Seasonal Box Office Disorder

January 03, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Excited about going to the movies this weekend? Neither am I. Welcome to January, Wasteland of the Cinema. It's not a pretty sight.

There is no more uninspired month out there - not even February or August, Hollywood's traditional dumping grounds. Give a studio some credit for at least trying to generate excitement with the January 18 release of Cloverfield. Whether it will result in a 300-style mad dash to the box office or a Snakes on a Plane-style nosedive remains to be seen. We can only hope the movie and experience are half as good as the hype.

For me, January has always been a time to hunker down inside. I play video games. I write. I stoke the fire and curl up on the couch next to my wife to read. And, on days when luck smiles on me and dumps a few inches (or feet) of snow, I happily wander outside to shovel the driveway. (Something I enjoy as long as it doesn't become too repetitive, but that hasn't happened in years.) Getting in the car and driving to a movie theater - even the closest one, a decrepit 30-year-old 8-plex that uses the same seats today as at its inception - holds little thrill, especially when one considers what's playing there. I'm not the only one who feels this way. Hollywood knows that January is not a good month for theaters, so it goes with the flow rather than bucking it. The result: an extraordinary number of films not screened for critics and not viable for consumption for anyone.

The most disappointing thing about winter movies isn't that they're all bad but that so few are really good. Between now and March, there will be three-star movies aplenty but will there be any three-and-one-half star selections or even a four-star gem? Those are the kinds of films that reaffirm why I'm in this line of work. It's not the one-star debacles that get me down. It's the onslaught of two and two-and-one-half star films without a truly great one to break the monotony. That's why January and February (and, to a degree, March) can be so oppressive. Mediocrity is monotonous.

The DVD (or HD-DVD or Blu-Ray) provides an excellent antidote, however. Now, instead of bundling up, filling the tank with obscenely expensive gas, and dealing with rude employees and self-centered customers at the multiplex while waiting to see One Missed Call, it's possible to stay home, kick back, and enjoy Ridley Scott's final cut of Blade Runner in all its glory. Or snuggle up while the snow falls outside and enjoy all 11 hours of the extended Lord of the Rings. Or have a 15-hour Star Wars marathon. The possibilities are endless.

When one considers the options, one has to wonder why anyone bothers to go to the movies at this time of the year. Sure, there are still some late-year stragglers opening wide, but are they worth the aggravation? They'll be on DVD in another four months and who knows whether there will even be an Academy Awards celebration this year? It's times like this when I think the experience of sitting in a movie theater is archaic. I may be singing a different song in May, when the must-see-it-on-the-big-screen blockbusters are opening. This year, Hollywood is going the extra mile to put butts in seats by increasing the number of 3D digital productions and I-MAX theaters are getting ready to show huge versions of all the big movies (wish I had one within decent spitting distance).

When the weather's warmer and the days are longer, it's somehow a lot easier to justify a trip to a movie theater. But not in January with the winds howling and the thermometer plummeting. Now's the time for staying indoors and throwing another log on the fire while a beloved classic plays on the 52" widescreen HDTV. Leave the multiplex going for the time of the year when there's lawn mowing and gardening to do.