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The More Successful Movie Studios Become, the Less Risk-Averse They Are

The instinct to retrench and overemphasize strategies that have worked in the past is a common problem in companies as they get bigger and have more to lose, particularly as technologies change. Polaroid and BlackBerry doubled down on their time-tested formulas despite market changes, suggesting that this behavior can undermine even the most successful companies. “The more successful and larger they become, the more antibodies they develop to doing anything new,” said Alan MacCormack, a Harvard Business School professor. And this may explain why summer 2015 will see sequels in the franchises for “Batman,” “Superman,” “Avengers,” “Terminator,” “Independence Day,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Smurfs.”

Catherine Rampell, “Revenge of the Nerds”, The New York Times Magazine (8 September 2013), 16.

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Being up on the latest movies is not as important when one becomes a parent…

When I used to hear parents complain that they didn’t have even a few minutes to scan the newspaper, let alone finish a novel or catch all that year’s Oscar nominees, I inwardly scoffed (sometimes outwardly). Clearly, they just didn’t care that much about Syria or Hilary Mantel or Quentin Tarantino. I mean, really, an average newborn sleeps like 16 hours a day; you can’t squeeze in a Lydia Davis short story or a half-hour of “Girls”? Trying to talk to new moms and dads about culture felt to me like trying to talk to prison inmates about their favorite brunch spots.

Forgive me, fellow parents. I am now in that prison.

I now understand that, yes, a baby seems to sleep a lot, but that you’re watching them for many of those hours to make sure they’re still alive. (Newborn breathing, in my experience, can sound uncomfortably like a death rattle.) I’ve learned that, especially in those early months, time means nothing. Days dwindle to fleeting dots, but individual moments — like getting a sobbing kid into a car seat — can feel endless. And I’ve learned that, in the foggy, confusing, often frightening slipstream of a baby’s arrival, the things that vanish, no matter how much you love and think you need them, are the things that are not all that useful or necessary — even if they once seemed essential to your sense of self. Inessential things like antiquing or golf or, yes, going to the movies. I instantly became one of those fathers I mocked.

Jason McBride, “Two (Sucked) Thumbs Up”, The New York Times Magazine (1 September 2013), 44.

Suspense is a concept with which current blockbuster directors seem unfamiliar

Suspense is a concept with which current blockbuster directors seem unfamiliar. Directors today build suspense by incinerating the top two floors of the White House or by making a dino-alien lay waste to the Golden Gate Bridge. But seeing the Eiffel Tower blown to smithereens or watching the Statue of Liberty topple sideways doesn’t make people afraid of visiting national landmarks — it just trains them to yearn for even splashier C.G.I. effects next year. The career of Roland Emmerich aside, you can’t blow up the White House twice. Next year you’ve got to blow up a city, a country, a planet. A few swimmers on a beach in Amity? Who cares? Every story now has to involve a threat to the entire globe. This is meant to raise the stakes, but it actually lowers them, both by removing the specificity of local places and individual characters and by making it impossible to go see an action movie today without also expecting to witness the demolition of some unfortunate metropolis.

Heather Havrilesky, “‘You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Skyline…'”, New York Times Magazine (4 August 2013), 45.

The Creation of the Pirate “Arr” in Cinema

‘Tis a rule of health I learned while sailing under the immortal Hawke, arrr!” Spoken by actor Robert Newton in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island, that line is the ur-arr, the first occurrence of the infamous pirate catchphrase. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s original book, characters used the interjection ah 35 times. As in, “Ah, they was a sweet crew, they was!” The hammy actor Newton delivered his lines for Long John Silver in his Cornwall accent, adding a rolling r sound and thus creating a classic meme.

“Arrrrr,” Wired (March 2012), 58.

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“The conundrum is how to explain to your kids that Jar Jar and Watto are stereotypes without first introducing the stereotypes that you are hoping to negate…”

I managed to avoid the recent rerelease of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 3-D, but only barely. Every father who loves the original “Star Wars” trilogy eventually runs into the fiasco that is Jar Jar Binks — a character capable of destroying a generation’s worth of affection with a single rustle of his oversize ears. While many have noted Jar Jar as a racist stereotype, it’s unclear exactly which stereotype he is. Is Jar Jar a Rastafarian stoner or a Stepin Fetchit or a Zuluesque savage? Or is he just a Gungan? And what about Watto, also from “The Phantom Menace”? A dark-skinned, hooknosed, greedy slaveholder, he’s an all-purpose anti-Semitic caricature. Or possibly he’s just a hovering bad guy in a fantasy world. The conundrum is how to explain to your kids that Jar Jar and Watto are stereotypes without first introducing the stereotypes that you are hoping to negate.

Stephen Marche, “Loompaland is a Complicated Place”, New York Times Magazine (17 June 2012), 61.