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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Movies vs TV: The "Game of Thrones Syndrome" as Season 4 Blows Up


by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent


Last week, New York's Barclay Center was the scene of 7,000 eager "Game of Thrones" viewers, many dressed up as lookalike characters from HBO's hit fantasy series which debuts its Season Four opener on April 6.

Last year, GOT was the most illegally downloaded show, according to BitTorrent, with 5.9 million pirated copies, a higher number than its TV audience. So what is going on? The bigger issue here is that GOT presents a huge problem for the movies. How?

In a big budget picture, you can't exactly kill off Batman, Spiderman, or wax Captain America in the first act. 

What we have here is a predictability problem that HBO's gorgeously shot series has circumvented. When Eddard Stark was beheaded at the end of Season One, the man who appeared to be a main character vanished. Who knew? In Season Three, Rob Stark, his son who was supposed to be King, was brutally dispatched with wife and unborn son in the Red Wedding Episode - reportedly the bloodiest, baddest, show ever shot for TV.

And there are the unpaid endorsements that keep piling up, from Madonna recently dressed up as Dragon Queen Daenerys Targaryen on Google+, to US President Barack Obama an admitted GOT binge-watcher, to Napster founder, now Facebook bigwig, Sean Parker's very expensive GOT-themed wedding. 

Nobody is dressing up for big budget blockbuster The Hobbit, even though in 2013 that movie took the record as most pirated feature film, with 8.9 million known downloads, and possibly a huge number more on darknet platforms. Again, you can rest assured no Hobbit was killed unexpectedly in the making of that film.

From famed Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci to LA screenplay guru Robert McKee, just about everyone agrees the juice is flowing on TV whereas big tent pictures are mostly played out. Katniss banks huge dollars for Hunger Games, but again, we know to a 100% degree of certainty she won't end up dead during the run of the franchise.

Series showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, along with the books' author George R. R. Martin, are as famous as any contemporary movie-makers at this point. The main cast of GOT just fronted a Vanity Fair cover. Plus the diehard fans who buy the DVD series have added huge bank to the show's mystique.

So how do the movies adjust to compete with the runaway plot twists that are possible on TV? Right now, nobody has the answer. One idea is to sweeten big budget franchises with secondary characters wielding untimely death scenes or unexpected double-crosses on the silver screen. But again, Hunger Games, like Harry Potter, Twilight and Divergent, are from predetermined source material without the majesty of Martin's breathtaking upheavals.

People seem to love Peter Dinklage, as Tyrion Lannister, although he went unnoticed in films like Bullet, starring Mickey Rourke, where he played a denizen of Hell House. Fantasy allows for Daenerys to have Dragons, for White Walkers to eat humans, and for Bran to shapeshift into a dire wolf. 

Emilia Clark, 26, who was born to play the phonetically simple but emotionally complex Daenerys Targaryen, was named to the Askmen 99 Hottest List. She bumped film star Jennifer Lawrence down a notch even. Clark seemingly came out of nowhere, with her white mane of hair to star next in the Terminator franchise reboot.

Movies have long found profit in Fantasy, from Wizard of Oz to Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Ring series. But again, there is an unassailable rule regarding who lives, and who dies, in a motion picture based on their order in the credits.

In 2013, the movie business crested at a breakthrough annual total of $11 Billion USD, its biggest year ever on record. Indiewire's Anne Thompson even wrote a whole book about that total, detailing the winners and losers. Clearly there is enough money at stake here that this "Game of Thrones Syndrome" must be remedied. 

Paying movie audiences are not as forgiving as TV viewers, it turns out. They will not stand for a forced fix or fumbled ending, especially in the US, at $12 a ticket., a delightfully irreverent site, once spelled out the nightmare that ill-thought-out movie plot twists can become. Even the good ones are beyond belief. 

Here are Cracked's particularly insightful half dozen examples: 6) SKYFALL, Javier Bardem, beset by personal childhood issues, GETS himself captured, only to mess up the plausibility of the entire movie; 5) DARK KNIGHT RISES, Christian Bale fakes his death, then appears to hand over the Bat Cave to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with the brilliant caption "Say, you wouldn't happen to have years of Ninja training, and millions in disposable income, would you?"; 4) THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, simply put, the father-son plot twist begs the question "Why Did Darth Vader Wait So Long to Tell Us?," especially before he almost bonked his sister Princess Leia?; 3) WALL-E, in this dis-utopian kiddie flick, the AUTO-named autopilot improbably sabotages the repopulation of Earth, which it is designed to ensure;  2) MATCHSTICK MEN, Cracked's wise acre writer David Christopher Bell claims "a single phone call" would have nixed the entire movie; and 1) THE USUAL SUSPECTS, Bell claims, stretched the bounds of credibility, though cleverly written, by timing of Keyser Soze's end reveal. 

Okay, main character straight up death is out as a feature film plot device, mostly because of the size of star salaries. 

Going Back in Time is a cheap trick most viewers have grown tired of, since William Holden floated face down in Gloria Swanson's pool in the opening scene of Sunset Boulevard. The ultimate contemporary improbable yawn-fest being Bruce Willis in 2012's Looper, where you wished the guy would die already so Gordon-Levitt could lose the fake nose to match his miscast older self.

The only plot twist to work in feature films, to successfully address GOT Syndrome, was the 2013 release Now You See Me. Unsurprisingly, this gem of a movie rated #8 out of the top 10 illegally downloaded movies last year. Without spoiler alerts, let it suffice to say somebody appeared to die, another just became pure magic, and this underrated film shot through the critical mist with 7,000,000 souls who found it entertaining enough to steal their own copy online.

Sleight of hand, it seems, based on Now You See Me, is one viable cinematic option. 

Another option is the dreaded character-drama, which was brought back to life by David O. Russell last year with Silver Linings Playbook, which ranks as #5 on the most illegally downloaded list. If the main character is a hot mess, that in itself has become a legitimate plot twist, going back in the modern era to Taxi Driver.

There's always 3D, which TV hasn't mastered. Green screen with floating goop goes a long way toward big bang BO. And blue people, with odd appendages, judging from the Avatar franchise.

Either way, movies have a long way to go before they invigorate the general public like GOT.

When Game of Thrones, with three Dragons, a Dwarf, and Daenerys, premieres on HBO on Sunday, April 6, it will still give a lot of filmmakers plot envy. Season Four is aptly named "All Men Must Die." Currently there are building-size murals advertising it on Sunset Blvd. The HBO show has gone Hollywood, promos and all.

Note that no one on GOT smokes cigarettes. No one is packing heat, since it a sword show. That leaves two of the big lobbyists out of the picture. 

Violence and Sex? Yes, Tobacco and Firearms? No, apparently.

Ultimately, GOT Syndrome just means the big screen requires creatives to become more inventive. 

As George R. R. Martin recently told reporters at the Barclay Center preview last week, "the craziness has just begun."


(See the following lists below, for films and TV illegal downloads - see a pattern? Neither does Hollywood.)


BitTorrent's List of Top Pirated Films for 2013

1) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - 8.4 Million Downloads

2) Django Unchained - 8.1 Million Downloads

3) Fast and Furious 6 - 7.9 Million Downloads

4) Iron Man 3 - 7.6 Million Downloads

5) Silver Linings Playbook - 7.5 Million Downloads

6) Star Trek Into Darkness - 7.4 Million Downloads

7) Gangster Squad - 7.2 Million Downloads

8) Now You See Me - 7 Million Downloads

9) The Hangover Part 3 - 6.9 Million Downloads

10) World War Z (!) - 6.7 Million Downloads


Torrentfreak's List of Top Pirated TV Shows for 2013

1) Game of Thrones - 5.9 Million Downloads

2) Breaking Bad - 4.2 Million Downloads

3) The Walking Dead - 3.6 Million Downloads

4) The Big Bang Theory - 3.4 Million Downloads

5) Dexter - 3.1 Million Downloads

6) How I Met Your Mother - 3 Million Downloads

7) Suits - 7.2 Million Downloads

8) Homeland - 2.4 Million Downloads

9) Vikings - 2.3 Million Downloads

10) Arrow - 2.2 Million Downloads


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