“The Northman” and The Death of Cinema

The Northman and The Death of Cinema

Cael Brennan

Director, Robert Eggers’ new movie The Northman is a brooding, angry revenge tale blockbuster that reaches gothic drama heights and unsettlingly violence and edge. However, it’s a box office flop and a frightening wake-up call to a growing issue across the film world. Due to the abusive booking strategies of corporations like Disney and the readiness of streaming conglomerates, great artful movies like The Northman are threatened at unprecedented levels.

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The highest-grossing movie of 2022 so far is “The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s” latest release Doctor Strange: and The Multiverse of Madness. A second installment of the Doctor Strange franchise and yet another smash hit Marvel movie from Disney’s corporate table to your local theatre. Recently, editor and critic of film website “Screen Crush” Matt Singer achieved a viral tweet for publishing the Times Square AMC’s screening times of the new Marvel movie. With a new screening running each 5-10 minutes many were troubled by what this meant for other movies, stating their fear of bookings like this killing smaller movies and making cynical comments about going into another theatre after a bathroom break to catch what you missed. Moreover, several such as myself recall acclaimed director Martin Scorcese’s critique of Marvel Movies and what they mean for lower-budget filmmaking. 

In a 2019 article jointed by “The New York Times”, Scorcese sought to clarify his controversial statement Marvel movies “aren’t cinema.” At one point Scorcesce relays, “Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures.” For instance, Multiverse of Madness attempted to introduce a darker aesthetic into “The M.C.U” by employing horror auteur and legendary director of The Evil Dead movies Sam Raimi. Nonetheless, Scorcese continues, “What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.” Brian Tallerico a critic for the historic film review website “Roger Ebert” expands upon Doctor Strange 2’s relation to this fault as he describes, that Multiverse of Madness is a film that constantly pushes back against its own possibilities. It’s got a plot that could have creatively surprised viewers over and over with new variations on the very concept of a world with heroes in it and a director willing to go there.” 

Marvel movies are not detrimental to movie culture at large. Although, there are several striking, creative and cutting edge smaller films that are worth seeing; cheesy seat fillers by themselves aren’t “the death of cinema.” The conflict Multiverse fo Madness distinguished is Disney funds damning other movie’s chances of actually being seen. The entire Times Square AMC being dedicated to a Marvel movie not only favors these blockbusters but further reinforces a culture that dismisses media that isn’t instantly accessible. In fact, Scorcese elaborates on this issue saying, “It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system.” 

Disney has long been manipulating film screenings with brutal tactics. Cinefile and revolutionary filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in a 2015 interview with radio host Howard Stern exposed shady practices performed by Disney to obstruct theatre showings of his movie The Hateful Eight. Essentially after booking Hateful Eight showings in the Times Square AMC Cinerama Dome for two weeks Disney threatened to pull Star wars: The Force Awakens from the theatre entirely if they were not granted the showings instead. An ultimatum between honoring deals with alternative movies and what was the biggest movie of that year. Simultaneously an abuse of power considering the steady decline of theatre audiences due to streaming. 

The Northman is yet again another fantastic movie, that due to its aesthetic and circumstance was doomed to fail. Critical analyst for entertainment website IGN Jeremy Mathai admonishes, “the film quickly burned out after its wide release in late April, rapidly losing theater screens and now getting rushed into its home media release.” Furthermore, as more and more theatres shut down due to the pandemic’s economic impact and Marvel movies consuming screen times the chances of countless alternative films are bleak. Amid the threatening culture of the contemporary box office. What audiences can do is go and see arthouse, independent or alternative movies. Make conscious choices to see cinema that is new and not remakes or sequels. Become an active audience member who supports art.