[15/11/2019] A brief look at Movies and Disney

Before we start off, lets allow some context to frame why I am talking about this. Recently I heard 2 of my friends in a very heated debate about Disney, Lore, Directors, Changes, Political Decisions and Corporations. Now, what I intend do here is to attempt a neutral overlook over these topics, sprinkling in a few of my opinions prefixed by "I thinks" or the like. So lets get into it then.

Importance of Lore in storytelling

Lots of Lore fans for many stories will fight to the death about Lore, so lets understand what it is and what purpose it serves for stories. A lore is just a body of knowledge on a subject. This includes all the stories within a universe, all the worlds within a universe, all the objects, histories and technologies within a universe, the politics of that universe and everything else that can be accounted for. The importance of a Lore is more as a frameworking device to encapsulate stories. If you have a world with its rules, and understandings you can arguably make a more effective story(Not necessarily a more immersive one! This can be seen evidently in comedies, especially sketches, or silent films). So from this, I would argue(and I hope you might agree), that a careful planned knowledge of your own Lore is essential for making anything that tells a story. I wouldn't say an expansive lore is necessary simply because it's a framework for a story, and the story tends to be the more compelling part of a film, game or book. The arguments and criticisms tend to arise when people "retcon" or revise the Lore. Retconning is when established facts are adjusted, ignored or contradicted, and revisions tend to impose new interpretations. A classic example of this is the George Lucas' "Han Shot First", "Greedo Shot First" argument. It's worthwhile considering this adds almost nothing to the lore, but the adjustment leads to a slightly different interpretation of Han as not being opportunist, or rather being more diplomatic and morally good, though this interpretation is a very slight difference. The most significant reason why however is due to the technology at the time imposing restrictions on how the scene could be shot. Does this change the film in any major way? Arguably no. I'd even argue it was an effective marketing move as it spawned a lot of memes and jokes about it.

There is a notable hypocrisy and mindset difference between Star Wars fans and fans of other Lores. I'll describe this simply as their attitude to revisions, Bladerunner had 7 entire different versions which feature many differences. Star wars also has MANY changes and revisions. Some are just simple improvements in quality or the product(changes in disc format), but some changed events and effects slightly. What's notable between them, is that the changes don't offer up new interpretations, whereas the changes in Bladerunner offer up new interpretations on the meaning of humanity and the question of whether or not Deckard is an android, both of which aren't answered in the film. It's with this, I personally think that many Star Wars fans put an unfair amount of dependence and criticism on changing the Lore. There is also the Canon change to consider, where the extended universe was completely scrapped in favor of the disney star wars universe, but I think arguing the point on the Canon change is likely to be a fallacious argument that doesn't follow because of survivorship bias. The EU has a lot of very good things in it, but likewise, it also has a lot of crap with it.

Changing understanding of Films

Lets start with Star Wars Phantom Menace to understand this. A lot of the criticisms to do with the film was directed(I would argue very unfairly) at the actors as can be seen by example in this July 1999 review of it in The Guardian newspaper. I believe this is to be blamed upon film-making understanding. In the December 2015 review of The Force Awakens by the Guardian, we can see they have written less about the acting and more about the director's choices. I feel this is empirical evidence(at least in terms of journalism) of the lesser focus on the acting in films, and more on the directing, writing and cinematography of a film. I do believe this to be the case, but I believe the reasons for this could be rooted in globalisation, the internet and greater communication and greater standards for Journalism. I believe it is because of this, that people felt but didn't understand why the star wars prequels were subjectively bad(and objectively bad on some counts), but now they can more easily place a reason upon it, because of the writing. It is for this reason I believe that there has been a rise in the number of "DRAMAS" involving badly written series or movies. Such of these include Game of Thrones, Star Wars The Last Jedi, and there's probably more you, the reader can list in your head.

I personally, am not well-taught or educated on the changes in film-making as I don't understand or know the process as I personally have never tried to make one and have no process knowledge. I believe personally though, that the cinematography, and scenes in general have almost universally improved following standard practice(almost to a point of formula as can be suggested in Marvel Movies which follow the Hero's Journey often). The most I can offer here, is that the writing just needs to be improved and understood for that medium. Too often, people are taught about writing for books and essays, but that kind of writing is not easily applicable to other mediums like Books or Films(or even just transfers badly). I think this is due to a shift in HOW they are experienced. I can't really point to writing being the worst thing though, as many Independant films have certainly impressed me in terms of their writing taking full advantage of the medium they are in.

Risk, Reward and Value

To evaluate the business decisions made by Disney recently, we must first evaluate the question of VALUE. Risk and reward are both tethered to the idea of VALUE. The issue with books, films and games is a simple question. How do you define their value? They are abstract, entertainment(often) and not material. Such is the issue of an experiential medium. You also need to add the issues of physical releases(usually a thing for AAA games or major movies), as well as events and showings. There's also a mindset that hasn't necessarily shifted either, as the typical cost of a AAA game tends to be 60 British Pounds Sterling, as well as the typical cost of seeing a film in a cinema being 7 British Pounds Sterling(rounded). I believe this mindset has resulted in the value variance not changing much, though after a while MOST of these prices drop significantly to 50% or so prices. One could very well argue this is due to Games being a greater endeavor, or because the audience for films is much larger. It's for this reason I believe some major fans of some movies pay multiple times to see the film multiple times in cinemas, as well as paying extra for "Definitive" editions of films. These people tend to be the reliable rocks of studios, a guaranteed seat in the cinemas if you will.

The risk of making any artistic medium is obvious. Some people don't want to see what you want to show. This can be evidenced well in the poor financial reception of films such as Bladerunner and it's subsequential sequel in 2017. This tends not to be recognised well by either critics or the audience, and it's for this reason that a lot of moviemakers tend to fallback and rely on proven formulas, plots and devices. It's an understandable strategy, if you make a similarly structured film, and substitute the content based on the Lore framework, you can effectively pump out film after film that will likely score and be received averagely. This is most evident in a lot of Movie films which follow the Hero's Journey story arc. If the films released are consistently this way, you will likely see investors investing in the brand as they believe it to be a safe investment, as investing is also another case of risk-reward. It's for this reason that financial growth often preceeds a lot more financial growth. The biggest issue of such a strategy is it risks the medium becoming stale. In Marvel Movies, this is well circumvented by a canon universe, and different superheroes, which adds enough differences that it doesn't really become as stale. Personally, I think it is completely understandable and respectable that Disney continue to release formulaic films. It's not what I would like, as significant financial growth should preceed an increase in risk tolerance, but consistency is also important.

Political shifts in storytelling

This tends to be what gets people fired up, as it often infringes on their personal beliefs. It's worth noting before we delve far here, that ALL media including film and games sees the political beliefs of the people who made it, incorporated in some way(as it's part of being Human). People refer to some actors as Mary Sues, whereas often times, it's easily attributed to poor or politically influenced writing. A Mary Sue as I see it, is a female protagonist which doesn't see adequate character development into what their end goal is. As a result, it's often just given that the writers actively decided not to give them character development which I see as unlikely. It's much more likely just an oversight(which says a bit about the review process on stories created). This is easily mirrors in Male protagonists who don't see adequate character development, but this isn't given as much flak as it's just attributed to poor writing AND NOT as some deep inference as a commentary on current politics. I believe this also says a lot about normalization of behaviour. If a behaviour is already normalized, it sees less flak if it is poor, as it's just the standard, but if a behaviour isn't normalized it sees much more criticism due to it being viewed often-times as a political choice. This also goes into writing queer or racial characters(though it's worthwhile thinking about how they often are just simply written poorly due to a lack of understanding). Sometimes these changes are included for the sake of diversity. I have no qualms with that(you may think I should), but this is because doing something to expand your audience potential is done very very often in businesses. The issue with it is, is it's easy to push this on either a writer or director who has absolutely butt-fuck no idea what or how to write with that. A fantastic example of females being protagonists can be found in the Alien and Aliens films(though a lot of this is much easier to do as Horror is often based around the concept of Power/Powerlessness, Pacing and Threat).

I would also argue there is a greater degree of reception to political changes in film, games, TV and books compared to industries which see these changes having actively negative impacts such as the Oil and Coal industries which leverage their political position to keep Oil and Coal a highly demanded commodity. And going further, if we take gamers to typically be much more active(rather than passive) individuals, it make provide a possible reason why EA have been repeatedly voted worst company in America several times(it's worse noting that the votes were online only, and that there was a presence of vote bots skewing the results). It's for this reason I believe that the artistic mediums tends to be the most criticised for political actions.

It's for the reasons I outlined above, that I believe the benefit of the doubt should typically be applied where it comes down to whether or not a change is a political change, and even then one must have a proper thought about whether or not the change is actually bad because it usually isn't a bad change, it's just usually badly written for. When this is brought up, it can often be a case of the Cherry Picking fallacy, but the context can sometimes make it very relevant.

Corporate and market cornering

A counterpoint a lot of people will give me to counter the ideas I have written above, is that the changes are unnecessary. I would argue they are necessary for growth. Cornering a market is often a term synonymous with monopolisation. The important thing to note here, is that a lot of the monopolies in the past have often lasted a very short time compared to the industry they are in. Such an example can be given with Standard Oil in 1890s to 1900s. It's for this reason, it must be noted that Disney does have a monopoly on Cinemas, but not on film due to the high presence of independant and other published films(YouTube being one such place for example where financial statistics don't exist for them). It's also worthy to note how Cinema is starting to become redundant with home streaming services that are arguably superior. It's also worthwhile noting on this point, that Microsoft have owned a similar monopoly on Operating Systems for a few decades, that was challenged with Linux and Apple's MacOS, and on top of this, IBM have also held a monopoly on Desktop PCs, though this too was challenged by Systems such as the Atari ST and Amiga series of computers in the 1980s. It's for this reason I don't believe that Disney's monopoly over cinema has a significant impact. What it will have a significant impact on, is the market for cinemas as Disney Plus(Disney's new streaming service) seems to be rendering Cinemas obsolete. I can't really do much here to prove anything other than wave my hands in the air and point at how the industries for books, film and games are far from purely stale and controlled purely by large corporations.


In summary, I hope that this brings attention to the hypocrisies of both sides in the argument, as well as pointing out the flaws in their common arguments, and how it often results in some fallacious arguments that are just dead ends. I also hope I covered the economics and business decisions made here in suitable detail, as well as the political shifts and mindsets involved. Feel free to email me, or message me elsewhere if I have left any notable details out. Thanks for reading.

Take me home!
Bad for health, Good for education