Ponder for a moment the irony of James Cameron, whose career has elevated the Roger Corman formula of cliched characters and high-concept premises into billion-dollar mega-success, calling out Peter Berg‘s upcoming Battleship as an example of the story crisis in Hollywood. Then stop pondering and read the director’s full comments after the break.

Speaking to the magazine Spiegel, Mr. Cameron said (via translation),

We have a story crisis. Now they want to make the Battleship game into a film. This is pure desperation.

Everyone in Hollywood knows how important it is that a film is a brand before it hit theaters. If a brand has been around, Harry Potter for example, or Spider-Man, you are light years ahead. And there lies the problem. Because unfortunately these franchises are become more ridiculous. Battleship. This degrades the cinema.

Setting aside the fact that James Cameron has become his own recognizable brand, and that he’s about to extend it with two Avatar sequels, the simple fact is that he’s right. Not that his comment will change anything.

The avoidance of story and reliance upon brand — especially when it’s as ludicrous a brand as some of the Hasbro board games — is a dire problem that mostly affects films we see in the summer months. But the infection is spreading. And while the Coen Brothers might be able to use a brand like True Grit to make $100M with a character-oriented adventure story, they’re the exception, not the rule.

Devin at Badass Digest has already covered this subject quite well, hitting all the points that I’d hope to make, so I’ll send you his way for more thoughts on the death of story in big mainstream motion pictures.

Meanwhile, I’m still curious to see Battleship. I’ve been told that it was basically Peter Berg using Hasbro’s death grip deal on Universal to make a big, ridiculous and fun action movie. I think I’m more game for that than for three different Snow White and Wizard of Oz movies. I’d rather have Cameron calling out business deals like the one Universal made with Hasbro, because that’s closer to the root of the problem we have now. Then again, Universal is also making a lot of risky moves with pictures that don’t have huge brand appeal out of the box, and maybe a deal like the one with Hasbro is the flip side to that in this production climate.

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