The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A Big Budget Doesn’t Mean a Great Movie

with 9 comments

Food quality is very straight forward. Basically you get what you pay for. If you buy the most expensive orange juice in the shop, you’ll get something delicious  – probably freshly pressed and full of flavor and vitamins. If you go for the cheapest one, it will taste old, if it tastes anything at all. Fair enough. You knew it, just as you know on beforehand that a cheap piece of meat most likely will taste like shit.

Film quality is quite a different creature, as we all know. The correspondence between the size of the budget and how great a movie it will become is a lot more arbitrary. Certainly, for some movies, where drop-the-jaw special effects are the major part of the content, money matters. But in other cases, not so very much.

I came to think of this as I saw what I believe is one of the biggest movies to be produced in Sweden this year in terms of budget, marketing and amount of well known actors appearing in it. Compared to Hollywood numbers it’s not impressive, but for Sweden it’s quite a lot. For instance the wonderful Let the Right One In was made with about half of that sum.

A solid financing can’t save Kronjuvelerna  from being a horrendously bad movie. I think there was an ambition to create a “fairytale for grownups” in the Tim Burton tradition, but unfortunately it doesn’t reach his standard by any means. It’s a tricky genre and this attempt just falls flat to the ground. It feels like watching something that could have worked in a TV series for children, if they’d just cut out the violence.

It boggles my mind why this movie ever was made. It should have been evident from reading the script that this wouldn’t work.

The checklist
One of the things that bugged me was how it constantly seemed to be looking for opportunities to be politically correct, either it was relevant for the story or not. Every sort of under privileged minority had to be presented. Poor immigrant with a foreign accent, happier than the all-white Swedish rich family: check. Mentally disabled child that is wise and angel-like: check. Girl who bends the gender roles, playing ice hockey: check.

It felt ridiculous as the movie went on and I added one “important issue or message” after another to the list. I said to myself: “all we need now is someone who turns out to be homosexual.” And lo and behold! Five minutes later I had that checked too! The cynical in me can’t help thinking that it might have been thanks to this checklist that gave it all the support and financing in the first place?

Supporting the industry
Worst of all was the ending. Would you believe me if I said that you’ll see the spirit of the drowned angel like boy with Downs syndrome walking a stair to heaven where he’s greeted by his mother who also has died during the course of the movie? And the last picture is of the main character from behind as she’s hugging the object of her affection in front of the sunset over the ocean?

I almost burst into laughter even though it choked in my throat as I thought about the 16 dollars and two hours of my life I just had wasted. But then I shrugged and decided to see it as my own personal contribution to keep Swedish Film Industry alive. After all I want people to keep making movies in Sweden. Even though some of them end up as bad as this one.

This movie will most likely never reach outside of the borders of Sweden. At least I hope it won’t, even though there are some signs that the producers might have an international launch in mind. I really, really hope we’ll be saved the embarrassment. I’d rather let the rest of the world remain in the illusion that Sweden only produces high quality movies such as the works of Ingmar Bergman or more lately Lukas Moodysson.

Kronjuvelerna (Lemhagen, SWE, 2011) My rating: 1,5/5

Written by Jessica

July 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

Posted in Kronjuvelerna

9 Responses

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  1. As for budgets and films, there is an interesting aspect of this part of the film industry, evident in the films being awarded the Oscar for best film of the year every so often.

    Think about this. Do you honestly believe that the film making professionals in the Academy *really* thought that films with astronmical budgets like Titanic and Lord of the Rings 3 (the third in a series, no less, and thus even an “incomplete” film) were the best films of their respective years?

    In that case, think again.

    These films are given the honour for the simple reason that they, as mega productions with a lowest common denominator appeal, become huge box office successes… and thus pump incredible amounts of money into the industry, money spent on productions with far smaller budgets but productions providing work for uncounted numbers of film industry professionals. If they did not honour these monstrous film mutants, they would effectively be biting the hand that feeds them. You have to give something back for all that money.

    And films with smaller budgets – like, let’s say, Smoke or A Single Man or Mystic River – often turn out to be cinematic masterpieces on a level never even closely approached by the big budget monsters, mainly for the very simple reason that they feature people, not special effects. People we can relate to, finding themselves in situations and relationships that have something to say to us, through giving us insights, emotional and/or intellectual, about life, about what it means to be a human being. In other words, films with relevant themes.

    And those films, quite naturally, are also the films secretly favoured by the overwhelming majority of the Academy, but they can’t very well afford to honour them more than occasionally, since the big budget monsters provide the bread for making them.

    Qute sad, actually.

    As for Sweden, production policies basically went down the drain after the creative explosion largely orchestrated by the genius Harry Schein, founder of the Swedish Film Institute, gave way to the lacklustre marsh of mediocrity we see these days. Without Harry Schein, Swedish film would have been a totally different animal altogheter, and a far poorer one. As it is today, without him.

    Obviously, Kronjuvelerna is a prime example.

    All the best,
    Bellis

    Moviehead

    January 4, 2012 at 2:09 am

    • Well, as opposed to you I happen to like the LOTR movies. Despite their popularity and budgets. But apart from that I think you have a solid argumentation and I have no reason to doubt your statement that the Academy choices to at least some extent is about politics, about patting the right backs and staying on good terms with the people you want to be on good terms with. This (together wtih the US-only bias) really devaluates the value of those awards. I think there are exceptions from those rules though, no? Winter’s Bone with a comparatively tiny budget of 2 million dollars got four Oscar nominations (though it didn’t win any.) The Hurtlocker, which I loved a lot (I know you didn’t though) was a low-budget indie film that won. So there are exceptions. Perhaps they’re just there as an excuse though, what do I know?

      The Swedish movies I’ve seen lately have been really mediocre. Meanwhile something is going on on the other side of the border. Norway is on a role. I don’t know what’s happened over there. Maybe they haven’t got a Harry Schein, but at least they’re doing something right.

      Jessica

      January 4, 2012 at 9:07 am

  2. Don’t get me wrong. In this context, I am only talking about the Academy Award for best film of the year. The other awards do, to a large extent, actually relfect the opinions of the members of the Academy – especially the non-prestigious awards for cinematography, and so forth, but also the awards in categories honouring best actors and actresses, ther supporting counterparts, and so on. Please observe that the *actors* in the mega buck monster movies are never even nominated, to give but one indiciation thereof.

    Also, remember that Best film is the only category in which *all* the members of the Academy are allowed to vote. In all other categories, you actually have to be yourself active in that category, so to speak, to be allowed to vote. Thus, only actors can vote for actors, only cinematographers for cinematographers, and so forth.

    And this is basically the mechanism behind honouring the mega bucks films. Give the bastards the most prestigious of all Academy Awards, but let the rest of the awards, at least to a large extent, reflect the opinions of the members of the Academy.

    Also, there are, as you say, exceptions. Of course. Both for political reasons and, if I am to believe some of the gossip that has filtered down via my parents through the years, and I am, for the simple reason that occasionally there is a smaller budget film that is so bleedin’ good, in the general opinion of the members of the Academy, that they simply have to honour it no matter what. They have to. The buzz goes around, everybody is excited, they vote.

    Also, you are not entirely correct in the US-only bias. The bias is toward English-languaged films. Observe, for example, that Slumdog Millionaire won the Academy Award for best film. Note that the British production Secrets & Lies was nominated. To give but two examples of films in English that weren’t American productions.

    To counteract this somewhat, there is also the category for films in a foreign language, but, admittedly, that is but one category of very many.

    However, I don not regard this as a problem. The Academy Award is the *Academy* Award, that is, the award handed out by American film makers to honour films – originally – in their part of the world and – later – widening the scope to films in English, no matter where they’re from. This is, on the face of it, actually quite generous. You do not see the same happening with national film awards in other countries like, say, Sweden or France or India or wherever.

    The fact that the Oscar has become by far the most well-known award of any kind on the entire planet, with the exception of the Nobel Prize, is another story altogether. That just goes to show that Hollywood has been extremely succcesful in marketing both its films and its honours. And of course, the United States is the largest film-making country in the world, in these latter days with the exception of India. But remember, India is Johnny-Come-Lately. They’ve been making films in America for more than a hundred years. Not so in India.

    All the best,
    Bellis

    Moviehead

    January 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    • I stand corrected. You are right about the English bias rather than US. And as you point out they’re in their right to be biased. Their prize, their rules. Actually I think the Swedish equivalence Guldbaggen has a class for the best foreign movie as well. Not that many people bother about it. 😉 You’re perfectly right that the Oscar overshades everything. And yet I really can’t gather any huge excitement about it. In the Filmspotting forum where I dwell, people are very interested, doing predictions about which movies that will be nominated, commenting on the pick of host etc etc. Not me. But maybe I too will be drawn into the craziness as the show is approaching. After all, previous years I haven’t had a blog where I could comment on the choices. Perhaps it will become more interesting now that I’m a participant in the disscussions among the fans.

      I also think you’re right about the difficulties in launching a new award these days. The Polar Prize didn’t do too well, did it? Just as an example. I think you need to have a very good concept to succeed. Some way to charge your prize with a lot of prestige. I don’t know if a huge prize sum is enough. I think it takes something else.

      Jessica

      January 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      • Jessica, there is a totally different point to the Academy Awards than what film or actors or whatever will win. That is actually secondary to us cineasts harbouring an ardent love for Oscar.

        The point, and nearly the whole point, is that the Oscars is The Greatest Show on Earth. There is no comparison. There simply is no comparison. Me and my friend Anna McEnroe, until very recently living in New York, have spent the last sixteen years gearing up together weeks in advance, across the Atlantic, and when The Show is finally on, the excitement will have reached fever pitch. We begin watching already when The Red Carpet is on – that is, two hours in advance of the actual Event. And in the commercial breaks, we call each other across the Atlantic and discuss everything from the dresses the actresses are wearing to how the pre-show, short interviews are going and what have you. And we are totally starstruck. These are, after all, the Gods and Godesses of Film, the Pantheon for any cineast worthy of his or her status as just that – a cineast.

        Then cut. Into the Kodak Theatre.. It begins. And the first thing you do, you go Jack Spotting. When the camera sweeps over the audience, the point is to spot Jack. Because he will be sitting there in his black sunglasses, smiling his broad, sardonic smile, sometimes with a bottle in one hand, the other resting on some gorgeous chick brought for the occasion. And nearly always, whether he is nominated or not, he will sit in the very first row. Because he is Jack. They dare do nothing else.

        And Then. The Show. Is On.

        The Greatest Show on Earth. There is no comparison. There simply is no comparison. And this whole Show is a Total Celebration of the Art of the Silver Screen. That is its whole raison d’être.

        In excitment far surpassing religious ecstasy, we closely watch and listen to everything – we study the stage, we hang onto every word of the nearly always incredibly funny host of the evening is saying – Billy Crystal, take your bow and go light them up, as Jack said! – and we just watch every detail, on the verge of fainting. The Oscars is the only Event that has ever far surpassed the spectacular birth of the universe, the so called Big Bang (which in comparison to the Oscars was actually a very Small Bang, producing far fewer real stars).

        In the commercial breaks, in all the commercial breaks, we call each other over the Atlantic and frantically discuss what has happened since the last break.

        And The Show goes on and it goes on. And back in the day, when they didn’t keep the time limit as strictly as they do these days, it could actually go on for close on six or seven heavenly hours!

        And then, when The Show is over, we still sit glued to the screen, watching all the after show-parties, being shown to us courtesy of the various television teams posted on location.

        Oscar Night is the greatest night of the year.

        Who wins is important. Of course it is.

        But it is totally secondary to the fever pitch, ecstasy-exciting Greatest Show on Earth!

        All the best,
        Bellis

        P.S. I have watched the last 24 Oscars live. One year, when it wasn’t broadcast in Sweden except for on some small cable channel I didn’t have, I flew to London the same day to see it there. I’ll do anything, absolutely aything, to see the Oscars. And I spend the last week before The Event watching and reviewing the nominated films. Around the clock. In a totaly frenzy. D.S.

        P.P.S. From now on, Jessica, you will never miss the Oscars. That is an order. D.S.

        Moviehead

        January 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm

        • Bellis, that’s an awesome rant about what the Oscars mean to you. You should translate it and run it as a post at your own blog. Or start blogging in English like the rest of the community. 😉

          And yes sir, I hear you. I will try to watch the Oscars from now on. I think I’ll get more enjoyment out of it now that I’ve joined the film fan community, watching, thinking, talking and writing about movies if not 24/7, at least daily.

          Jessica

          January 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm

          • I might add that if you do what I do – review the nominated films during the preceding week, one after the other, three or four a day, *right up to the beginning of The Show* (last year, I reviewed the last two films during the last hour before The Red Carpet), you will notice a flabbergasting increase of visitors to your blog. The number skyrockets!

            Because, remember – Anna and I are not the only ones. Far, far from it. People gearing up for the Oscars frantically search the net during the days and hours leading up to The Show.

            But you have to be tireless. Watch film, review, watch film, review, watch film, review, watch film, review, in a never-ending, hammering schedule. That is what makes people come back again and again during that week, and many of them will come back during the intervening year, until the next Show.

            All the best,
            Bellis

            P.S. Thank you for the compliment! D.S.

            Moviehead

            January 4, 2012 at 5:24 pm

            • The tricky thing there is to get access to some of the movies.For instance The Artist, which is one of the movies that many people think will get at least a nomination, won’t open in Sweden until March 30, one month after the award ceremony. 😦

              And I’m not a thief. I don’t download illegaly. This means that if I’m going to make an Oscar coverage, it will be very broken and incomplete.

              Otherwise it sounds like a good idea to expand your readership in the Oscar period of the year. A window to make good use of.

              Jessica

              January 4, 2012 at 10:22 pm

  3. Addendum. There is another very obvious reason for the Oscar being the most well-known award of any kind with the exception of the Nobel Prize – both of these first appeared at a time when there were precious few awards of any kind being handed out, and thus they faced small competition, if any. And since they’ve been going steadily on through the decades, the Nobel Prize since 1901, the Academy Awards since 1929, they have quite naturally come to garner more and more attention as time goes on.

    Today, there is an abundance of awards for anything imaginable, and to create such well-known and prestigious awards as the Oscar and the Nobel Prize again is practically impossible. Can’t be done.

    All the best,
    Bellis

    Moviehead

    January 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm


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