Tuesday, January 24, 2017

80's Throwback (Now with real cane sugar!)

Normally, the opening of "Monster Trucks" these past weeks would not particularly seem like the stuff of blog fodder.  (And as it turns out, it wasn't.)
But piggybacking onto one of the other current fan-crazes--the Netflix binge-following for Season 1 of "Stranger Things"--it's brought a certain phenomenon to the front of the stage.
It's been around for years; it was the reason fans became artificially excited for JJ Abrams'  2011 "Super 8", and became a rallying cry against last summer's "Ghostbusters" remake, but now it officially has a name:  A lost public is searching for "80's Throwback!"  
(Or, occasionally, "90's Throwback" if you find childhood-sentimental fans of Jumanji, Jurassic Park, or the Goosebumps books, and even that decade didn't last long...But that's another post.)

It's become the centerpiece of Stranger Things' marketing, to conjure up a genre of kids up against unworldly forces, evil psychic tots and sinister plots "reminiscent of Stephen King".  (Who was also a cottage-industry of mid-80's movies, as ten bestsellers were dumped on the decade between "Cujo" and "Pet Semetary" alone.)
Fan sites now use Stranger Things as a "gateway" for leading on new-generation fans, offering reading-list syllabi of other core 80's escapist scifi/horror classics, like a library's children's-book section recommending other books to their readers besides Harry Potter:
"10 Films You Need to Watch If You Love Stranger Things", Daily Dot, 7/25/16

"Monster Trucks", and its kid-friendly Nickelodeon Pictures story of lovable CGI octopi and the teens racing them to safety, seemed a little TOO familiar for its audience, and was dumped into January by Paramount with the understandable hopes of being ignored.  But trying to rescue their dignity for an empty early-'17 weekend, the producers thought their CGI critters had tapped into an 80's/90's "retro" ethic--the kind that conjured up the cheaper Amblin' productions of the late 80's like "Batteries Not Included" and "Harry and the Hendersons", and the post-Jurassic CGI fests of the Jumanji 90's--and that the movie was actually a labor of Retro love.  

Trucks even tried an alternate movie poster deliberately homaging the style of Richard Amsel, the iconic 80's movie-poster artist who gave us Indiana Jones, Willow, and every big-budget Lucasfilm of the decade.  A generation knew, if Amsel painted the poster, you knew what to expect.
And just like our Stranger Things kids on the run from evil firestarters, some loyal diehard Monster Trucks defenders also tried to rally around the Retro Childhood flag, for a generation that was never there and needed to learn the Old Days...Or at least other overlooked 80's movies besides Princess Bride quotes:
"Ten Awesome Movies to Show Your Kids If They Dig Monster Trucks", CinemaBlend, 1/13/17
(Yes, "Batteries" is on the list, as is '99's "The Iron Giant".)

The craze even attracted B-video company Mill Creek, which had the licenses to a number of discarded Columbia catalog titles, to sell many of their 80's fantasy/scifi Columbia classics in a bulk box under a Stranger-knockoff banner.
And while it's a stretch to think that 1983's gorgeous old-school fantasy "Krull" or cheesy low-rent space-opera "Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone" would be the first things to watch after a grim 10's-streaming series of nasty genetic experiments, it's clearly tapping into the audience's reawakened search for the same question:  "Where did they GO?"

If you today hear anyone talking about "Great movies of the 80's", it's a safe bet they're NOT talking about "Amadeus", "Out of Africa" or "Terms of Endearment".  
What they're most likely talking about is summer movies of the mid-80's, usually involving neighborhood kids taking their bicycles and flashlights out to investigate the monster or friendly alien in the woods nearby their whitebread California suburban neighborhood...And in general, going on an adventure, as the MST3K-ism has it, "just like The Goonies".  (Which, btw, we hated in 1985--There's a difference between a movie for 10-yo.'s, and one that reads like it was written by 10-yo's.)
In other words, they're talking about Elliott and E.T., or any of his many imitators, back in the days When Steven Spielberg Roamed The Earth.

So, what footprints are we tracking when we go in search of the rare and elusive 80's Movie?  What historical factors caused the generational break to stick out in our mind when we turned "80's" from a box-office-statistic year-date or childhood memory into an artistic Film Genre?  Whadda they got back then that WE ain't got?  
Appropriately enough, part of the answer would seem to be "...Courage."   (Buh-huh, you said it.)

1. It was easier to go to movies - In fact, we had to:  VCR saturation in the home didn't really catch on at popular prices until the mid-80's, and even then not all of your favorite movies came out for retail sale.  More theaters were locally mom-and-pop owned, and might be charging upwards of $3.50 by the mid-80's, although the big chains had already ballooned up to $5 for an adult ticket.  (Assuming you were over twelve, the year WarGames or Superman III came out.)  If you couldn't wait to see it again, hey, you had an afternoon or a weekday night, and three or five bucks in your pocket, why not?
Today, we have what you might call a trade-off:  Now you can see EVERY movie in your own hometown area the week it opens...but you can probably only afford to see it once, before waiting for the disk.  And heaven help you if you want popcorn with it.

2.  Theaters weren't so big - Chain cineplexes, huge 7-8 screen ones, were beginning to appear, but most towns still had a 1-3 screen left over on Main Street from the old days.  If you had an older town, you probably had two or three of them scattered about the downtown back streets, or some new ones built into an unused office building.  You found where your movie was playing, that was part of the fun of going to see it, and if it wasn't in town, you ventured forth to the town where you could get your experience...Otherwise, you might never get it at all!
And if your theater was playing in town, you didn't need Mom to take you, or at the very worst, all you needed was for her to drop you off with your friends, and pick you up after her 2-hour vacation from you.  On a Friday night, the local theater was the gathering place for your school friends; if there wasn't anything you wanted to see, you saw it anyway, and if you did want to, so much the better.

3.  TV still mattered - It doesn't now, you know, we pride ourselves on being able to stuff our face with an entire season on Hulu over a weekend, and flip a bird to the cable companies with our mouths full.  But while watching TV was looked down on in the 70's, and movies gave you spectacle and bestsellers, TV became popular again in the 80's; you counted your weekdays by show title, and when you went out of your house on the weekend, you went out for fun.
Movies weren't designed to be more than one, they were movies because they only had one wild story to tell you, and if you liked it, then they might reward your love with a sequel, if they could figure out one to tell.  That's why they'd decided not to be TV, because they'd put everything into whatever little isolated bit of imagination they had.

4. Movies were made for YOU, not anybody else - There was one good thing about having little cheap-priced theaters nearby in your local area, within walking or bus distance, and not five miles out of town by the highway strip malls:  You could go to your own movies.
And because tickets didn't have to be sold to parents, they could be sold to the people who DID want to see the neat stuff--Kids' movies could be sold to kids, escapist tween-boy adventures could be sold to 9-12 yo. boys, and teens could get rock musicals, rebel dramas and--you know it--teen-babysitter horror films pitched all to themselves on Friday night and nobody else had to care.  But then, everyone knew grownups didn't understand anyway.
We don't see that nowadays:  Studios have too much at stake pitching a megadeal, they can't put themselves in the position of letting just some people buy a ticket at the risk that other people might not.  As a result, most mainstream movies calculate themselves to be all things to all audiences, male, female, ethnic and overseas alike, and are carefully assembled not to leave anything out..."Your" movie just isn't YOUR movie anymore, unless you happen to have $200M to pay a studio personally to make back their net.
Some niche movies, like female-audience or frat/weed-pack comedies, might still target "their" audiences without a hope of finding any other, but they tend to be the product of producers who don't know how to make any other kind of movie.  It's harder to make one that's supposed to be what the audience wants.

But there's a deeper answer here, and just why it DID end with the mid-90's may have to be the stuff of another column:
5.  Studios still bought SCRIPTS - Yes, we've all heard the whine:  "It's all comic books, sequels, remakes and teen novels nowadays...There's nothing original in Hollywood anymore!"  And the minute you say that, everyone immediately rolls their eyes and groans, because by "original", they think you're being a pretentious jackass talking about La La Land, or whatever just came out of the indie Sundance fests.  But back in the 80's, studios did EXACTLY what Hollywood studios had been doing for the past fifty years, since the days of Louis B. Mayer:  They let a poor, struggling screenwriter pitch his neat original idea, to see if it sounded like a surefire winner.  And it might be an idea he made up all by himself!--Which meant the audience would be taken by surprise, and seeing it for the first time!
Like the old songwriter musicals of the 40's, call it the "Tin Pan Alley" days--"Chief, got a boffo idea for ya:  An 80's kid goes back to the 50's and meets his parents!  A romance-novel author finds herself on a real adventure, straight out of one of her books!  Or, wait, I got it--Bill Murray, Paranormal Exterminator!"
Of course, you know the risk of that:  For every Back to the Future or Ghostbusters, there could be a My Stepmother Is an Alien.  And studios don't want that.  ("But it had Dan Aykroyd in it!")  
Studios can't do that anymore.  After a bad experience with getting big-name writers to write original action blockbusters in the 90's [more on that later], and negotiation salaries ballooned after actors stopped asking for profits and became smart enough to ask for cash up front, studios decided that a $150-200M movie just wasn't worth the risk of an audience seeing a movie they didn't know.  If you could audition an "accepted" property ahead of time, like a TV show, long-awaited live-action form of a cartoon or comic, or a "franchise" sequel that one need only show the logo symbol to promote, well, that was half the battle won right there.

The answer's not a complicated idea:  We don't miss aliens, and kids with bicycles and flashlights.  It's not that we miss old-school mechanical creature effects, soundstage-sets or 80's fashions.  (Although we do.)  We miss IMAGINATION.
We look for a "throwback" to someone telling us a story we've never heard before, and letting our neato tapped-into emotions go along for the ride.
Are Disney, Pixar and Marvel becoming the new dominant forces at the box office?--Think what they give us:  Dory and Cars 3 aside, Pixar and WDFA gave us new stories of island girls, spunky rabbit cops and personified emotions, while Marvel Studios, for their group initiative, were forced to bring us a few solo heroes who were once forgotten B-stringers in print--Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther.  Did you ever read their print books growing up?...Er, didn't think so.  Well, guess you're hearing their stories for the first time, then.  Not so bad, aren't they?

With a few exceptions--who are in the accidental good luck of being exceptions--studios in the 10's are ruled by fear, and like most people who let their lives be ruled by fear, don't like to take chances.
Not like the characters in really good movies, who have to take chances all the time, and sometimes discover that really neat things happen to them in the end if they do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Longest W-Day

With the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) just wrapping up in Las Vegas this past week, it brings up that sacred January anniversary tied to the show every year, that all Blu-ray disk home-theater fans of the right generation hold dear--The one that summarized all the industry's suffering and troubles under the '06-'08 "Format War II" of Blu-ray vs. HDDVD:
Last Wednesday, January 4, we pause for the observance of the day that united all us home-theater disk fans in an appreciation of how the fans, not the companies, drive the market in deciding the best format...A date which became known in fame and infamy as "W-Day".

To save space, a brief historical rundown on the technical "Red vs. Blue" specs and backstory of the great '06-'08 war:
RoughlyDrafted, "Origins of the Blu-ray vs. HDDVD War", 8/29/07
Hi-Def was already becoming the "new frontier" of home theater in theoretical vaporware at industry shows long before the FCC's new standard for digital HDTV sets made it a necessity.  Even as far back as '04, when companies were only presenting their prototypes for new high-definition compression or extended-capability disks, the battle lines were already being drawn between hardware companies and studios for loyalty, in the battle for the successor to DVD's crown.
Blu-ray was Sony's hardware baby, so Sony naturally committed their studio titles, along with their recently acquired MGM titles.  Universal was tied to Dreamworks, Dreamworks was tied to Microsoft in deals for animation software, and both had to be solidly behind HD, if they knew what MS thought was good for them--While Toshiba's Japanese execs addressed the issues with Japanese reserve, it was Universal Marketing VP Ken Graffeo who soon became Blu-ray's most hated rah-rah cheerleader for HDDVD.  Fox cited software-security concerns as reasons not to support HDDVD, but took its time before going Blu.  Disney, having just merged with Pixar and gotten Steve Jobs as a board member into the bargain, now had a very, very vested interest in not seeing Microsoft and VC-1 win the home theater battle, and in seeing Blu-ray win to keep hi-def movie coding out of Bill Gates' hands.  

And that left Warner and Paramount as the swing votes.  The uncommitted studios were caught in No Man's Land between the battle, with no clear winner to support, neither side gaining decisive ground, and forced to release two sets of titles, one for each format--
Warner released titles in both formats, but while Sony was wooing the action and comedy demographic to Blu-ray, Warner believed HDDVD would ultimately become the "film fan's" discerning format for watching Casablanca and The Searchers.   Paramount released both formats, but infamously took a "contribution" from Toshiba to move their support to HDDVD, in return for needed funds for their Star Trek TV restoration--A move that had the industry crying "Traitors!", and blackened HDDVD's image overnight as the product of a weasel company that would pull any stunt to win the War.

The war was most definitely NOT being won by the marketplace:  Mainstream buyers were apathetic about dueling near-identical formats at high prestige price points, and--with frequent complaints about the Beta-vs.-VHS battle years before--put off their buying either until a winner pulled ahead, or until the price came down on one or the other.  Toshiba, facing dropping sales for their HDDVD hardware, was quick to exploit this angle, finally dropped the price on their players to $199 in time for Christmas, back when Sony was still selling their players and compatible Playstation consoles were going for $450 and up, and cleaned up with a new growing HDDVD customer base of People Who Couldn't Care Less, So Long As It Was Cheap.  
With Paramount, Universal and the promise of Warner's big (and still uncommitted) mega-franchises on their side, HDDVD tried to sell its few "killer apps" against Blu--New Toshiba player buyers would not only get a hi-def future, but a Star Trek Phaser remote-control as well!  But what wasn't selling the format with the public was that Sony and Microsoft had taken the battle to the game-console market, and the tone of the battle became increasingly gamer-adolescent with gamer fans declaring their diehard support on home-theater discussions--When the loudest praise of HDDVD was coming from X-Box Doods raving loyalty over Peter Jackson's "King Kong", or the two formats tried dueling Will Ferrell comedies (with Sony offering "Talladega Nights" with new PS3's, and Paramount promising "Blades of Glory" on HDDVD), it didn't do much for the Format War's image among adult mainstream buyers.  And even then, the X-Box Doods' chief complaint was that their console required a separately-priced module to play the format...If only the X-Box came with the format installed, they dreamed, everyone would finally see the light, but rumors of a new console never came true.

From late '06 to early '07, the chief goal for a weary industry was not to find the decisive "format killer" for the other, but some universal dual-format player or disk to say "A plague on both your houses" and let buyers buy whatever danged movies they wanted to.  
Warner thought they had the angle on this--While hardware company LG promoted their new dual-format "Multiplayer", Warner pursued R&D on the idea of a "Total Hi-Def hybrid disk", with dual layers of HDDVD and Blu-ray.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be an impossible idea (as HDDVD was a matter of coding, but Blu had finer-etched disk grooves), and long searches for such a disk never panned out.  But until they got one--and could corner the market with their own profitable patent on the Peace Treaty that would end the war--Toshiba's increasing defections and losses in the industry was still a necessary evil to hold onto.

The Hybrid disk never came, and no Hybrid disk meant that HDDVD had literally outlived its usefulness to Warner:  The Las Vegas CES shows for the past '06 and '07 had become highly anticipated battlegrounds for who would drop the Big Bombshell news about one format or the other throwing in the towel.  Warner knew if they dropped their big news at the presentation on Jan. 8, '08, the shock headlines would unfairly overshadow all the other technical presentations at the show, so they decided to do the more reasonable thing--On Jan. 4, 2008, four days before the CES, the studio announced it was abandoning its HDDVD support and going Blu-ray.
Toshiba, who had been hoping that Batman and Lord of the Rings would sell HDDVD, was understandably a bit upset--HDDVD supporters' first suspicious reaction was that, since everyone knew studios changing loyalties always happened because of bribes (and how did we get that idea?), Warner must have clearly taken Paramount-like blood-money from those Sony weasels, but given HDDVD's steady decline by the end of '07, it was a weak alibi at best, and looked even more like the rages of a sore loser.
Analysts went into CES '08 knowing for established fact that HDDVD was a dead format walking, and for Media VP Jodi Sally, that unplanned '08 Toshiba presentation was not a happy one, but certainly a brave and stubborn one:

For Toshiba, Warner's defection was more than just seeing the shift in the balance of studio content, it was being jilted at the altar:  The company's last sole defense against an industry increasingly demanding they get off the stage was telling the industry that they were still in the game for so long as Warner was their faithful, powerful friend to the end.  
And when Warner dropped Toshiba for their own convenience--raising some real speculation of just how "loyal" they had been all along--it delivered the very clear, unmistakable message of "This IS the end."  By the end of the day, the national press was actively speculating on a date for HDDVD's demise, and on February 28, Toshiba finally announced they were folding the format, outside of a few conciliatory cleanups like refunds and hardware conversion.  
The War was over, and the obvious Times Square VE-Day nurse-smooch metaphors were all over most home theater news sites.

Which leads us to one of the other funniest, truest, and most (ahem) infamously best-known contributions that W-Day 2008 gave to our culture:
The VE-Day jokes also extended to smartypants movie fans who had just seen Oliver Hirschbiegel's Oscar-nominated 2004 WWII German drama Downfall.
In the climax, Hitler's staff of German army officers in the central Berlin HQ bunker are not only dealing with the advancing Russian front, but with fears that their militarily inexperienced leader is sinking into further unstable bipolar fantasies of "glorious victories" and paranoid "traitor" suspicions--Cut off from the realities of the battle, he reassures his generals that his one strategically-placed general will singlehandedly hold off the Russian advance, and when told that the general was unable to carry it out, and that there is now nothing to stop Russia from taking Berlin within days, and the entire War with it, the news is...not taken very well:

The joke that hit the YouTube home-theater fanbase (including the nastier gamer Playstation vs. X-Box factions) after the Warner news was a movie-referencing joke for movie-quoting fans.  We were imagining a long-hated, reality-retreated, Napoleonic-complexed company that had lost their last faithful imaginary "general" to hold off an advancing enemy, and were now flailing about to look for scapegoats to keep them from admitting the inevitable.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in case you might've ever wondered where they came from:  The very, very FIRST Angry Hitler YouTube Video ever created, within hours after the headlines first hit.
Hitler Reacts to HDDVD.  It was W-Day that first created them, because W-Day was what it was first about...Nowwww d'you get it?
(Clip on separate link, as some dialogue NSFW--As, we suspect, Toshiba's wasn't either when they got their news.)

Y'see, we got the joke.  Mostly because we'd just rented the movie on disk and knew the scene, but mostly because we HAD watched the bad news about Gen. Steiner, that we could relish Toshiba's imaginary reaction that their "glorious conquest" had just hit hard reality...We knew what the scene was really saying, and we knew what the clip was really, really saying.  Every line was truth about Toshiba's delusions that Paramount titles and Will Ferrell comedies alone would hold off a growing studio majority, or that no one was really buying the standalone players with any degree of technical loyalty, and after we poor fans had held back with saying so for so long with no one to believe us, hearing them out loud was victoriously nasty enough to savor.
Kids nowadays don't get the joke.  They might remember a format war, but they don't remember why Hitler was shouting about it. (The second video, an intentional parody of the parody a few months later, ingeniously had Hillary Clinton, another reality-busted Napoleon, ranting about losing her '08 superdelegates to Obama, and was just as funny and true-to-life.)  They seem to be under the adolescent idea is that the joke is that a shock-value symbol is turning red-faced and cursing, huh-huh, huh-huh, and that that itself is comedy enough.  A quick YouTube search will turn up plagues and plagues of Angry Hitlers shouting about everything from a late pizza, to the latest Halo incarnation, to the last episode of Westworld.  
Even German actor Bruno Ganz has commented on the plague of seeing "himself" rant about so many fanboy issues, and takes it in stride, but is disappointed they don't appreciate the tragically sympathetic performance he put into the original context.

But if there must be only one AHYTV, there is one rule, and that's that Comedy is Specific.  There should be a Joke to Get, and, as Mystery Science Theater 3000 famously observed, The Right People To Get It.
And that's why we old FWII vets raise a glass every January 4, and put a Blu disk in our players.  (Well, mine's a Playstation 3, because they were the only ones back then that worked.  And yes, the X-Box kids annoyed us.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The State of the Revolution, 2017

As a tumultuous year comes to a close, we pause to look back at the changing tides, trends, and topics that shaped our...er...
...Aw, it's a New Year's blog post.  You know the drill.

I began the blog back in July '16 because I found I was explaining the same general concepts of the current film, streaming, disk and TV industry over and over in conversations, and thought if I'd just written them down in permanent form, it would be easier to just send other people a link.
I joke about the "revolution" of the Movie Activist, but when you come down to it, it is a revolution:  The problems we face at the moment, we face because we allowed them to happen, mostly because we didn't realize they were happening--Either under the ideas that the alternative was technologically "easier", or because we'd grown up thinking things had always been that way.  Those in authority who make the decisions that rule our usage of it would certainly LIKE us to think so, and want our willing acceptance of it, for their own convenience.  Things aren't, and they hadn't.  That's when it's a good thing to begin making change, and I don't mean quarters for the bus.
Looking back at many of the causes, and seeing whether any headway was made in establishing some good old-fashioned Thomas Paine-style Common Sense in the industry, I feel as if making the year-end appraisal is like the president standing before Congress to make the State of the Union address.  Although, like Gerald Ford, the temptation is to say "The State of the Union is not good," I can't honestly say it's bad either.  At the moment, the State of the Movie-Activist Revolution just, well, IS.  Many parts of the industry had the carpet dramatically yanked out from under them in 2016; the industry is now in a flux state of picking their dignity up and dusting it off called "Figuring Things Out", and the good thing about that is, sometimes, on a good day, you do.

Taking the major issues:

- Theatrical Films

Studios had a lot to learn from this year--Now, we get to find out whether they actually learned it.  
There have been other Summer Massacres before:  The terrible '01 slaughter where Planet of the Apes was considered the "big" picture for the season and Spielberg showed us what a real flop looked like with "A.I.", that dropping-like-flies '03 where studios first learned to fear the might of Pixar when we wouldn't go to see Terminator 3, and oh, ohh, that '13 where After Earth was playing in the same theater as the Lone Ranger...Will the traumas ever go away?  
But the movies in those years were each wrongheaded in their own unique way.  What we learned instead from the Summer of '16 was that many of '16's high-profile casualties had flopped for the same pandemic reason:  Franchises.  One movie does not become a "franchise" just because it became a hit, and having one hit is not carte blanche to make seven more over a five-year period before the second movie has even had a chance to prove the theory right or wrong.  The New F-Word became what studios thought movies had become, Brand Names; the brand was sold like a label on a tin can, and you weren't supposed to ask what was in the can, you were just happy it was on the label.
And studios, each hoping for the Big Icon that would make their own name to take on Warner's Batman and Disney's Mickey Mouse, found you couldn't make a franchise purse out of a Ninja Turtles' ear.  Attempts for Fox to hitch their wagon to the X-Men, Paramount to hope Star Trek was their last hope, and even Disney's hope that Tim Burton's Alice hadn't lost its freshness since '10, all paled before the light of day.  For studios, There's No Thinking Like Wishful Thinking.

Now, studios and industry analysts are noticeably disturbed by one glaring fact:  
The top five domestic box-office grossers of 2016 were, by year's end, Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One, Secret Life of Pets, and The Jungle Book.  ALL Disney and its subsidiaries, except for the one CGI comedy that got lucky in a bad summer.
Some analysts are now vocally concerned that Disney/Pixar/Marvel/Lucas movies have an "unspoken monopoly", in that they seem to be becoming the ONLY big-studio movies that audiences show any actual mainstream enthusiasm about going to see or trust with quality.  (Including disgruntled Warner Bat-fans, who are convinced it's a bribery conspiracy of paid critics and audiences.)
If so, it's really for quite a simple reason:  Every other studio wants to be Disney/Etc., and make movies and crossover franchise-strategies just like them.  Disney can't:  It can't imitate Disney/Pixar/Marvel, it IS Disney/Pixar/Marvel, so it just wants to be itself.  It lets its historically maverick independent family of sub-studios, namely Marvel Studios, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, be themselves, trusts the rebellious instinct of their magic hit prodigy children to know what they're doing, keeps hands off, and lets them do it.
Hey, y'know?:  "Be yourself"...That's catchy, as a policy slogan goes.  Got a nice ring to it, don'tcha think?  Kinda sounds all "Integrity" and "Sincerity"-like.

Unfortunately, the search for Brand Names, and recreating the Disney/Marvel Formula, led to the next big issue of '17:

- Side Stories

Y'know, I'd sort of hoped I'd be able to do a big column in November about Warner's "Fantastic Beasts, and Where to Find Them".  From all indications of audience conventional-wisdom from summer through October, nobody seemed to be enthusiastically looking forward to this--Apart from the most utterly book-smitten core fans, few mainstream audiences looking at the trailer saw the point of "Potter Without Harry", it looked like a painfully off-the-subject studio-marketing cash grab, and seemed destined to be one of Warner's big high-profile stumbles of the fall.  
Um, for obvious reasons, I didn't get to do that column.  The wishful desire to have the Harry Potter franchise "back again" front-loaded a smash opening weekend, and justified Warner's and JK Rowling's delusions that they had another instant artificial do-it-yourself five to seven-book Epic in the making. As with studios, never underestimate Wishful Audience Thinking, either, from audiences who overlook smaller concerns, just for the nostalgic thrill of having their favorite "back again" after absence made the heart grow fonder.  (Admit it, some of you went to see the Ghostbusters remake and Independence Day: Resurgence knowing they probably weren't that good, didn't you?)
But like a old favorite movie series seemingly buried and resurrected at an evil Pet Sematary (Peter Jackson's Hobbit Trilogy springs to mind), there's "back", and then there's BACK.  If you want the bare corpse of the body--namely the franchise title, some favorite cast members, and all you think it stands for--back, studios are happy to negotiate that with the right agents, but it doesn't necessarily mean you'll get your moviegoing childhood of ten or twenty years ago back with it.

"Rogue One: a Star Wars Story" was a different issue:  It was made because studios became jealous of what Warner had been doing with Peter Jackson's pre-filmed Tolkien trilogies, in that enough shooting had been done ahead of time to deliver one sequel bang-on-time every November or December, by the clock.  Studios wanted a franchise to be as punctual as a weekly TV series, only by the year, so audiences would know what to expect from a date, not a movie:  If it's the same Christmas weekend that gave us "The Force Awakens", it's must be time for another Star Wars movie!  And even if Episode VIII is still another two or three years away, don't worry, we've got another story for you in the meantime--We call it "Filler".
Well, there was a problem with that complaint, too:  Rogue One turned out to be pretty darned good.  Some fans argued it was actually a better tribute to the '77 original than Force Awakens' teen-cosplay and cast-reunion pageant, and captured the gritty spirit of the Rebellion that Lucas's slick Prequel Trilogy ignored.  (I'm waiting another month to see the movie on vacation, so I'll reserve judgment for now, but from the looks of things, I'm inclined to agree.)
What both Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One did, what we might say was, Got Lucky.  The second one's always a bit harder.  The second Fantastic Beasts movie now has to set up even more convoluted off-book plots of its own making, and after an early Episode VIII, Lucasfilm plans to bring us a Han Solo spinoff from the makers of "21 Jump Street" and "The Lego Movie"...Why do I have the feeling the second Lucas side-story spinoff won't have quite the grittiness, integrity, or discipline that the first one had?  (Is it because directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are walking advertisements for Ritalin?)

As you can see, I don't have quite as glowing an opinion of "Side Stories" as the bright lights of a franchise name might dazzle us with:  I've seen of the bad side of Franchise-Filler; part of it came out in 2009, and was called "X-Men Origins: Wolverine".  Oh, dear lord, was that one wrong-headed bit of physical pain.
It demonstrated every object lesson in explaining why PART of a story cannot be the WHOLE story--We wouldn't ask for a Gone With the Wind spinoff focusing on Ashley Wilkes, and would we spin off a Wizard of Oz story focusing on just the Wicked Witch?...Well, maybe for a musical.
To be given too much of one aspect, just because the studio thought we were Paying Attention, just reminds us why some things are better taken as ingredients in a soup, and not force-fed to us for two hours straight.  Worse yet was the need to remind us that this was "The REST of the story!" to the story we'd already seen, thank you--And every single plot point, every reference, and every script-alluded-to backstory from 2003's "X2: X-Men United" had to now be neatly catalogued, homaged and categorized onscreen, so that all questions were answered and all plot concerns were brought full-circle. 

I confess I will never be able to look at Newt Scamander or Jyn Erso without thinking of the Depressing Anal-Retentive X-Movie Fox Made After Killing Off the More Expensive Cast.
Even Rogue One, as good as it was, was guilty of a bit of over-Wolverinizing, in attempting to explain everything, every single dear, blessed detailed thing, that ever took place before the opening Star Destroyer battle in the first '77 Star Wars.  But then, that's just a bit of over-defensiveness that you can expect with side-stories from here on in.  They want to feel just as classic as the Classic stories they're plot-homaging, too.
As I summed up the issue of filling space and anal-retentively over-explaining better-known plots:   "Shakespeare did not write a play about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern...Tom Stoppard wrote a play about how NOBODY CARED what happened to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern."

- Blu-ray vs. Digital

At the moment, the Disk Wars are a bit of a Mexican standoff:  Physical Disk isn't losing as fast as the studios want everyone to believe it is, but the problem is, Digital isn't winning fast enough to be convincing about it.  The only industry they've successfully been able to convince are the brick-and-mortar mass retailers like Target, Best Buy and Wal-mart (who were already trying to reduce physical sales to promote their own flagging spinoff digital-streaming companies), that couldn't keep up with Amazon's online discounts, reduced their shelf-space for physical sales, and then cried to the industry that "You were right, disk sales are going down!"  Well, golly, I can't imagine how THAT happened.

The big smoking-gun controversy that brought the Wars to the forefront in 2016--briefly, before it was quickly passed off as "just another fanboy issue" and forgotten--was the "$800 Bookshelf", when Warner packaged the premium Extended edition of their core-Franchise Tolkien series as an inexplicably fan-soaking "prestige" item designed for convention fans, and tossed off the barer Basic editions in a cheap cardboard box.  
With Warner in charge of almost half the movie disk library in the country, and several of the top-selling marketing franchises, other studios are looking to Warner as "so goes" the state of Blu-ray sales in the US.  And what Warner believes is, the only people who would actually buy plastic things, off a store shelf, are people who would buy Plastic Things that looked nice on a shelf...Anyone else either wants The Hits on digital, or is some hobbyist who would be happy to buy a one-off at the MOD Archive.  If you can't blame the industry for not moving as fast as you want it to, blame the fans for being too weird and "stubborn" and not letting you.

Now, maybe it's that I was a Japanese anime fan in my college days--back in the pre-streaming days when a little rare fan-subtitled VHS tape you guarded with your life was all that stood between you seeing your favorite show and never seeing it at all in this country, period--that I appreciate the fact that it's sometimes good to have your physical movies RIGHT THERE, in front of you.  On tape, on DVD, or on Blu-ray, at least you'll know they're there.  
It's not, as Warner wants to convince us, about "space", or "taking them on the go" (where?), or "pre-ordering while still in theaters", it's about knowing where they'll be when you need them.  You can promise where they are, Warner, but I'd rather know, and seeing is believing, but handling is better.

If there's one message that Blu-ray fans need to organize themselves behind in '17, it's not to be written, dismissed, or fantasy-trivialized out of the equation, just because we're "burdening" studios with the need to manufacture physical disks:  
We're not weirdos.  We're not plate and thimble collectors with Star Trek chess sets from the Franklin Mint.  We're not San Diego ComiCon fanboys with Harley Quinn and Gollum figurines on our bedroom shelves.
We're movie fans who love all movies--not just pop-selected copies of Princess Bride and This is Spinal Tap that our millennial kids can cult-quote--who want our movies physically on our shelves, in our homes, and in our hands for posterity, because we don't trust anyone else with them.
And that, studios, as the pretty guardian of love and justice often said, means YOU.

- Streaming

As noted, The Future Isn't Quite What It Used To Be for digital ownership.  Subscription streaming continued to make cable networks extinct, despite studios' best efforts to make subscription-streaming extinct.
Netflix fans in 2016 started becoming more and more aware that while there was more Daredevil and more Stranger Things, there was less and less of everything else.  Except for the fandom (and an industry) happy to binge away from their online cookie-jar and let "Netflix" be synonymous with "The New TV Network".  
Amazon Prime, OTOH, dealt with its increasing ghost-town lineup of programming by grasping the content-ownership bull by the horns, and being Amazon, well, selling it:  Prime's new lineup is now not in the movies they own, but in being a one-stop third-party clearinghouse dealer for new small optional-charge streaming content-specific splinter micro-channels for Showtime, Starz, TED, among others, much like the rise of a la carte premium cable channels in the 80's.

With the rise of core binge-cult shows on HuluPlus, viewers saw subscription-streaming more as a substitute for TV than a home-theater lobby.  Hulu began offering an ads-free service, for a millennial generation that is now offended by the idea of being shown advertisements with their TV entertainment, but the rise of Hulu has begun to have more of an influence on the industry.
Vudu VOD, in addition to being a streaming ownership/rental site, has now offered an additional monthly random selection of free-with-ads back-catalog movies, in the style of HuluPlus's catalog, with no subscription.  "Free is a big deal", Vudu's ad line tells us...Well, yes.  As a matter of fact, it is.
It represents a surprising transition in the industry's thinking about where exactly streaming's money is coming from at the moment, if it's not coming from sales, and less of it is coming from subscription.  It's coming back to where cable WAS, when it used to be cable, and back before we all started cutting it--A combination of subscriber money and sponsor money, for a combination of marketable random content, without losing too much of one to try and appeal too much to the other.
With the new introduction of FilmStruck, and Japanese-anime streaming channel Crunchyroll now being considered as a major player on the field, subscription-streaming hoped to replace cable, and it now seems to be getting its wish:  It's now in the process of BECOMING a second collection of cable channels, premium or ad-supported, offering random programming to a select niche of interests, only with that one unique aspect of not having to worry about running times.
In a way, maybe that's just what we wanted all along.  Not so complicated, is it?

As you can see, we've much to do over the next twelve months.  Helping several neurotic, hyper-defensive industries think straight is a full-time job.
But we all got into these messes over the last year because we weren't paying attention to our movies and TV, and if we want to complain about the mess, let's not forget to look into a mirror occasionally.  That way, we'll know what to say to everyone else, and where to start cleaning things up.