Writing for The New Yorker, Inkoo Kang summarizes why the film industry seems in precipitous decline lately:
To survey the film and television industry today is to witness multiple existential crises. Many of them point to a larger trend: of Hollywood divesting from its own future, making dodgy decisions in the short term that whittle down its chances of long-term survival. Corporations are no strangers to fiscal myopia, but the ways in which the studios are currently squeezing out profits—nickel-and-diming much of their labor force to the edge of financial precarity while branding their output with the hallmarks of creative bankruptcy—indicate a shocking new carelessness. Signs of this slow suicide are all around: the narrowing pipelines for rising talent, the overreliance on nostalgia projects, and a general negligence in cultivating enthusiasm for its products. Writers and actors have walked out to demand fairer wages and a more equitable system, but they’ve also argued, quite persuasively, that they’re the ones trying to insure the industry’s sustainability. Meanwhile, studio executives—themselves subject to C-suite musical chairs—seem disinterested in steering Hollywood away from the iceberg. This is perhaps because the landscape is shifting (and facets of it are shrinking) so rapidly that they themselves have little idea of what the future of Hollywood might look like.
Some of the first Cassandras to draw the public’s attention to this slo-mo self-sabotage were the striking writers. W.G.A. members have expressed alarm not only that their profession has become devalued and unstable through low pay but also that the paths that allowed newcomers to eventually become showrunners, which have existed for the past half century, have been eroded by the studios.
The movies may be in grimmer shape. The industry’s pursuit of I.P. at the expense of originality has all but trained younger audiences not to expect novelty or surprise at the multiplex, assuming that they’re going to the theatre at all. Hollywood has never been known for overestimating the audience’s intelligence, but it’s hard not to wonder how it is supposed to be inculcating a love of cinema in children—that is, future moviegoers—when the splashiest films on offer are explicitly buckets of regurgitation.
“Barbie,” meanwhile, saw the director Greta Gerwig infuse the half-century-old blond blank slate with her own idiosyncratic anxieties to produce a Zeitgeist-capturing film with an unmistakable authorial imprimatur. But Hollywood’s ignoring the obvious takeaway, which is that viewers appreciate novelty. Instead, Mattel has announced that it will follow up “Barbie” by raiding its toy closet for more I.P., and has put dozens of projects based on its products into development.
Last week I finished, at some personal cost, a slog through a streaming show I had hoped to like: the third season of Star Trek: Picard. I loved Star Trek as a kid, and I thought most of TNG worked. (TNG may look clunky today, but the original series looked clunky in 1988, just as today's ultra-low-gamma, poorly-mixed film will look horrible in 2050.)
I note this because it disappointed me for all the reasons that the film industry disappoints everyone today: poor writing, poor storytelling, yet one more whack at the empty Star Trek piñata, and poor writing. I imagine ST:P came out of the dreaded mini-rooms from writers who got paid little and probably threw out their AA pins when they saw the final product.
Every so often, an industry blows up. Film won't disappear in my lifetime: people have watched visual stories since they first sat around campfires a hundred millennia ago. But we may have reached the end of the amazing and original movies and films that started with Life Goes On and Babylon 5 in the 1990s through Battlestar Galactica and Deadwood in the 2000s. Go watch a 1970s sitcom and weep.