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The Problem With Hyping Entertainment

March 21, 2017

Hamilton: An American Musical, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, BBC's Sherlock Season Four, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens all serve as recent examples of the downside of hyping media.

Hamilton: An American Musical, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, BBC's Sherlock Season Four, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens all serve as recent examples of the downside of hyping media.

Hamilton: An American Musical, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, BBC's Sherlock Season Four, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens all serve as recent examples of the downside of hyping media.

Hype is, by definition, a pretty great thing. It increases awareness and creates excitement. It brings people together and generates new understandings. It encourages new interpretations, inspires new ideas, and so on. Also, every once in awhile, hype occurs because something is actually good. Hype will serve some films brilliantly by taking something good and making it – to borrow the hyperbole for a moment –awesome, and it is true that the film industry would not be where it is today if it were not for the sort of spreading of the word for which hype is mainly responsible. But it is as damaging as it is essential when it raises expectations of a film to the point at which the film simply cannot live up to them. In these cases, audiences are being primed for disappointment. Here are four examples of well-known and much-loved musicals, movies, books, and tv shows for which high expectations were more detrimental than beneficial.

Hamilton: An American Musical: Good For Theatre Bad for Broadway

From its Rolling Stone’s cover, eleven Tony awards, celebrity attendants, appearances on talk shows, Grammy Award, four casts, and becoming the first Broadway album to top Billboard’s rap chart, it is clear that Hamilton: An American Musical has done what few musicals have been able to accomplish–Hamilton has “gotten off the arts page” according to creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

While Hamilton has been successful in showing that musical theater isn’t just for theater geeks, all the buzz and praise that Hamilton has earned has had unintended consequences for the Broadway community. After the Tony nominations were announced, several Broadway shows such as Tuck Everlasting, Disaster, or American Psycho subsequently set premature closing dates. While the main reason for the closures was poor ticket sales, the Tony Awards were also are a factor. Tony wins, or even nominations, can help a show financially. The awards attract visitors who will see a show simply based on critical approval.

After Hamilton’s sweep at the 2016 Tony Awards, many shows on the edge of collapse had to close because their hope of acclaim had vanished. Neither the American Theatre Wing (the organization that sponsors the Tonys) nor Hamilton itself can be blamed for this. It is simply upsetting that shows has been forced to leave the Great White Way prematurely, if only because they opened during a bad year for small shows. One will never know whether shows would have been successful had they opened in a different season, but it’s a haunting question. As Huffington Post writer Kate Purdum states, “In all of its splendor and glory, Miranda’s pioneering drama has inadvertently overshadowed younger, scrappier, and hungrier shows that never even got a shot to throw away.”

 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Only Thing That’s Cursed is the Book Itself

In the days running up to the release of the book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, reviews for the theater production were released, many of which awarded the play five-stars. Harry Potter fans were undoubtedly thrilled that the eighth part in the saga was awarded full marks by numerous critics. However, when the script finally arrived at midnight on a Saturday night, some were – it’s fair to say – a little disappointed by the final product.

The main problem of the book version of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was it was not a novel, but a script. The Hollywood Reporter was one of the first publications to give the book a negative review, saying, “The big problem is The Cursed Child is less an original story than a remix of the existing Potter mythology. The been there, done that feeling to the whole thing is its greatest weakness. How the sins of the father (and the mother) weigh on their children is an interesting theme but it would have been better served exploring that idea in a truly original story and not one that rehashed the mythology of the previous seven books.”

Other critics such as Entertainment Weekly argues that the Harry Potter series did not need another book: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child finality feels presently dubious – not insomuch as where characters have ended up, but in why their fates have almost been perfunctorily defined. It’s almost the Potter series’ response to the nostalgia-mania that’s defined this generation of regeneration – a condition Potter surprisingly subscribed to just nine years after its purported end. On one hand, the reprise helps uncover important new layers that only serve the greater, grander story; but on the other, certain moments in the series have been untied and hastily repackaged here.”

However, fans on social media took the same feeling of unoriginality in the critical reviews to the next level comparing the book to a “really horribly written fanfiction story.”  Perhaps if J.K. Rowling released Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as an actual book, capturing the magic audience felt with the stage production, instead of releasing it as a script in order to capitalize off the play’s hype, fans would not be hoping to get a time-turner and unread the book.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and the Critics and Fans Strike Back 

With merchandising deals with everything from OPI nail polish to Subway sandwiches and everything in between, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was nearly inescapable. Its trailers promised the franchise’s first force-wielding female protagonist and two actors of color as the new trio, an experienced sci-fi director JJ Abrams heading the project, and not to mention a return of the beloved characters Han, Luke, and Leia whom fans have not seen since 1983. While critics and fans seem thrilled that JJ Abrams concocted an exciting, fast-paced Star Wars installment that is genuinely fun to watch, capturing the look and feel of the originals, and shattering box office records, it just hasn’t done much else. In fact, critics were quick to point out that The Force Awakens is almost a scene-by-scene remake of A New Hope. Critics such as Brian Merchant has said that The Force Awakens is the least interesting Star Wars film released because the movie has “predictable, nostalgia-reliant, repackaged thrills” are “a defeat for what made the trilogy extraordinary in the first place—its madcap sci-fi originality and genre-bending experimentation.

Almost two months after The Force Awakens had been released, published a piece which highlights how eerily similar the two Star Wars movies are. Derek Ruths, a McGill University professor, took the scripts to both The Force Awakens and A New Hope and did a detailed comparison regarding the characters. The study took each of the main characters and followed how their story was presented in the respective scripts. Each character’s path was dissected; how many scenes they had, when the scenes happened chronologically, and who they interacted with were all taken into account. Ater Derek Ruths tallied this data, he concluded the two Star Wars films are apparently the same movie with only small changes with regards to the parallels between each new character and old character.  (i.e. Poe Dameron doesn’t match up with Han Solo, as many people might assume because of their similarly cocky attitude. In fact, Poe’s part in The Force Awakens most closely relates to Luke Skywalker).

However, Den of Geek makes an interesting case for the similarities between  The Force Awakens and A New Hope arguing that, “Episode VII is not so much a sequel or a reboot as it is a nostalgia-make meant to give fans their childhood back, and it heavily relies on what’s come before in order to do so.” A nostalgia-make is a movie for the fans with the intention of getting audiences in love with the world again for the next movies in the franchise. If this is the case, The Force Awakens’ best case scenario serves as an extended trailer for the new trilogy. As Vox critic Matt Yglesias argued The Force Awakens is a movie we can’t evaluate until we see Episode VIII, “If Star Wars VIII takes the franchise in a bold new direction, some of The Force Awakens‘ sins will be forgiven. It will look, in retrospect, like an extended trailer, meant to reintroduce us to the world and situate some new characters in it. If the second in the trilogy is just a retread of The Empire Strikes Back, The Force Awakens (and Disney) will look much worse” (Signs so far appear extremely positive.).

Unlike for The Force Awakens, Disney’s marketing for Rogue One was not nearly as intense. In fact, Disney downplayed expectations for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, perhaps learning from their over-hyping of The Force Awakens. Vulture reported that Disney CEO Bob Iger told an audience of investors: “We never felt it would do the level that Force Awakens did.” While he then went on to say that “the level of interest [in Rogue One] is as high as it was for Force Awakens,” at least according to the reactions that early teasers have received, the message from Disney was clear: They neither need nor demand that Rogue One make Force Awakens money.

With disappointment from The Force Awakens, concerns from the heavy late post-production reshoots, and downplay from Disney, fans went into theaters with very low expectations for the next Star Wars film, Rogue One, which ended up to be a complete and utter delight to fans with the general consensus (both initial reactions and later reviews) that Rogue One was better than The Force Awakens.  Some even called the movie the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. The overall consensus for Rogue One after three months since it’s release is still that Rogue One captured the true heart of the Star Wars saga without reliance on nostalgia as The Force Awakens did.

Rolling Stone makes an important distinction between The Force Awakens and Rogue One saying “While The Force Awakens contented itself with putting a contemporary gloss on tried-and-true formulae, Rogue One took a shot at something new. The former used nostalgia as a currency and fan service as a cudgel; this semi-peripheral addition to the canon uses both of these elements for riffing and a big-picture–narrative spackle, but also as grist for making a statement. War is hell, regardless of whether it’s a long, long time ago and involves AT-ATs. We know the costs because we know the outcome. Force is a Greek tragedy; Rogue One wants to be a human one.”

Den of Geek adds, “Rogue One actually fleshes out A New Hope in some very interesting ways too. The movie presents a fractured broken down rebel alliance and rivalries within the Imperial bureaucracy. Rogue One answers some very interesting questions about the Death Star’s construction including its small but powerful weakness, something Star Wars fans have pointed out as plot hole for more than thirty years.” Almost three months later, Rogue One has not followed The Force Awakens in terms of any delayed backlash. Whether Disney has learned from the overhyping of The Force Awakens or audiences have learned to not have high expectations for the new Star Wars movies, one can only hope that Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi will be received better than The Force Awakens.

BBC’s Sherlock Season Four Finale: The Only Mystery Sherlock Couldn’t Solve

After a three-year-long wait, BBC’s Sherlock Season Four premiered its three-episode season in January 2017. However, the world’s most popular TV drama closed its season (and perhaps the series) with an aptly titled episode, ‘The Final Problem’ with the lowest number of viewers in Sherlock history and harsh backlash. In fact, in less than 24 hours of the season finale, The Rotten Tomatoes audience for the show score fell to a 36%. Audiences and critics alike were deeply frustrated with the fourth and possibly final season of Sherlock, which ended with a madcap but anticlimactic finale. The Guardian called it “an annoying parody of itself,” IndieWire called it “problematic,” and British media did roundups of “the most furiously outraged reviews.”

Many of Sherlock’s problems boil down to two factors. First, given the rise to mega-stardom of its two leads, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, the show never knew whether its current season would be its last — and it still doesn’t. Each season was only a few episodes long, and each episode centered on retelling a different Arthur Conan Doyle detective story. That didn’t give the show much room to develop the larger ideas bouncing around in its head.

Critics such as Pop Matters critic Carl Wilson have scorned BBC’s Sherlock Season Four overall  saying, “Sherlock feels more like it should be called “Houdini,” given how much misdirection and diversionary showmanship, signifying nothing, is involved.” Other critics on Rotten Tomatoes have said, “The momentum was lost and the screenwriter seemed to have lost track of what captivated the viewers in the first place. The episodes are all over the place with no clear connections, it was an understandable disappointment.”

It also doesn’t help that the creators of Sherlock responded to the backlash by calling their fans stupid and “to go read a children’s book” if any fans who found the show too complicated. BBC also blamed the season finale’s low ratings on Russia as a Russian version of the finale leaked on BBC One a day before the finale.

Despite the TV show’s clear and consistent problems, the hype for BBC’s Sherlock is a factor in the season finale let down. An article published on points out that Sherlock has to make each episode bigger than the previous one, especially since the seasons are released such a long time apart from each other, and that definitely came back to bite the creators when making Season Four. Zenia D’Cunha’s article titled “Sherlock and the burden of expectations: BBC show failed to sustain standard it set” questions how long Sherlock could sustain its high-quality entertainment standards considering the two leads, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martian Freedman are both involved with future Marvel movies. (Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange appearing in Thor Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Martin Freeman appearing in Black Panther (2018)). 

However, this doesn’t explain that the defining characteristic of Sherlock – the show, the books, the films – has always been the attention to detail. The writing has been painstakingly elaborate, the characters have always been deeply etched and the plot complexly unfolded. For the most part, the last two seasons of Sherlock failed to do this. In a nutshell, call it the high expectations or the lower standards, but Sherlock has become more of a showpiece than a masterpiece.

Perspective is Vital for the Enjoyment of Various Forms of Entertainment

For a full experience of the world of entertainment, it is probably best to just accept the excitement and anticipation, while hopefully bearing in mind that it is just a musical, movie, tv show or book. There are certain limits to how good entertainment can really be, after all, it is entertainment, meant to distract you from everyday life.

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