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High Concept Hangover


A movie opened this weekend called Violent Night. Maybe you heard of it, or have even seen it. It’s basically Die Hard starring Santa Claus. The trailer:

It’s at 70% at Rotten Tomatoes (not bad), and slightly overperformed its box-office projections.


This is no indie—it’s from Universal Pictures, who have also released a trailer (I remember when we said “released,” not “dropped”) to Cocaine Bear:

This is based on an actual 1985 incident of a black bear ingesting a duffel bag full of cocaine that was dropped from a drug-running airplane.


In real life, what happened? The bear got sick and died. This seems sad to me.


The movie is a complete fictionalization—played for dark laughs—as the bear goes crazy and terrorizes a bunch of hapless characters. It’s directed by Elizabeth Banks (no dummy).


Both of these movies seem to me like Saturday Night Live sketches where the executives had a good laugh and then somebody said, “No, seriously—why don’t we make it?” And because nobody could think of a good reason—they did.


So...am I offended that these movies exist? No. It doesn’t really matter.


It does remind me of that Comic Con, which I think I attended, where Snakes on a Plane was everywhere. I mean, everywhere: it was plastered on the sides of buildings. It was such a hilarious idea, it seemed like duh, of course this is going to be the mega-hit of the year.


It bombed. Because, apparently, it was pretty stupid.


The easiest way to sell a movie or get it made is “high concept.”


I take that back: it’s the second-easiest. The first-easiest is to own something hugely famous—“I.P.” as all the fanboys know to call it. Do you own The A-Team? Congratulations.


High concept is a simple, catchy, sticky idea...like Santa Claus as an action hero. Or a wild bear high on cocaine.


But do I really have to point out the problem here?


It’s just marketing. It’s a producer shouting across the parking lot, “Nuns with guns!” There’s no “there” there.


I mean, maybe there is. I review movies after I see them, not before.


But when what used to be fake movies in comedy sketch shows are now the real movies...it just seems like we are further into our Idiocracy future.

Or Futurama?

These things start out as a joke, and those of us who know anything get the joke—but in time, nobody knows it’s a joke. It becomes the new reality: stupid, crass, violent.


And that’s kind of scary.


Enjoy your Sunday!

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