5. Define a ‘blockbuster,’ and outline the economic logic which has encouraged the emergence of the blockbuster trend. In your answer, please use one recent film as a central example.
2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009) is a contemporary Hollywood “blockbuster”, a term originating from large-scale World War II bombs and since the 1950s coining major film hits (Steve Neale: 47). Blockbusters emerged in America in the 1950s to 1970s as part of the New Hollywood and by using 2012 as a central example, this essay explains their historical development and defines blockbusters.
The major studio’s oligopoly in the USA ended with the Paramount anti-trust suit in 1949, overturning the vertical integration system where exhibition was secured due to the studio’s own first-run cinemas. “Consent decrees” gave cinemas independence and led to new competition (Jill Nelmes: 35).
The then unaffordable studio infrastructure shifted to a “package-unit” system, using rented studio space, short-term contracts and prioritized budget control, as well as collaboration with independents (Jill Nelmes: 42-43), which strengthened the role of experienced directors, actors and agents (Geoff King: 7). Also, conglomerates took advantage of synergy and networks centralized features in their TV program, thus, investing in films (Richard Maltby: 171).
A drop in cinema attendance encouraged new strategies such as market-target research (Suite101.de: Der Blockbuster), early advertising (Deutsches Filminstitut), multiplexes and an increase in quality, contrary to quantity (James Russel: Spectacle, Commerce, Blockbuster), bringing forward new spectacle especially from 1952 to 1954 making cinema exceptional from TV with widescreen, colour and stereophonic sound (Jill Nelmes: 35). After Thomas Schatz (p. 10), big successes like “Gone with the Wind”, “Sound of Music” and “Jaws” redefined the “nature, scope and profit potential” of films, initializing numerous failing imitations due to the central idea of a blockbuster. In the 1970s, special effects and other characteristics named below made the blockbuster an annual rather than an irregular event (James Chapman: 140).
The emergence of new distribution windows, TV, VCR, later DVD, provided an additional income, enabling costly productions (Pam Cook: 75) in the hope of making a major box-office success as in 2012, costing about $200 million but grossing over $6oo million internationally after a few weeks (Box Office Mojo). Blockbuster qualities such as the latest special effects (Geoff King: 50), seen in 2012’s CGI explosions (Media Bane) made this possible; this also includes saturation advertising and promotion: 2012 uses big billboards, teaser trailers, a fake website (Media Bane) and tie-ins as in iphone applications (Mobile Marketer). Additionally, the typical wide opening, here “superwide” (Jill Nelmes: 38) with 3444 cinemas ranking fifth best international opening of all time (Variety), propels the success.
Widely appealing genre mixes like historical disasters and later action-adventures and sci-fi, where sequels are possible and overwhelming sound techniques, effects and other spectacles please the “spectator as a child” (James Russel: Spectacle, Commerce, Blockbuster). The action-drama disaster, 2012, confirms this with a typically “loosely linked, self-sustaining action sequence” (James Russel: Spectacle, Commerce, Blockbuster) and a criticism judging it as “enjoyable” and “laughable” (The Hollywood Reporter). Also, marketing with stars such as award winning John Cusack and TV star, Amanda Peet, bring publicity. The music theme in 2012 also “propels the movie” (The Hollywood Reporter). Another often seen strategy is the adaption of presold products such as novels, so synergy promotes each product mutually (Geoff King: 50); in 2012, it is the general myth of an end of the world due to the end of the Maya calendar, here caused by a supernova.
As seen, the change of the studio system furthered the appearance of the blockbuster idea, as shared investments with networks and independents (Steve Neale: 50) could be put into new technologies and distribution methods. Precedential successes then nurtured the aim at similar blockbusters, which proved to be effective, as one big hit made up for all the losses (James Russel: Spectacle, Commerce, Blockbuster). As outlined, the case of 2012 shows most of the blockbuster characteristics.