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Hollywood gets zapped 

Who's to blame for low sales at theaters and DVD stores – Tinseltown liberals or lazy fans? Could it be that most movies are just bad?

By nick gillespie

How to explain the stench of impending doom emanating from Hollywood? It's not the release of The Dukes of Hazzard. It's Tinseltown's bad B.O. and Shrek-ugly DVD sales. Recent ticket sales might have finally broken a 19-week slump every bit as uncomfortable as the phallic antenna display at the heart of the all-too-aptly named Herbie: Fully Loaded, but nobody's breaking out the bubbly in La La Land just yet. In fact, the movers and shakers out there are showing more flop sweat than Jerry Lewis at a viewing of The Day the Clown Cried.

Theater admissions for 2005 are down about 10.4 percent from a year ago. Summer admissions are down 14 percent from last year. DVD sales, which account for more than 60 percent of studio revenues these days, similarly seem to be hitting the skids. While DVD unit shipments were up 21 percent for the first quarter of 2005, that's less than half the increase over the same period in 2004 and the smallest year-over-year quarterly growth rate since DVDs became available.

As one Forrester Research analyst understated to the Chicago Tribune, "This is sort of scary to the movie industry right now."

So what's going on? The two leading explanations for sagging sales are not only as cliched as Jerry Bruckheimer's mega-productions, they're mutually exclusive to boot. One side blames the messenger, saying that bin Laden-loving, Bush-bashing studio heads are pointedly alienating the public that pays them so well. Producers declare that fault lies not with our stars and the often awful movies they make, but with non-moviegoing swine who can't appreciate the edutainment pearls beneficently cast before them. Just like when Rocky met Drago, Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein and Harry met Sally, there's really no one to root for in this clash of civilizations.

"The most obvious explanation for box office malaise is consistently overlooked," writes Govindini Murty, a columnist for Newsmax, co-director of the Liberty Film festival and contributor to the conservative film blog Libertas, on the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times. "Hollywood's ruling liberal elites keep going out of their way to offend half their audience."

In Murty's telling, Ridley Scott's crusader epic Kingdom of Heaven bombed because it posited moral equivalency between Christian fighters of old and "Islamo-fascists" of today, not because Orlando Bloom is a weak-kneed, dewy-eyed lead actor better suited to playing a sharpshooting elf than a compelling sword-and-sandal he-man. Murty allows that the final Star Wars flick, Revenge of the Sith, was "an artistic success" but notes director George Lucas' cryptic utterances that the movie was an attack on Bushitler's Iraq policy, kept her -- and ostensibly others -- from "repeated viewings."

"Hollywood could turn things around," Murti asserts, "but that might mean tolerating films with pro-conservative themes."

The holes in this plot are worthy of an Ed Wood joint. For starters, consider that the artistically successful but unpatriotic Revenge of the Sith, released only in late May, has already pulled in more than $370 million in the US; that's enough to make it the ninth highest-grossing release of all time and third-biggest of the six Star Wars films, with only A New Hope and The Phantom Menace topping it (albeit in non-inflation-adjusted dollars). It's still pulling in more than $2 million a week, so who knows what its final take will be. If that's offending half the audience for a film whose every plot point was telegraphed years ago, it's still doing pretty well. And what about that pro-little-guy, pro-family-man, anti-bad-guy fable Cinderella Man, which is precisely the sort of stand-up-and-cheer cinematic fare that Murty herself applauds and a host of conservative commentators hoped would draw in the patriotic masses?

By every account, Cinderella Man is box office poison. Its Depression-era hero, the journeyman pug Jimmy Braddock, may have brought America to its feet when the country was on its knees (to paraphrase the film's cloying, nausea-inducing tag line). But as it turns out, few of us were willing to get off our asses to watch Paul Hogan epigone Russell Crowe punch someone in a movie when we could watch him apologize for hurling hotel room phones right there in our living rooms.

Turning to DVDs, what happened to The Incredibles, a pro-family, anti-egalitarian, anti-p.c., Ayn Rand-ish movie that was a smashing success at the box office and has so far stiffed at the checkout counter? Indeed, Pixar, the animation giant responsible for The Incredibles, had to trim its profit forecasts due to the slow sales of that title. If the message matters so much, shouldn't that DVD be moving quicker than the speedy Dash did on water?

The other cartoon-movie behemoth, DreamWorks Animation, also had to lower earnings expectations -- and scrap a planned stock offering -- because DVD sales of its box office hit Shrek 2 went poof like so much Fairy Godmother dust. Shrek 2 is another pro-family, conservative-friendly film (in that it makes no tendentious political points about contemporary America) that shouldn't be having such problems, according to Murty's analysis.

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