John Travolta is the latest Hollywood veteran to voice an outlook of doom and gloom for the film industry. Following what some might describe as a diatribe by Steven Soderbergh and what reads like a post-apocalypse story from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Travolta lamented the decline of character films and the rise of “gimmick films.” Specifically, Travolta seems to have singled out comic book films, saying he’s “not a comic book guy” while “The heyday of humane stories and character driven stories are limited. It’s not that they’re over because good stories will always be told but they are becoming limited.”
It’s a little hard to know what to make of Travolta’s comments. Certainly he’s been at the center of some lauded work that could be described as “character driven,” such as Pulp Fiction, The Thin Red Line, or Get Shorty, but he’s also had his share of Wild Hogs and Old Dogs. Some of any dissonance that (may) occur can be chalked up to personal taste, of course, but without launching into a philosophical debate, let’s suppose that, at minimum, aesthetic relativism only goes so far.
On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t have a point, at least to a degree. Studios are pushing out big-budget features left and right, and, at least until we see some of those huge flops Spielberg predicted, it’s hard to argue they shouldn’t on merely economic principles. Jack the Giant Slayer, for example, was widely panned by critics but made back it’s nearly $200 million budget. Maybe not a runaway success, but no one’s losing money. Meanwhile, premium cable, with budgets far smaller than movies (though rapidly growing), have found an expanding market niche that often delivers exactly the sort of character-driven stories that Travolta seems to be getting at.
One thing seems to be certain: the paradigm of the entertainment industry is shifting, and no one is quite sure what the future will look like.