hear Ernie Anderson's ABC-voiced "To-night:" pump you up with the trailer of movie-iconic moments:

And if you missed it, Monday's water-cooler conversation would only remind you that you had.  Frustrating, yes, but that was the tradeoff of what you got for nothin' (except a few ad breaks).

Well, we know what happened to that.  HBO premium-cable and the VCR saturated the home in the early/mid-80's and soon movies on your TV were as common as squirrels at your bird feeder.  Both brought new and recent movies uncut for censorship and without commercial breaks for bathroom and popcorn-refill, and without stretches or condensing for two and three-hour time slots, and networks saw less and less reason to promote an expensive movie that no one would tune in to watch.  Especially if it arrived months after we had already seen it in its original form.  Movies on network-TV were soon seen as an insult, when Milos Forman began suing over seeing his classics condensed, commercial-broken or cropped for 4:3 screens.

When Disney took over ABC, and now wanted to play with its big national-mainstream toy, it tried bringing back the Saturday Night Movie in the early 00's, showing mainstream films usually as an excuse to tack on some promoted commercial or "sneak peek" of some corporate offering as the bait...But the ratings weren't there anymore.  Who needed to watch the first Harry Potter movie, when most families who would want to already owned the complete series on their DVD shelf?


HBO, of course, along with Showtime, could give us one thing that TV couldn't--Nude scenes.  As viewer-funded premium channels with their own satellite linkups, movie networks weren't as beholden to sponsors or the FCC, and could not only air movies uncut, but shows uncut as well.  In the late 70's and early/mid-80's--when cable either made most of its shows in its garage, or imported it from the looser censorship standards of Canadian television--an "HBO Original Program" like The Hitchhiker or Dream On, or the earlier days of Showtime's "Bizarre", was a little back-alley nudge to that late-night 13-yo. that meant "Free boobs".  And before the VCR was in every home, you took a little forbidden fruit where you could get it.
But as HBO and Showtime's fortunes grew, and the networks tried to establish more of an identity with original series and movies, premium channels became the go-to for programming that the networks were afraid to touch!  The forbidden fruit was now more controversial than mere cheap papayas:  HBO offered a string of made-for-cable biopics about too-hot-to-touch news-disputed figures like Jack Kervorkian, Roy Cohn, and the Jay Leno/David Letterman feud; Showtime could air a too-soon miniseries about the Reagans, HBO could air the Tony-winning gay/AIDS drama "Angels in America", and comic Bill Maher was allowed to air whatever talk-host political conspiracy theory or atheist rant struck his fancy with no higher authority to gag him.
To be Bold got attention, and Who Dares Wins Emmys.  The networks were a tad envious.

And then the movies disappeared.  Turner Classic Movies, coming from Warner, who had dominion over most of the catalogue classics from Warner, MGM, United Artists, and RKO established their own sovereignty, and other past-movie channels were left to fend for themselves.  American Movie Classics and FX got by for a while on Fox and Universal classics, but soon found that if they didn't want to show Jaws and The Omen three nights a week, they'd have to start increasing their original-channel programming.
FX's "The Shield" took advantage of cable's looser envelope for violence and language, and AMC, which had already downgraded itself from a premium to a commercial cable-tier channel, had a string of cult hits whose Boldness hit sweet-spots with an audience ready to be newly addicted to anything.  AMC's depiction of the missing 50's-60's male-mystique and consumerism in "Mad Men" was both forbidden-fruit away from the broadcast networks and teasing serial drama, either one to fill a void with their viewer cult.  The broadcast networks went into full one-upmanship mode, and tried to throw any chauvinistic beehive-hairdos at us they could, with ABC's "Pan Am" and NBC's "The Playboy Club".  One lasted seven episodes, the other didn't do much better.
Soon, former movie-fest channels like AMC, FX and Starz were known more for their Emmy-nominated weekly national cult-addictions, while HBO had America glued to the pottymouthed cowboys of Deadwood and Old-neighborhood violence of The Sopranos.  What, movies?...Did we used to show those things?  Well, do you see any lying around?

And with broadcast, cable and streaming in the mix, "One-upmanship" has been the word ever since.  Like teenagers daring themselves on the schoolyard, the new game is to see what the Biggest Dare is to tackle, and who's going to push the envelope further without ripping it or turning chicken.  (Insert Marty McFly's "Nobody...calls me...chicken!" here.) 
Sitcoms are considered too frivolous unless it tolerantly shocks our sense of Today's Society--If ABC brings a mixed-gay family sitcom, Amazon must counter with a transgender sitcom, and a family getting by with cerebral palsy must be countered with a family getting by with autism.  A procedural thriller of government investigators must be topped with a procedural thriller of post-9/11 terrorist profiling.  If Showtime gives us a popular happy serial-killer, the broadcast and cable-tier networks must counter with lovable old Hannibal Lechter and Norman Bates.  If you want mere entertainment, well, you're just not up with today's complex, troubled, multicultural society.
And the rule of the serial season-arc, never leave them satisfied, but always wanting MORE.

TV has become afraid of its stagebound set roots.  As ABC says, it now must be Epic.
It doesn't want to be the half-hour three-act comedy of a sitcom episode that brought a Broadway stage of ensemble performers into our living room, or a vaudeville of variety, or encapsulated one-hour magazine-adventure of a story.  It wants to something BIGGER and more IMPORTANT.  Something that will make us gasp, and silence any dispute of its existence.  Something that courts awards.  Something a corporate empire can be built upon.  Something that no one will dare question or laugh at.


And as CS Lewis once observed, there is no one more desperate to "look grownup" than an insecure child.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

October 9, 2016 - Something Missing at Netflix

Everyone seems to be using the mighty, mighty N-word as the future, lately:
Cable providers see it as their "replacement".  The network TV industry sees it as a "new network", the first of many that will ultimately replace broadcast and cable with new made-for-streaming Original series.  Studios scapegoat it as the reason they can't (or, they hope, shouldn't) release their movies on Blu-ray, as even Warner's paranoia has now started putting "Not Available on Netflix" stickers on their hit disks.  And now even CEO Reed Hastings has made deals with upscale theater chain iPic to screen Netflix movies in theaters, to make the company a movie/TV production house.
No matter what branch of the entertainment industry you're in, Netflix is the all-purpose word of What Entertainment Will Probably Become in Ten or Twenty Years.  There's just one group of folks who don't happen to think Netflix is becoming the "future" of anything...As a matter of fact, they're traumatically starting to come to grips with it becoming the past.  That group would be the longtime subscribers.
Streaming-programming fan site Exstreamist keeps a running column on Netflix's programming, and what they've noticed is that Netflix's programming is literally half of what it was in 2012:
"Netflix down 50% in four years", Exstreamist 9/28/16

The site also keeps a running monthly update on which new movies and series will be added--Check out the column for October 16:
"New Movies/TV Shows for October", Exstreamist 9/30/16
A brief rundown of the numbers:
- Mainstream theatrical movies released 2000-2016:  15
- Mainstream theatrical movies released 1990-1999:  9
- Mainstream theatrical movies released 1900-1989:  5
- Netflix Original series, premiere or returning:  11
- Netflix Original movies/documentaries:  8
- Netflix Original comedy specials:  3
- Broadcast/cable TV series from 2000-2016, premiere or returning:  15
- Broadcast/cable TV series from 1959-2000, premiere or returning:  1
The majority of independent drama, horror, and activist documentaries usually fall below Exstreamist's radar, and a quick check of InstantWatcher will bring up the number on those to date.  Exstreamist lists only three foreign films on their list, for example, while IW brings up 17 to current date.  (And more on the way, as the mainstream US films are usually only licensed on the 1st of the month.)

Netflix claims it's a chicken-and-egg situation:  In order to keep its funding to more and more Netflix Original programming, it has to divert money away from renewing third-party licenses of studio catalogue movies.
But the push to Original programming, on Netflix/Amazon and at former movie-premium channels like HBO, Starz, and AMC, wouldn't have happened in the first place if studios weren't making their catalogue so difficult to license.  As studios continue to push for a Digital VOD future for their movie catalogues--and see Netflix as both the "future of streaming" and their direct competition for those movie dollars--the fewer movies offered for relicensing, and fewer new-release theatrical titles available for premiere.


It's created an identity crisis for the service, that only the longtime subscribers seem to be aware of--Newer subscribers each seem to have their own idea of what the service is there to offer, and like the blind men and the elephant of the tale, are happy with their own isolated explanation of what they've found.
But those same longtime subscribers KNOW what Netflix is, or was, because they were there when it started.  
As usual, history time:

In 1997, DVD owners lived on the frontier.  Some early techie adopters had players, but nobody could find the disks.  Few in the mainstream industry took it seriously--just a tweaked re-marketing of laserdisc, and only hobbyists cared about laser--and with the DiVX format wars still on, few retail outlets besides the core electronics stores (and Circuit City committed to DiVX) had them for sale.  Your local mom-and-pop or regional chain might be adventurous enough to stock two or three on their rental shelves, but Blockbuster Video wasn't ready to jump on a "short-lived fad".  If you wanted a new-release DVD, you BOUGHT one--usually for $35 and up--and then sold it back to a computer-software store like Software, Etc. where the used copy would be snapped up for $7 by a young Playstation 2 fan.
The few lost DVD owners in the wilderness had only Internet fandom to turn to for a mutual pat on the back, and in '97-'98, Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph started a business in Santa Clara, CA, to help those lost souls find an actual rental.  Disks were rented in little paper sleeves by mail (something you could never do with the old VHS), arrived in about 3-5 days--depending on your distance from California--and when you were finished, you popped the disk in the return envelope, clicked a button on the website to tell them it was on its way, and your next choice would be sent out.  It was the way early owners survived--If you had a player (and didn't buy used disks), you had heard of the site, and if you'd heard of the site...you were probably a DVD-player owner.
And the thing nobody expected happened:   DiVX lost the Format War, everyone finally got a look at this DVD thing now that it was safe to, and the Explosion happened.  Player sales shot up, dozens of new catalog titles came out in '99-'00 now that it was "safe" for studios to back one format, and one plucky little startup in Santa Clara soon found themselves swamped with singlehandedly serving a national mania.  Lists were routinely empty, customers ended up getting their 7th or 9th choice off their lists at random based on what was even available, and getting any DVD at all could be a matter of weeks and pot luck.  Netflix expanded their disk-by-mail service in '01 to a national chain of regional offices, and titles became faster and more available to customers...Was it successful?  Try and find a brick-and-mortar Blockbuster Video rental today.  THAT'S how successful.

With the push for "digital movies"--which in 2010, everyone assumed you'd watch on your computer desktop--Netflix created an "Instant" digital offshoot of their service.  It wasn't quite the desktop version that caught on, so much as the streaming app for Roku set-top boxes and Playstation/X-Box game consoles that you could hook up to your living-room screen, and all of a sudden, customers could select titles--not all the titles, but a nice random selection of titles you might not normally think of--on their console menus without the three day postal wait.
Users were so happy that Netflix could provide everything, it created what some fans called the "Keebler Elf" fantasy:  The idea that Netflix had now apparently started a little business in their backroom of a hollow tree to convert all their catalog of disks to digital, and they'd convert your favorite one if you wrote in and asked them, or "bring it back" if they'd lost their license, as if the streaming service was 100% the company's matter to look after.  In fact, it wasn't--Like most services, the streams were provided by third parties; some provided by the studios, some by cable channels like BBC America with their own struggling desktop-streaming services, and many of the feature films provided by StarzPlay, the digital offshoot of the recent-title movie cable channel.  (Some customers were angry about why some movies had poorer digital transfers than others, unaware of which were provided by the studios and which were provided by StarzPlay's streams.)  The mantra heard most often was that customers were ready to "get rid of their DVD collection!" because "Netflix has it all!"
And were they in for a big bucket-of-cold-water surprise--In 2012, StarzPlay ended its deal with Netflix, left the service, and took a thousand of their recent mainstream-studio films with them.  Those who were caught by surprise called it "Netflix-pocalypse".  Guess what, guys...You won't get every disk ever made on the service, because the Netflix Elves weren't making the movies themselves.


And in 2011, there was the one event nobody ever understood, no one ever forgave the company for, and made Reed Hastings' name mud overnight (or at least in three consecutive weeks of clueless headline-reaction SNL sketches):  Up to that point, the Instant and Mail service were covered under one convenient subscription, but Hastings was so determined to attach the company's name to the Instant service, he wanted to spin off the disk-by-mail service as a separate company, which would specifically take on Redbox's new growing competition.  Like the kiosks at grocery stores, Hastings' new "Qwikster" service would offer both physical movie and game disks by mail, but being a different company, require an additional subscription.  NOBODY GOT IT.
A baffled public tossed on their tinfoil hats and tried to come up with crackpot theories for the new split and name-change:  Netflix wanted to eliminate their mail service!  (Well, that eventually turned out to be true, as the company wanted streaming to replace increasing postage costs.)  Those greedy bumsters wanted to make two companies and charge their customers twice!  And what the heck is a "Qwikster", anyway??  (Answer:  Since the new mail service would include games, "Flix" didn't quite fit in the name.)
Since the media was still only becoming aware of Netflix as a force of nature, articles on Netflix-pocalypse and Hastings' Folly were trumpeted from every entertainment-media headline, and Qwikster's reputation was so instantly blackened, Hastings apologized in "disgrace" and Netflix cancelled the split idea before it even opened:  
"5 Reasons Why Qwikster is Now 'Deadster'", The Atlantic, 10/11/11  

As for history, that brings us up to today--Leaving aside Magnolia's attempt to follow Sundance Channel's lead in avoiding the arthouse-theater circuit, bringing independent movies directly to digital (crippling many of the college arthouse-theaters into closing), and saturating digital services waist-deep in indie documentaries, micro-horror, foreign titles and indie-filmmaker dramas, since no one else would show them.
Netflix continues to trumpet its new Exclusive Original shows--like third-party children's shows that can no longer break the walls into corporate-controlled cable channels like Paramount's Nickelodeon or Warner's Cartoon Network, which have their own content to market--and new exclusive Original Movies.  They haven't yet been able to escape the public's image of a "Made for Netflix" movie as some 4-F reject that "wasn't good enough" for theaters, such as Paramount's "The Little Prince" being downgraded from a summer '16 theatrical release, or new Adam Sandler productions happily hoping we won't notice that Sony gave up on Sandler's contract at the studio.
But Netflix's history was founded on movies.  It was founded on the movies and TV shows you could find on DVD and Blu-ray.  Without movies and disks, you have something--something, that, like Qwikster, could name itself anything--but you don't have the service that kept us going to our mailbox in the early 00's.   Netflix by mail was a library that let us dig up any movie we were ever curious about, for our own education--If you recommended a movie to someone, you didn't tell them to rent it someday, you told them to "Netflix it", and e-mailed them the link with which they could right away.  Movies had become digital and immediate even while they were still on disk, and movie-literacy was now as easy as conversation.


A generation of customers have been so happy to let Netflix lead and symbolize their battle cry against the cable companies, they're not too picky today about what they get.  
Bring up the disappearing mainstream content, and current subscribers instead spin it into an Ali Baba treasure-cave of riches--"If the movies disappear, boo-hoo, I'll still have hundreds of new viewing options for series!"  (Usually involving the ability to watch, or binge, their existing broadcast-cable series addiction on streaming, without set air times.)
It's "Choice", that's the new buzzword for the streaming era.  But that depends how you define "choice".  A choice of a limited options available to you is not a "choice", it's an "option"--The old joke about having to choose between hospital food and airline food may be an option, but it's certainly not a choice.  "Choice" means the control to give you what you want, and if you settle for something that was the least objectionable option of what was put in front of you, that's no choice.  As a matter of fact, that's the exact same choice that broadcast offered, that streaming fans now cry gloriously that they're running away from.  
I want to sit down and watch a Humphrey Bogart movie from the 1940's; if there is no 1940's Bogart movie available, I am given the option of watching something I didn't choose to watch, and settle for one of last season's cable-network shows instead.  I have settled, but I did not CHOOSE my viewing.  At least not the same way I did when I could pick a title by mail, and wait three days to see the movie I had chosen to see, or, for that matter, when I could pick out a movie or TV series at the public library.  That was the way things were back when we had DVD.


It's a few simple ideas:  More is not Better, if it's not more of what you want.  Less is not More, if it's less of what you do.  A movie network does not become a "TV network" just because it has no movies to show.  And even if I use subscription streaming as my new replacement for cable TV, being able to watch Daredevil on Netflix or Transparent on Amazon Prime means nothing to me if I have to give up classic shows of the 70's and 80's to do it.
I don't see the Ali Baba treasure of "New viewing options".  All I see is the cave.  
And when more of the real riches disappear, the cave looks even bigger and emptier.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

October 2, 2016 - A Brief History of 3-D, Pt. 2 - Blu3D, Hardware Hostages, and Disney's "Deather" Campaign

The big news in home theater (although it's a few weeks old by now) is that Walt Disney Home Entertainment has announced "Star Wars: the Force Awakens" and last spring's live-action/CGI "The Jungle Book" for release on Blu3D+Blu-ray combo on Nov. 15--To go with its successful release of "Zootopia" on Blu3D+Blu-ray combo last June.
Why is this news?  Because they're both rather surprising releases coming from a studio that's spent the last three years SINGLEHANDEDLY trying to convince the home-video industry that "3-D is Dead", and that "The entire industry agrees."  Especially when it didn't.
It's a slow reversal of policy (recent live-action Disney Studio titles, like "Pete's Dragon" or "The BFG" are still missing from Blu3D disk), but--like certain political candidates that ultimately had to concede facts about presidential birth documents--it also appears to be a bit of a surrender as well.  Stubbornness is not a virtue, and even for Disney, wishes and fantasy can't last long against reality.

The Blu3D format has already survived six years despite being proclaimed "dead" since its first rollout, and almost non-stop ever since.  Disney hasn't been the only faction wielding non-stop propaganda campaigns, fueled by misdirected anger and desperate wishful thinking--But to peel back the onion layers and show the history of willful abuse, bungled mis-marketing and depth of persecution the format has taken literally since its release, it might be necessary to take the questions in some kind of chronological order:

- Why did Disney have a grudge against Blu3D?  - Well, they didn't always, you know--They were originally the champions of the format, and buying a new rollout Sony player at the CES meant not only getting the '09 Robert Zemeckis "A Christmas Carol", but also a bonus introduction with "Lion King"'s Timon & Pumbaa explaining why 3D in the home wasn't so complicated after all:

And Disney's populism--after also using their family base to take the stigma out of Blu-ray's first release two years earlier--was almost all Blu3D had going for it.
Like the current push for 4K UHD, the hardware companies saw the market for a new format, projected their own love onto a stingy, skeptical public, were lured by their own CES-presentation siren song, and believed that if the public wanted the hit movies, they'd rush to buy the new hardware living-room sets and players...OR ELSE.  
Every new format needs a Killer App, and Fox knew they had the title that would sell Blu3D in the home--The most popular movie of all time, Avatar!  And if you wanted the creatures of Pandora to fly out of your screen into your living room, guess what:  You wouldn't be able to unless you took the Big Plunge and made the hardware purchase.  Well, you'd probably have to anyway, but with the three major companies battling for the marketplace--Sony, Samsung and Panasonic--a "Hostage" war erupted over who could tie the most marketable Blu3D title as an exclusive to hardware-only bundles of new standalone Blu3D players, new 3D-compatible 3DTV screens, or new electronic-glasses bundles.  If you were an Avatar fan, Panasonic had your number, if you wanted a more high-class Sony, you'd at least get to watch IMAX documentaries nobody else did, and Samsung had Shrek and every other Dreamworks Animation title wrapped up for three years.  And if you were a new aspiring early-adopter fan in 2010 who liked Sony equipment but wanted to watch Avatar and Monsters vs. Aliens?--Sorry, pal, you're screwed.  You can hook a Sony player to a Panasonic screen, but you can't watch a Panasonic screen with Samsung glasses.  That's life during wartime.
Critics complained that the "Hostage" campaign may have been THE biggest, costliest, most disastrous mistake in home-theater history, and that's counting DiVX.  Not only were potentially hot-selling disk titles refused to be allowed to sell themselves ahead of the hardware, but it was the biggest PR goof of message a company could conceivably send out:  It had taken two years to convince a very skeptical and very stingy public why they should even consider throwing out their faithful DVD player for the miracle of Blu-ray--especially after they'd just had to buy a new HDTV flatscreen to keep up with the FCC's digital-broadcast changeover--and now to tell them they needed to buy even newer players and screens because the old ones wouldn't work with certain hit movies?...Oo.  That's going to take some doing.  And the one way you don't do it is to say "Buy more stuff or else".  That got the industry watching the stumble and eagerly waiting for the fall.
All the campaign ultimately achieved--apart from industry fan-frustration and flagging early sales--was give more aid and comfort to the paranoid cheapskate fans who complained that hardware companies were obviously in a "conspiracy" to "make us buy a new format" every two years to line their greedy pockets.  You can catch more flies with honey, and you can catch more viewers with movies, and since that didn't happen, the Angry Cheapskates ruled Blu3D's image in the media.


Disney may have also been the reason the format survived:  They didn't play the Hostage game.  Although you could get a copy of "Alice in Wonderland" free with your bundle-package of new Sony equipment, Alice, A Christmas Carol, and new Blu3D reissues of their recent titles like Chicken Little, were available as retail off-the-shelf disks.  
Having been through the same public hesitance about Blu-ray, they tried the same strategy that had worked but been misunderstood with customers the first time, sold 3D disks in combos with regular 2D Blu-rays, and said "Buy now, watch later!"  And even if Tim Burton's "Alice" was insufferable and Zemeckis' "Carol" was psychotic, at least you could buy them and watch them later, while you tied a yellow ribbon for our "Pandora Held Hostage: Day 370" captives to come home.  
Ultimately, in 2012--and just before Panasonic could take the new Blu3D disks of "Rio" and the Star Wars: Episode I conversion hostage--the Big Three hardware makers gave into industry criticism and bad sales, and released their hostages for retail-disk sale.  The war was over, and boy, did we want it.

- Sounds like Disney and Blu3D were the best of friends...So what happened?? - Remember those Angry Cheapskates mentioned earlier?  Disney seemed to attract them back in those '08-'10 days.  Michael Eisner had long since been kicked off the company after 2005, but nobody was in a mood to forgive the company, and any bad or puzzling marketing decision was still immediately seen as the greedy, conspiratorial Ghost of Michael Eisner, petting his white Persian cat, plotting to rob good people of their money.
And the big problem rooted BACK to those combos Disney had hit upon:  Combos were starting to be a bigger and clunkier tradition to uphold, with more new formats.  A Blu-ray disk needed to be packaged with a DVD.  A Blu3D disk needed to be packaged with a regular 2D Blu-ray.  Streaming didn't exist, so if you wanted the "Digital Copy", that was also downloaded on iTunes...From another CD-Rom disk.  By the time Pixar's "Brave" was released, it came as a 5-disk Blu3D+BD+DVD+Bonus+Digital Copy Combo for the popular price of $45-49.  The Blu3D format, like any new disk format (who here remembers when Blu-ray used to cost more than $29.99?), was still pricey, but to charge the customer for five disks when he wanted one or two was either unmanageably clunky or highway robbery.  
The complaints became so loud, Disney tried to do the right thing:  They experimented with new marketing strategies trying to figure out how to reduce the Disk Clutter--One successful result was that Streaming had replaced the iPod, so there was no more need for a physical Digital-Copy disk, when a paper-insert code could unlock the movie on their new DisneyMoviesAnywhere service...One down, four to go.  The other experiment was a bit less successful--Since the 3D-adopter public, all Blu fans, said they'd gladly do without the DVD, Disney tried seeing if they could market just the Blu3D-only disk to its niche audience, and let the non-3D Blu fans enjoy their wider-release mass-market combo without.  2013's "Oz the Great & Powerful" was released as various BD+DVD mass combos, and as a Blu3D-only release.  It was a good idea...And NOBODY GOT IT.
Fans had already complained about "cluttered" combos leaving no room for bonus-feature disks, which meant Cars 2 only had bonus features on the 2D combo, not the 3D, and fans tinfoil-hatted that Disney was deliberately plotting for them to "buy both".  The 3D-only Oz was also priced at $39, the same price as the mass-market 4-disk combo, which rather defeated the whole point of releasing smaller combos in the first place and reducing the price--Guess how that was interpreted.  The rare non-paranoid fans, who wanted to see Blu3D marketed more sensibly, protested that a 3D combo should at least have the 2D Blu-ray included, for friends and emergencies--Disney graciously conceded that point, and offered a mail-in exchange.
For the Angry Cheapskates Who Didn't Get It, the Oz 3D cover ended up becoming the ultimate iconic image of images for their conspiracy-theories:  Disney, the company of $40+ movies, was the Wicked Witch of the West, and they were out to get your money and your little dog, too.

Disney, we can assume, may have been...rather hurt.  They never heard from any fans except angry ones, very possibly assumed that it Just Wasn't Worth The Grief to target niche fans, took their ball and went home.  So there, meanies.   In 2014, although their hit Frozen had already been a smash seller on 2D Blu-ray, a "later" Blu3D release was promised to merchants with a new book/toy marketing push in October.  For never disclosed reasons (some suspect manufacturing problems), the release never appeared, the "Sing-Along" version was pushed as the big fan-favorite tentpole for the holiday season, the 3D Frozen and a 3D Disney Fairies movie both skipped physical release and went to digital instead.  And until 2016, although all were available on digital streaming, no Walt Disney Studios movie had been released on physical Blu3D disk since.
The reason they gave was that, well, "the entire industry had now given up" on the format.  Um, well, not the ENTIRE industry--Warner, Sony, Fox, Paramount and Universal still steadily continued to release major Blu3D combos for mass retail.  More embarrassingly, Disney's own sub-studios of Marvel and Pixar, which were independent and allowed to put together their own disk releases, continued to release Blu3D combos steadily, and enjoy healthy sales for "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Inside Out" on 3D.  (And figured out that all customers wanted was a nice, slim 3D+2D Blu combo for $29.) But, er, at least Summit and Lionsgate cut back, if it's any consolation.


- But at least Disney still had the theatrical movies, didn't they? - Yes.  They just got a little too overexcited, is all.  Conversions of existing 2-D movies were the big thing packing moviegoers in and annoying the haters with "unnecessary" poor-quality conversions that still required the $3-5 ticket-surcharge at the box office.
Since their 3D "Nightmare Before Christmas" conversion had now become a popular annual staple, Disney tried releasing more and more 3D-conversions of their traditional-animated classics, beginning with their usual never-fail The Lion King.  It was their first conversion and a novelty, so it packed parents wanting to "pass on the tradition", unquote, of seeing it in a theater with their kids (theatrical reissues had been dead for about seven years by this point), and became an unexpected runaway hit.  What the audience didn't expect was A) there would be more of them, and B) if you already owned a Blu3D player, it would be headed for disk in a few months anyway...And if the audience didn't know, it didn't take them long to catch on.  A reissue of Beauty & the Beast, which was already available on Blu3D, had diminishing returns, Finding Nemo and Cars did middling-well, and when a 3D Monsters Inc. had already been announced on disk by the time it hit theaters, who even bothered?   If Disney was hoping every reissue would be Lion King just for showing up, they were in for a tad of disappointment.  
A completed but unreleased 3D The Little Mermaid was exiled to disk, while Disney instead tried to find the new theater-reissue "gimmick" that would pack them in instead.  A new "Interactive iPhone-friendly" re-release, involving an iPhone/iPad app game that everyone would play in their seats interacting with the onscreen movie (as their Second Screen apps did with their Blu-ray disks), became an unholy disaster with the audience.  Theater-cellphone hate was just starting to become an issue, and the last thing people wanted was to be asked to bring a hundred glowing blue screens to the theater.  An Interactive "Nightmare Before Christmas" never surfaced, and it seems Disney never did find that "replacement" that would let them ignore ungrateful 3D-reissues after all.
More quick fodder to escape blame, and explain why "well, nobody wanted" 3D in theaters after all, did they?

- But everyone said 4K UHD was going to replace 3D! - Uh, yeah, everyone DID "say" that, didn't they?  It wasn't so much that many of those in love with the idea were interested in the format, as in the idea that something would replace the old one.  It was the same "Welcome Our New Overlords" idea as the industry was promoting--namely, that Here Comes the New Thing, so There Goes the Old Thing--and it was a desire for most of the Angry Paranoid Cheapskates to see Blu3D PUNISHED more than simply replaced.  Like 3-D moviegoers in the 50's who tossed it over for Cinemascope, those annoyed by expensive or clunky 3DTV glasses cheered news of the latest mythical in-development "Glasses-free 3DTV!" that seemed to pop up in industry press more often than cold fusion. 
Most of the loudest supporters at the beginning barely knew what 4K UHD was, or how much it would cost, but--like some wishful Trump supporters attacking Mexicans and homeless and telling them "Trump's gonna getcha!"--fed-up 3D haters praised the new CES reports of 4K UHD to the skies, just to tell that expensive Blu3D "conspiracy" was what was Coming to Get Them.   At the worst, it was an excuse for the stingier critics to indulge their cynicism that "Well, there the industry goes again, and they'll probably foist Holo-TV on us in 2020!"  Whatever, as long as the enemy of their enemy was their friend...Those old 2008 traumas die hard.  
And while Samsung did get a little overly optimistic enough to say "Why bother with 3DTV, if 4K is on its way?" what nobody expected was that many of the first UHD sets rolled out with 3D capability as an option.  Wait, what happened to the "war" we were all hoping for?...Did they sign some stupid peace treaty behind our backs??  Even the first line of 4K UHD Blu-rays, like Ghostbusters '16, X-Men: Apocalypse and Star Trek: Beyond continue to come out in both 4K UHD combo and Blu3D combo, and the market, as it should, continues to decide.   And from many indications, it may be that 4K is having less chances of "coming to get" 3D, or anyone, in the next five years, but that's for the customers to figure out.  Unlike the companies, THEY know what they're doing.

Industry critics often sound a bit...disgruntled that the, quote, "dead format walking" kept on walking, and didn't fall down on cue like they believed it was supposed to--The pro-4K supporters continue to tell us that Blu3D will "probably remain as a 'zombie format' for another year or two'" before the public's excitement about the newie-new format will take over, and certainly 3D's had a good six years to shuffle along.
But not every "zombie" stays dead:  The public had written off Laserdisc as the "loser" of the late 70's first format wars for most of the 80's, since, well, everyone knew the VCR, with its taping ability, had taken over, and you could get a VHS at every Blockbuster video on the corner.  Most LD fans bought their discs from Japanese imports, where laser had never lost popularity (VHS was a rental-only format over there, and too expensive to buy movies for the home), and by the late 90's, the "lost" growing cult of laser fans were just starting to make VHS fans aware of a format with digital-stereo sound and amazing picture clarity.  Siskel & Ebert, on their movie-buff TV show, began persuading people to take a second look at the "dead" LD format in the mid-90's, and mainstream curiosity in the prestige format was just starting to reawaken...And then DVD came along in '97, and took all the public credit for a laser format with better picture, sound, and digital convenience.  But the seeds of a Laser Renaissance had been planted, and DVD would never have made a convincing argument if we hadn't already started talking about something better out there.

So we can ask the question:  Why has everyone murderously hated Blu3D as a home-theater format for six years, with a passion far beyond simple hatreds of spinach or accordion music?  And the answer depends on whether or not anyone has actually sat down and watched it.  There have certainly been a lot of reasons thrown about that haven't even bothered to.
It's easy to complain about an "Expensive" format, or an "Annoying" one, or even cry that studios are "Out to get you" by throwing new technology in your direction when you weren't prepared for it...But when, like LD, you calm down, let cool heads prevail, take a deep breath and count to ten over a few months or years, why not sit down afterwards and watch a movie?  You may know a techie friend with who jumped on, and if he has a spare pair of electronic Active 3D glasses handy, it's a safe guarantee you won't have much trouble talking him into showing you something off his shelf.
And you may like what you see.