If there’s one thing that has characterized Hollywood lately – that is, besides the pathetic celebrity breakdowns, the eye-rollingly passé sex tape scandals and the writers’ strike – it’s the increasing lack of originality and, more importantly, sincerity in its films. More than ever before, Hollywood has become a genuine cinematic sausage factory. Films are churned out without a nod in the direction of actual quality. As long as the public eats-up the films, the producers obviously think: Why waste time actually trying to make good movies? I say enough.

Julie Rowe

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Hollywood has never been known for its originality. It has always cashed in on the latest trend, always sworn its faith in commercial potential and nothing else. Through the years, Hollywood has dragged with it a chain of innumerable franchise films, each of which it milks until bone dry. But most of these films used to be at least passable, if not good.

Take the 1980s, for example – the decade of greed and excess, a time when the “Me Generation” had finally hit it big. Franchises were the thing (“Rocky,” “Friday the 13th”) and so were big, macho action movies like the “Rambo” series and “Commando.” These films had no pretensions, no lofty ambitions: They knew what they were. So did their filmmakers. But they were fun, painless and, at times, much cleverer than what you’d expect (the underrated “Commando” is surely a masterpiece of schlock ’80s filmmaking).

Now take the recently-released “AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem.” Besides the amusingly pretentious title (I still don’t understand what requiem it’s referring to – perhaps the inevitable one for the beloved franchise the film destroyed?) and some impressive special effects, there was nothing – and I mean nothing – of note here. It wasn’t so much a painful viewing experience as it was a simply dull and embarrassing one, which is just as bad.

James Cameron’s “Aliens,” released in 1986 and a predecessor to the aforementioned clunker, is one of the best films made in the past 30 years. It’s flawless. Watching that film, or even David Fincher’s uneven, but admirable, “Alien 3,” released in 1992, one wonders how the makers of “AVPR” could have been so careless. It’s a perfect example of the sheer lack of understanding on the part of modern-day producers, writers and directors as to what makes a good film. There are many bad movies released every year, but to take two beloved franchises and sully their names with a film that feels like a direct-to-TV, SCI-FI Channel movie is just sad.

But it’s typical of what we’ve been seeing recently. Countless excellent films have had their legacies tainted by pitiful rehashes, both well-known (“Halloween”) and forgotten (“The Hitcher,” “The Wicker Man”). There were remakes in the ’80s as well – not as many, mind you – but they were good remakes, such as David Cronenberg’s masterful “The Fly” (1986) and the awesome but little-seen “The Blob” (1988).

And if you think I’m getting a bit too nostalgic for my own good, Hollywood producers have taken note of the bygone years of good filmmaking as well. Classic franchises like “Rocky” and “Die Hard” have been brought back, and while both “Rocky Balboa” (2006) and “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007) were perfectly respectable, that’s all they were. Ultimately they were needless rehashes that existed solely to give their aging stars one last shot at glory (though Stallone isn’t done yet – a new “Rambo” film is on its way).

So between the chintzy franchise films and the horrid remakes, is there any commercial Hollywood fare left to enjoy? Sure there is: producer Judd Apatow’s recent comedies like “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” were hilarious, and summer hits like “Disturbia” and “Transformers” were, if not great, at least fun and well-made. But the good movies are too few and far between. I’m getting tired of going into films I’ve been looking forward to for months and walking out bitterly disappointed. It’s been happening too often, and I can’t be the only one who thinks so.

– Brandon can be reached at brconrad@umich.edu.

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