STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The big winner so far in the movie season is Jackass: Number Two. It's brought in $62 million. This is the kind of film that Hollywood is relying on more and more to generate revenue. That's according to MORNING EDITION and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan. He spoke with NPR's Lynn Neary.
LYNN NEARY: Kenneth Turan is worried movies like Jackass: Number Two are pushing aside another kind of film, what he calls the intelligent studio movie. In his new collection of reviews called Now in Theaters Everywhere: A Celebration of a Certain Kind of Blockbuster, he says making a smart movie in Hollywood is getting harder. But it's never been easy. Take the case of Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner.
KENNETH TURAN: Blade Runner is now considered a classic. It came from a major studio. But it was extraordinarily difficult to make. This film was really dismissed when it first came out. Nobody was ready for it. And now people look back on it as really one of the great classic films of its era.
(Soundbite of movie "Blade Runner")
Mr. HARRISON FORD (Actor): (As Rick Deckard) She's a replicant isn't she?
Mr. JOE TURKEL (Actor): (As Eldon Tyrell) I'm impressed. How many questions does it usually take to spot one?
Mr. FORD: (As Rick Deckard) I don't get it, Tyrell.
Mr. TURKEL: (As Eldon Tyrell) How many questions?
Mr. FORD: (As Rick Deckard) Twenty, thirty cross-referenced.
Mr. TURKEL: (As Eldon Tyrell) It took more than a hundred for Rachael, didn't it?
Mr. FORD: (As Rick Deckard) She doesn't know.
Mr. TURKEL: (As Eldon Tyrell) She's beginning to suspect, I think.
Mr. FORD: (As Rick Deckard) Suspect? How can it not know what it is?
Mr. TURKEL: (As Eldon Tyrell) Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. More human than human is our motto. Rachael is an experiment, nothing more.
NEARY: You say these kinds of movies are - and I'm quoting now - closer to disappearing than people are willing to admit. But what are the forces (unintelligible) against them?
TURAN: Well, first of all, they cost too much. A standard Hollywood film - a film from the major studios, not from one of its specialty divisions - costs upward of $100 million. A hundred million dollars is a lot of money. And when you spend that much money, you want to be sure you're going to get a return. The adult audience, understandably, is fussy.
And so you have a reluctant audience and an expensive product. And that's really a two kind of way pressure that's really making studios say, you know, it's too risky to spend all this money on a film for adults. They might not come, and then where are we?
NEARY: Let's talk about one of these big blockbusters and maybe you can explain why such a film might not be made in the future.
TURAN: Well, you know, the films directed by Clint Eastwood are turning out to be these kind of films. And a film like Mystic River, which in some ways has all that, you know, is an Oscar winner for its performances. It was a very intelligent film made by Clint Eastwood who's made, like, I don't know, a billion dollars for Warner Brothers.
But Eastwood has gone on the record as saying he could barely get the studio to make this film. And they made it with great reluctance only because of his great stature. You have to be Clint Eastwood to say, I want to make this film; let me do it.
NEARY: You know, but I have the impression, and I think probably a lot of moviegoers have the impression, that these are the kinds of movies that the studios like to tout as the kind of film that they do.
TURAN: Basically, the studios want to have it both ways. They want to have a film or two to boast about at Oscar time. But really they're in the business of, not surprisingly, making money. Well, you know, they'd rather have Pirates of the Caribbean than Mystic River if it comes right down it. And if we look silly at Oscar season, we can live with it if we're making hundreds of millions of dollars.
NEARY: You know, one of the things you say in the beginning of the book that I found interesting was that a lot of people assume that the art film is the endangered species. But you seem to believe that that's one of the healthiest segments in the industry.
TURAN: Yeah, it's really paradoxical because the art film remains difficult to see. If you live in a small town, if you do not go to the theater immediately even in a place like New York, you'll miss a lot of these good small films. So they're hard to see, but they're getting made a lot because they don't cost what a major studio film costs.
Digital cameras have made a lot of films easier and cheaper to do. And there's a lot of sources of funding because there is the possibility, if a film catches on, of return down the line. People are willing to fund these films.
NEARY: Now a lot of new movies are coming out over the next few months. Are any of these smart studio pictures that you like so much going to be opening soon and which ones do you recommend?
TURAN: Well, there's a couple that are coming that I have high hopes for. One is, not surprisingly, directed by Clint Eastwood. Flag of Our Fathers, about the aftermath of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, looks to be quite interesting.
(Soundbite of movie "Flag of Our Fathers")
Unidentified Male #1 (Actor): The right picture can win or lose a war.
Unidentified Male #2 (Actor): You're gonna want to see this.
Unidentified Male #1 (Actor): Now, this picture, people went crazy over it. The country was tired of war. One photo, almost all on its own, turned that around.
TURAN: And there's an old-fashioned musical called Dreamgirls from the big Broadway hit. They showed a half-hour of it at Cannes and it was probably the most popular half-hour of the whole festival.
And so it's an old-fashioned musical made with kind of intelligence and taste and good acting. And it's just the kind of movies that we assume they're making all the time. They're not. They're rare. You know, when Dreamgirls comes out, grab it if it's any good, because otherwise they won't do anything like it again.
NEARY: Kenneth Turan is a film critic for MORNING EDITION and The Los Angeles Times. His new book is Now in Theaters Everywhere.
Lynn Neary, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: Now on radios everywhere, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.