Batman Vs Bond: The Battle for the British Film Industry

How often do you go to the cinema? If once a month, that’s the same as about a quarter of the UK population. Another 60% indulge in an evening out for a film a minimum of once a year. The remaining 15% are either not interested or prefer to watch at home  According to a UK Film Council report issued in July, 98 million DVDs were rented and 250 million bought in 2007. Admissions to the country’s 727 cinemas (with a total of 3,514 screens) were 162 million, at an average price of £5.05p, bringing in box office receipts of £821 million. Around the world, 700 million tickets were sold to view British films such as  ‘Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix’ and ‘The Golden Compass’, earning a further £1.65 billion. Both of these, although categorised as ‘British successes’ were in practice joint UK /US enterprises.. The same  applies to other ‘global hits’, among them ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’, ‘Stardust’ and ‘Casino Royale’ (but not  ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’). Without the £500 million inward investment from international film-makers and the Los Angeles studios ,many of them would probably not have been made at all. This inevitably has had an impact on the final product. According to ‘Movie Maker Magazine’, Hollywood seems increasingly to believe that actors (and even stories) are no longer required in the search for ever-bigger profits: “The danger is that computer-generated, technologically -heightened special effects are becoming like fireworks: sound & fury, light & noise, but no substance.”

This doesn’t go down too well with UK audiences. Statistics indicate that they tend to prefer comedies or at least films in which it is clear what is happening  and why.. Will Smith’s performance as an ‘antisuperhero’ in ‘Hancock’ has, for example, been dismissed as ‘all flash & style’ and been rated with only two stars. By contrast, the new ‘Batman’ film (The Dark Knight) has received mainly favourable reviews. One critic, however, has described the leading character as  ‘all costume and no content’ and another (Andrew Neil in ‘The Observer’) concluded that ‘the plot line has been stretched beyond endurance to ever more fantastical absurdities’. For Daniel Craig, the current James Bond, the only thing that matters is a ‘good script, good actors and a good director’. He also considers the British Film Industry to be in a healthy state – though this has been contradicted by a recent article in ‘The Independent’ referring to a ‘crisis’ created by a change to the Government’s tax credit system. Films now have to pass a ‘cultural test’ and prove that they are ‘really British’. If they don’t qualify,there is no economic incentive to use a studio here. UK and foreign producers have thus started to move abroad along with the actors and technicians.  Jobs are being lost.

Meanwhile, away from the ‘blockbuster circuit’ countless, virtually unknown producers are transforming their ideas into films. One that has managed to attract attention and already won awards is ‘Twelve In A Box’, shown at the Zurich Orange Film Festival in July. A mixture of comedy and mystery, it features a dozen people attending a school reunion in a remote  English country mansion. They are informed by the host (on video) that if they stay together for 96 hours they will each receive a million pounds. If any of them leaves before the time has expired, none of them will get the money. The opening and concluding soundtrack is provided by ‘Bahareque’ Latin American Band. It was financed on a low budget and there are no ‘product placements’ (subtle displays of brand items).  The audience laughed throughout and applauded enthusiastically at the end. None of the actors are (yet) stars. There are no special effects. It doesn’t need them.

Filed under: Theatre & Film | Posted on July 31st, 2008 by Colin D Gordon

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