High Concept Films

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According to Justin Wyatt the high concept film is valued by some in the film industry and derided by others. He states, ‘Whereas creative executives such as Katzenberg would stress the originality of a high concept idea, media critics would suggest that high concept actually represents the zero point of creativity’. Discuss the validity of both points of view with reference to Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron, 1991) and one other film. The high concept film represents the economically invested interests of Hollywood, as the high concept film is produced to be highly marketable. With Hollywood simply being a profit seeking business, the high concept film provided an assurance of box office revenue in a time when the industry was in decline. It can be argued that this change in filmmaking merely altered the style of Hollywood films, allowing film makers to thrive conceptually in simpler narratives. Conversely, it can also be argued that this resulted in the production of creatively bankrupt films, where the importance of marketability far outweighs that of creativity, originality and complexity. This essay will argue both sides of this debate with reference to Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991) and Jaws (Spielberg, 1975). James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) is an example of a director exploring complex conceptual meaning beyond the simple high concept narrative. Whereas Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) is an example whereby the simplicity of a high concept film not only limits creative exploration, but also breeds consecutive similar films such as sequels and remakes. High concept filmmaking emerged from a post-WWII America, where Hollywood studios were struggling to produce a product that would re-energise decreasing profits. The 1948 Paramount case saw the Supreme court decide that the Big Five Hollywood studios were monopolizing the film industry (Balio 1990, p. 5). This decree was concluded on the basis that the Big Five (Paramount, Warner Bros., MGM, Twentieth Century Fox, and RKO) owned studios, worldwide distribution, and controlled theatre chains; therefore monopolizing the production, distribution and exhibition of the industry (Balio 1990, p. 4). This verdict saw the studios separated from exhibition as not only was block booking and unfair film distribution condemned, but the Big Five also had to divorce their theatre chains (Balio 1990, p. 5). The paramount decree in conjunction with the raising middleclass, suburbanisation, and the domestication of the television, saw Hollywood profits drop significantly. Where middle-class Americans may have had more time and money, this was predominantly spent on domesticated items and vacations (Balio 1990, p. 3). In addition, the move to the suburbs had audiences drawn away from city theatres and instead take to watching television more conveniently (Balio 1990, p. 3). As a result movie attendance halved, and thousands of theatres were closed down (Balio 1990, p. 3). It therefore becomes clear that Hollywood needed products that would return profits to the industry. Where Hollywood was struggling to survive in a diminishing industry, it also had to compete with rivalling television entertainment. This caused for Hollywood to differentiate its product and furthermore encouraged collaboration with the new entertainment medium, which consequently bread the high concept film. Hollywood differentiated it's product technologically for the most part, through gimmicks such as 3D experimentation, different widescreen technologies, and colour film (Balio 1990, p. 24). During the 50's, colour films were being produced as a superior product to black and white television; however the novelty quickly wore off (Balio 1990, p. 24). Widescreen and 3D techniques were also explored with technology such as Naturescope, Panavision, and CinemaScope; again these brought audiences back to the cinema, however they were no more than temporary attempts (Balio 1990, p....
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