Adam McKay and Netflix take fright comedy mainstream with ‘Don’t Look Up’

This is the 2022 first edition of the Wide Shot Entertainment Industry Newsletter. If it has been forwarded to you, sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox.

“Twenty thousand years ago, seven more to go” – Bo Burnham, song “That Funny Feeling” from “Inside”

“We really had it all, didn’t we? – Dr Randall Mindy, “Don’t Look Upward”

During the doomsday satire press tour “Don’t Look Up”, writer-director Adam McKay referred to some obvious characteristics – “Dr. Strangelove” and “Network” among them – who inspired his portfolio of government, media and industry.

I thought about these works while watching the movie during the holidays, of course. But I also recalled a very different type of film: “On the Beach” by Stanley Kramer.

Like “Don’t Look Up,” Kramer’s film for United Artists was a mass-market product anchored by high-powered stars (Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire) who dealt with what was. considered the destructive crisis of the planet. It’s time. Released in 1959, “On the Beach” depicts the slow and silent annihilation of mankind from the nuclear fallout from World War III.

To use a scholarly term, it’s a real bummer in a way that’s reflected in the final act of “Don’t Look Up” as the characters face the fact that the end is nigh. Unlike “Don’t Look Up”, “On the Beach” was no laughing matter. He also had no commercial success, losing about $ 700,000 (about $ 6.7 million in today’s dollars).

But “Don’t Look Up” has done something remarkable, although about half of the people who discuss it online seem to hate it.

In an era when audiences crave escape, McKay’s film introduced a thinly veiled critique of climate change discourse among mainstream audiences. Released on Christmas Eve, the star-packed film racked up 111 million viewing hours in its first three days, according to Netflix. It was the world’s No. 1 movie on the streaming service.

Critics either love it or hate it. “Don’t Look Up” has a positive score of 56% on Rotten Tomatoes. But its “audience score” – which was once considered unreliable but has become an increasingly powerful studio marketing tool – is much higher, at 77%. McKay himself, a voice user of social media, defended the film on Twitter. Like, he retweets a lot. For what it’s worth, all of my non-Hollywood left-handed friends I spoke to during the break had either seen it or wanted to see it.

The A-List cast, led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as scientists unsuccessfully trying to warn the world of a comet rushing towards Earth, clearly helped. In last week’s edition of this newsletter, we hinted at the growing influence of star power in streaming while discussing how IP-based productions have supplanted the ability of actors to attract audiences. at the box office.

I first saw “On the Beach” as part of an undergraduate atomic age history of science class taught at UC Santa Barbara. The film was released 14 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and several years before the Cuban Missile Crisis, so the dangers of the bomb were not far from public awareness at the time.

During the Cold War, the uneasy feeling of living with the possibility of nuclear Armageddon visibly permeated popular culture. Who knows how future historians will look back on the responses of cultural industries to our present time?

If we tried to design a program for “Cinema in the Age of the Climate Crisis” it would be pretty slim, especially if the teachers were to stick to popular cuisine rather than the shattering horror of “First.” Reformed ”by Paul Schrader or Al Gore. Documentaries “An Inconvenient Truth”. What else on the list? “Two days later”? Bong Joon-ho’s “snowdrop”?

In a 2019 Variety article on Hollywood and the issue of our changing atmosphere, no less an environmentalist than James Cameron questioned the effect films could have.

“Frankly [audiences] I don’t want to hear about climate change, ”Cameron told the publication. “We made a [documentary] show titled ‘Years of Dangerous Life.’ We won an Emmy and got canceled. … Do [storytelling] does it do so much good? “

This is an issue that the industry continues to grapple with.

There is surely a choir preaching aspect to “Look not up”. But the response to the film shows that there is at least some appetite for entertainment that directly addresses an issue that many seem intractable. On a much smaller scale, comedian Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ special captured the existential fear of Generation Z in the face of various calamities, including climate change, social media and the ongoing pandemic.

Meryl Streep plays the president in “Don’t Look Up”.

(Niko Tavernise / Netflix)

One of the complaints against McKay’s film is that its message isn’t exactly subtle. There are seas of red hats at the rallies for the president played by Meryl Streep. Mark Rylance’s bizarre tech billionaire is trying to cash in on the incoming space object. The switch between black comedy and disastrous warning is a difficult balance to strike.

Many filmmakers delivered their apocalyptic messages by playing with jarring tones. Think Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again” over mushroom cloud pictures in “Dr. Strangelove” or Burnham’s singing outro “ba-da-da, ba-da-da” for “That Funny Feeling” : “Hey, what can you say? We were late. But it will be over soon.

Others allow themselves to be more strident. In the final footage of “On the Beach,” after the world has finally succumbed to the global radioactive disaster, Kramer cuts a shot of a banner reading “There is still time… brother” on a screaming orchestral score. Yeah, it’s not subtle. I still find it chilling. “Don’t Look Up” also goes for a punch.

Despite its reputation as a liberal demagoguery, Hollywood is still trying to figure out how to use its commercial art to convey anxiety about melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and burning forests. If nothing else, “Don’t Look Up” could break the ice, so to speak.

Stuff you should read

A photo illustration of Bob Chapek and Bob Iger.

(Illustration by Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Photos by Al Seib / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

Some links may require a subscription.

Farewell, Bob Iger. Disney’s Bob Chapek era begins now. As Mouse House moves forward without its visionary leader, Chapek must reignite the creative engines to grow Disney +. (LAT)

10 years after the end of his iconic show, Oprah Winfrey still embodies television best today, writes Washington Post television critic Inkoo Kang. (Wapo)

Hollywood is evaluating new production security measures as Omicron surge hits the West Coast. An alliance of Hollywood studios and entertainment industry unions is considering potential changes to current COVID-19 security protocols for film sets. (LAT)

The streaming wars are pushing media groups to spend over $ 100 billion on new content. The capital spending comes amid fears that it will be more difficult to attract new viewers in 2022. (Financial Times)

Green light! Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos is expected to receive $ 40 million in compensation this year. That’s a lot, but it’s also about what he got in 2020. (Variety)

What made Betty White the most beloved TV star of her generation (or maybe any) generation. Television critic Robert Lloyd pays tribute to the late Golden Girl. (LAT)

Week number

$ 4.5 billion

The US-Canadian box office ended 2021 with $ 4.5 billion, according to Comscore, down 60% from the pre-pandemic year of 2019, when the films grossed $ 11.4 billion in the country. Hey, it’s better than 2020, but what’s not?

Of course, the numbers for the full year only tell part of the story. Assn. of theater owners point out that from July to the end of the year, ticket sales were down 40% from the same period in 2019. It’s still not great, but it shows a marked improvement over the course of of the latter half of the year with the arrival of more films and vaccination rates have improved.

Still, it could be a long time before the annual North American box office hits the $ 10 billion mark again. Most movie theater owners, distributors and analysts doubt it will reach that benchmark in 2022. Maybe in 2023?

Next year’s movie lineup features some great Hollywood swings, including “Top Gun: Maverick”, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Avatar 2”. The big box office totals that once cheered exhibitors have always depended on blockbusters.

But the “depth” of the market is also important, and a lot of movies that would have filled the numbers between the tent poles – those romantic comedies and adult dramas that we keep buzzing about here – are now going straight to air or get. truncated theatrical releases.

How much permanent dent will this bring to the market? Bloomberg Intelligence Senior Media Analyst Geetha Ranganathan said in a report Monday that shortened movie windows could reduce domestic box office sales by up to 10%. We probably won’t know for a few years.

Hollywood production

Production is generally slow during the holiday season, and it certainly was this year. Productions in the Los Angeles area totaled 95 shooting days for the week that ended Jan. 2, including 93 days for television, two for commercials and none for feature films, according to data from FilmLA.

onsite movie tracker

Some good news

The “spaghetti is back” sign at Rick's Drive In & Out.

(Stéphanie Breijo / Los Angeles Times)

THE SPAGHETTI IS BACK, PEOPLE. I repeat, spaghetti is back.

Forget “Spider-Man”. The marquee that got people excited in Los Angeles’s Frogtown neighborhood was the Rick’s Drive In & Out sign announcing the return of the noodle dish to the old-fashioned Dodger-themed dinner menu.

Times writer Stephanie Breijo delightfully recounted the origin of the unintentionally hilarious sign, which has had a viral moment since its unveiling. Seriously, where has the spaghetti gone and who can we blame?

Breijo also reviews the famous dish (that’s good).

About Shelley Hales

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