By Nina Heyn – Your Culture Scout
If you, like me, are heading to movie theaters to cool off and to check out the latest blockbusters, you may want to keep in mind that next summer, big-budget movies might be hard to find.
On July 13, SAG-AFTRA, the guild of Hollywood actors, announced a strike. The guild members are demanding improved work and salary conditions, including so-called residual pay (the growth of streaming affects it) as well as protection from a new threat concerning performers’ likenesses—a direct result of the technological advancement of AI. Rapid technological changes are deeply affecting people with recognizable faces and voices. This is SAG-AFTRA’s first strike since 1980, and the guild is joining the Writers Guild of America in its own labor dispute, ongoing since May 2, 2023. The double strike of actors and writers is the first such extensive double union event since 1960.
No one in the entertainment industry knows what the strike’s impact will be, except that it will be painful for all concerned and will affect next year’s movie and TV output. For now, actors will stop working and earning, and only a small portion of them are high-earners. All workers in allied industries will be affected, if not entirely out of work—including publicists, film executives, craftspeople, food industry workers, production crews, hotel workers, drivers, real estate salespeople, creative workers (such as casting directors, designers, make-up artists, sound engineers, researchers), producers, musicians, composers, CGI programmers, accountants, painters, computer artists, and many more professionals and blue-collar staffers. For Los Angeles and the state of California in general, this strike directly and indirectly affects millions of people.
The double actors/writers strike not only is bringing Hollywood to a standstill, it also is reverberating in industries all over the world: film productions, TV and documentary projects, hotel reservations, transportation contracts, festivals, premieres, live performances, and promotional tours are being canceled or disrupted. Just a couple of days into the strike, some very public effects were already in evidence. For example, the London premiere of Oppenheimer was speeded up to allow its stars (Matt Damon, Cillian Murphy, and Emily Blunt) to pose for photos just before the strike was announced in California; the cast then walked out of subsequent engagements. The production of Deadpool 3 has just been halted. Until the strikes get called off, the cancellation of future movie releases and TV show launches all over the world will affect the transportation, finance, real estate, tourism, hotel, and entertainment industries. The world is a global village, and filmed entertainment feeds that village.
For moviegoers, these two strikes may seem less relevant than the movies that audiences watch in cool theater rooms, but it is good to remember that no feature film has ever been made without writers and actors. The historic double strike in Hollywood will eventually be felt at a multiplex near you. But for now, the latest blockbuster to hit theaters worldwide is Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.
Tom Cruise, along with his regular co-stars (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, and Vanessa Kirby) and a new addition to the cast (the very talented Hayley Atwell), and the director Christopher McQuarrie have pulled off the impossible mission of delivering a summer blockbuster for all ages in the seventh installment of the action yarn, beating out at the box office another movie dependent on Baby Boomer audiences—the last installment of Indiana Jones. The initial box office results may be a bit softer than expected (it is hard to recoup an estimated $291M of production costs and another S200M or so of distribution expenses), but in the long run, this movie should make a profit, and in the meantime it is drawing large audiences to theaters.
The plot is traditional for the Mission: Impossible universe. In previous movies, Agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise), aided by his IMF (Impossible Mission Force) team, had to save the world as we know it by retrieving such lethal objects as stolen plutonium cores and a canister of nerve gas. In this one, Hunt has to find keys to a mysterious facility to neutralize a threat of global annihilation by something that is now on everybody’s mind—that of a sentient AI. The storyline revolves around the hostile AI trying to take over the control of all aspects of human life, although, tellingly, it still requires the very physical ability of blood-and-bones henchmen to overpower the IMF operatives. However, in an action fantasy like a MI movie, the plot takes a backseat to the breathtaking views, elaborate action sequences, and the charisma of the indefatigable Cruise and his distinctly characterized teammates and opponents.
With the MI franchise as with its British counterpart (the Bond movies), the main attractions are incredible locations and impossible stunts. In this regard, Dead Reckoning delivers again: there is a virtuoso car chase over Rome’s Spanish Steps, an elaborate chase and knife fights at Venice’s Doge’s Palace and Ponte Minich, and a train and motorcycle sequence filmed at Norway’s Helsetkopen Mountain, which acts as a stand-in for the Swiss Alps—all craggy peaks and green valleys. At 63 years old, Cruise also delivers his mission impossible quotient of age-defying stunts, in which he is running at full speed, paragliding, jumping through a moving train, and stunt-driving in high-speed chases. Since everyone seated in a movie theater knows that Cruise does his stunts himself (defying the industry’s norm of not endangering the most expensive production asset), it is indeed jaw-dropping to watch him run over a speeding train’s roof, bike through a mountain ridge, or jump into an abyss with just a small chute.
Such a rich visual spectacle plays best on an old-fashioned theatrical screen as opposed to streaming at home. McQuarrie and Cruise have even filmed a promotional introduction about supporting real cinema experiences, and the message is placed at the start of Dead Reckoning. Cruise and many of Hollywood’s producers and directors are in the forefront of Hollywood’s struggle to keep theatrical releases going despite the deep societal shift toward streaming.
As the title indicates, this entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise has a story that has been stretched to two movies, with the second part scheduled for release on June 28, 2024. It is also one of the few major theatrical films of 2024 that may be less affected by the Hollywood labor crisis, since it was filming before the strikes started. As for other blockbusters. . . let’s see what happens next summer.