Monday Reads: “Lucy” and Media ConsolidationPosted: July 28, 2014
As usual, U.S. and world news is mostly bad, so I thought I’d focus on some news emanating from escapist Hollywood. I do have a serious point to make later on.
The latest action movie hit is Luc Besson’s “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson as an ordinary woman who suddenly begins using the full capacity of her brain (this is based on the oft-repeated notion that humans only use 10% of their brains) after she accidentally absorbs some kind of super-drug that Korean drug lords have surgically implanted in her abdomen so they can use her as a drug mule. If that sounds like an idiotic premise, just wait till you either watch the movie or otherwise get the details of the so-called plot.
“Lucy” is the epitome of what’s known as a “high concept” film. The main character’s name is presumably drawn from the name that has been attached to a partial skeleton of a female Australopithecus Afarensis that was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. “Lucy” could walk upright, but her small skull indicated she didn’t have much brain capacity; scientists argued from this that bipedalism led to larger human brains.
Thus, the Lucy of the film demonstrates the how humans could further evolve if they used the brain’s full potential, get it? The Wall Street Journal loved it; Here’s their review, ‘Lucy’: A Diamond in the Action-Thriller Sky
The problem with the concept is that we humans are already using the full capacity of our brains, and the idea that we only use 10% is complete bullshit. Here’s a brief explanation from brain scientist David Eagleman at NPR: Sorry, Lucy: The Myth Of The Misused Brain Is 100 Percent False. But, like the GOP, Hollywood couldn’t care less about scientific facts.
In case you don’t mind a bunch of spoilers, here’s a hilarious review of the movie by Christopher Orr at The Atlantic: Lucy: The Dumbest Movie Ever Made About Brain Capacity. Here the introduction; you can click the link to read the rest.
Every now and then a movie comes along that’s so beyond-the-pale sloppy, so disastrous in both conceit and execution, that it simply defies conventional analysis. It happened with The Happening. There was something unspeakably wrong with The Words. And Broken City was utterly beyond repair.
So, too, with Lucy, writer/director/producer Luc Besson’s mind-bendingly miscalculated sci-fi vehicle for Scarlett Johansson. In its defense, I can offer only that Johansson is a moderately charismatic presence (despite playing a character who barely qualifies as a character) and that the film clocks in at a mercifully brief 89 minutes. That said, the sheer quantity of inanity that Besson squeezes into his limited screen time beggars that of awful movies of substantially greater length.
Consequently, what follows is not a review but a spoilereview. If you are genuinely considering watching Lucy—and I urgently recommend that you reconsider—you should stop reading now. If, by contrast, you plan to give the movie a pass and would like to have your good judgment ratified (or, alternatively, if you have stumbled out of the theater bewildered and seeking commiseration), read on. Because while Besson has made very, very bad films in the past—most recently, last year’s The Family—this is the first time he has made a film so idiotic that the only way to properly convey its flaws is to enumerate them.
Read on for a complete dissection of the movie’s plot. Whatever happened to intelligent films made for adults? Maybe it has something to do with the growing control of media by just a few giant corporations. And it’s going to get worse.
Did you know that Rupert Murdock is trying to buy Time-Warner? From The New York Times on July 17, A Potential Combination of Two of Hollywood’s Most Successful Studios.
LOS ANGELES — What for years has been a whisper in Hollywood — the possible consolidation of major studios in the face of tough industry economics — has become a starkly real option with the disclosure on Wednesday that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox made an $80 billion bid to acquire Time Warner Inc.
In the bid, which Time Warner rejected, Mr. Murdoch is said to have made clear that his 20th Century Fox and Time Warner’s Warner Bros., two of Hollywood’s six major studios, would be managed jointly, but kept essentially separate.
But business history and market pressures in both the movie and television industries make it almost inevitable that studio overhead would be cut, back-office operations would be combined, and jobs would be eliminated if a merger happens.
“In size and structure, the studio of the 21st century still looks very similar, if not identical, to the studio of the 20th century,” said Marc Shmuger, a producer who was formerly co-chairman of Universal Pictures. “That has to change,” he added.
Murdoch is worried because Comcast is currently working on (and will likely succeed in) merging with Time-Warner Cable. Harvard professor of intellectual property Susan Crawford explains what’s going on:
Both sides of the negotiating table — programming and distribution — are already highly concentrated. In 1983, 50 companies ran 90 percent of American media; today, just five mega-entities control 90 percent of what we read, watch and listen to. Among the notable properties owned by Murdoch are Fox, as part of Twenty-First Century Fox, and the Wall Street Journal and New York Post, as part of the spun-off News Corp. Time Warner has CNN and HBO. Comcast Corp., now thoroughly vertically integrated, has NBCUniversal….
After the merger, Comcast will be available to 70 percent of American homes. Most of these will have no other choice for high-speed data distribution: anything over 10 Mbps download. That means the programmers — even though they’re giant companies with gigantic quantities of high-value video — won’t have competing distribution outlets to play against one another in negotiations. In order to reach most Americans, they’ll have to deal with Comcast. That means they have to make sure that Comcast needs them more than they need Comcast.
The merged Comcast-Time Warner Cable entity will control 20 of the top 25 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and a vast number of regional sports networks. (Sports is at the heart of this story; Murdoch knows he will need the heft to negotiate for sports rights that Comcast will need.) …. Because there will be so few alternative content buyers, and because Comcast’s control over its data flows is so absolute, if the programmer someday decides to go “over the top” — across the Internet, as Netflix has — its fate will be utterly dependent on Comcast’s good graces.
You’ll note that once Murdoch owns Time-Warner, he’ll be in control of HBO, one of the few remaining producers of quality video content. From Bloomberg Businessweek July 16:
No matter who winds up owning Time Warner (TWX)—Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Disney (DIS), Amazon (AMZN), or even its current shareholders—it is clear that one of the shiniest jewels in the entertainment company is the 30-year-old cash-printing machine once known as Home Box Office.
A report in Bloomberg News, citing an unnamed source familiar with the bid, put the perceived value of HBO alone at $20 billion as part of Fox’s offer of $75 billion or more for Time Warner. “It’s really now HBO that’s the driver, and I think that’s the Holy Grail that Rupert had his eye on,” Porter Bibb, managing partner at Mediatech Capital Partners, said in a radio interview on Bloomberg Surveillance. “It’s a huge money maker with a huge potential. And probably the only Netflix killer that’s in the world right now.” ….
…virtually no other enterprise in Hollywood has been able to crack the code of critical and financial success with the same consistency as HBO, the most-cited darling of those who praise today as television’s golden age. The network’s recent hit, True Detective, pulled in almost 12 million viewers per episode, a feat never before accomplished in its first season by an HBO series. And the ongoing Game of Thrones series, which recently concluded its fourth season, has drawn audiences of 17 million in what has become the biggest show for the network since The Sopranos.
I guess we can kiss all that goodbye once either Murdoch or Comcast buys Time-Warner. Because it’s not about producing a quality product; it’s about making money by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Here’s a deeply disturbing NYT report on what’s going on and what we can expect in the future: When Media Mergers Limit More Than Competition, and a quick digest version from the Sky Valley Chronicle:
By 2012, just six companies — including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner — controlled that 90 percent, according to testimony before the House Judiciary Committee examining Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.
So what does a merger between 21st Century Fox and Time Warner mean for consumers of media in this country?
~ “The situation is already terrible and this would make it worse,” according to Susan Crawford, a visiting professor in intellectual property at Harvard Law School. Coupled with giant cable and Internet distributors, like Comcast and AT&T, “you’ve got two highly concentrated markets that need each other to survive and protect their profits,” Professor Crawford said. “The public interest side of this conversation is hopelessly outgunned.”
~ Such a merger would reduce control of the major Hollywood studios to five owners, from six, and major television producers to four, from five.
~ Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote in a 1945 antitrust case, “The widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”
~ Regarding the proposed 21st Century Fox and Time Warner merger, “These so-called horizontal mergers always reduce competition, the only issue being whether it’s enough to warrant blocking the merger or imposing conditions on it,” according to the report.
~ “When you’re dealing with media, you’ve got to look more carefully at the impact than with other commodities,” said Allen P. Grunes, an antitrust lawyer at the firm GeyerGorey, and an author, with Maurice E. Stucke, of “Antitrust and the Marketplace of Ideas.” “It has an impact on democracy and what the public discourse is.”
Here’s a graphic depiction of the situation:
We’ve seen what happened to journalism after media consolidation; now we’re learning what happens when the people who control the news also control the entertainment industry. We end up with endless reality TV shows and mindless high-concept movies. Then what?
So . . . that’s what’s on my mind today. What’s on yours? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.