Is 2012 the Year Mainstream Geek Culture Peaks?
Posted by Matt Farr on September 10, 2012
Just before Christmas, 2011, the Internet almost melted as a series of trailers for next year’s big movies were released. Within the space of a few days we got previews of The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Prometheus and The Hobbit – all with sweeping shots, bursts of dialogue and stirring soundtracks that was almost enough to get my queueing at my local multiplex right there and then.
These aren’t all we have coming; there is Dredd, Men in Black 3, the Spider-Man reboot, John Carter and more, all which can be looked forward to with (admittedly varying degrees of) anticipation. I mean, stuff the London Olympics, right?
The summer seems to have become the domain of Great Geek Beasts stalking the multiplexes, luring us in with a strong brand identity that appeals to audiences that will turn out in droves on that increasingly critical first week on release. For a long time seen as the oddballs with the faded Batman t-shirt on, geeks are now a prime demographic to be targeted by Hollywood. They are guaranteed to talk about a movie, even if it is only to criticise it vocally for getting some aspect wrong, or praise it to the heavens if it gets it (mostly) right.
The worry here is that there isn’t really much else. Look at the releases of 2011 and the forthcoming ones for 2012; a raft of attempted franchise openers based on existing properties and a lot of the more original films are being shifted into the Spring and Autumn to make way for the almost weekly release of the next $200-plus million special effects bonanza that has become the Summer. 2013 is already shaping up to be the same with the next Star Trek film, the Superman reboot and more in the offing.
Now before you think this is a churlish piece, it isn’t – I enjoy these Big Beasts, even the weaker ones are worth watching for the sheer enjoyment factor most of the time, but it’s starting to feel like a bubble and I worry what will happen when it bursts.
Lets take The Avengers – by any estimation this should be awesome, and Marvel have been working towards it for a very long time. The whole project, tying together the other franchises with nods to each other, common casting and a sense of a common world is what superhero movie fans have been dreaming of. With the success of the earlier films I can hope that we won’t spend too much time reintroducing the characters to the screen and just get on with the large-scale plot the concept deserves.
But in some ways it feels like an ending, for all we can expect Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and so on and I’m not sure how the wider audience will take that. For all comics themselves have spent a lot of time redefining the sorts of stories you can tell in the medium, superhero movies still seem very much in the format set out by Richard Donner’s Superman films all those years ago. Right down to the law of diminishing returns hitting in time for the third film (and I really, really hope that rule is smashed by The Dark Knight Rises).
Underneath this is the nagging fear that the current model of Blockbusters are heading for extinction anyway. The massive over emphasis of remakes, relaunches and pre-branded franchises is driven by fear in the studios that every year a couple of these hugely expensive undertakings will flop at the box office and a couple of bad years can sink them. We see so many geek friendly films because they have have a better chance of holding up at the box office and because they sell on DVD and because their tech-literate core audience (thats us!) act as a great conduit for free publicity. And whilst you can point to the exceptions like Inception or Sucker Punch which were based on original ideas, the counter point is that Sucker Punch tanked and many people expected Inception to as well and a risk adverse industry seems keen to learn from the former’s failure, not the latter’s success.
This strip mining of recognisable franchises is going to bring us some great films and there has certainly never been a creative “golden age” in which these calculations didn’t apply. Contrary to some doom-mongers, plenty of original projects get released and they do flourish, they’re just hidden down in the seasonal undergrowth, away from the behemoth dominated Summer months. But this year feels that more weight than ever is put on geek cultural touchstones to carry the big releases and may even set the bar higher than ever.
It will only take a couple of high-profile failures, and we may never see it’s like again, and we should enjoy our time in the spotlight whilst we have it.