Monday, June 4, 2007

On being unimpressed...

Call me picky. Heck, you can even call me high-minded, artsy, or overly critical when it comes to movies and TV. For some it's just entertainment. That's fine. For me, however, when you sink hundreds of millions of dollars into production and then hundreds of millions more into convincing the world that it will be worth it, make sure the movie you make is worth it, for pete sake! Way too many movies as of late fall far short of their expected return.

Although the majority of summer movies could fall into this sad category, I am speaking specifically of those two most recent megaliths: Spiderman 3 and Pirates 3. Their budgets eclipse those of the last Star Wars movies or Titanic, which, for its time, was borderline insane. Why is it that they can buy the most elaborate special effects sequences known to man in post-production but seem to skimp on the screenplay in pre-production? The result is like a body builder's muscles on a weak, brittle-boned skeleton.

Don't get me wrong- I ooh and aah at those mindblowing sequences that every now and then take us somewhere we haven't been before. Peter Jackson has a knack for conjuring those kinds of images. Spielberg does, too. The Wachowski's took a quantum leap with a single new shooting technique. These images summon those feelings of awe, dread, or glory that the best movies have always delivered. But it isn't the high-technology of the shot alone that conveys those feelings- in fact, it mostly isn't. The effects have to sit squarely on an awesome story. Honestly, the most expensive FX sequences have failed to deliver.

One glaring example of this was the crane disaster sequence in Spidey 3. It was bigger than any building rescue scene we've seen so far in the trilogy. The FX were more seamless than ever. Spidey had more obstacles to surmount. There were people screaming and webs slinging. So why did it feel so empty? Because it existed for its own sake.

What does this imply about the studios' opinion of their audience? I can picture those studio execs sitting in the screening room, chomping on the finest Cubans, saying, "Oh, yeah, the story! I heard those are good to have. But what I think people really want to see is bigger explosions, bigger dinosaurs, bigger tidal waves." That's when another exec guffaws, "People aren't patient enough for a story. Hurry throw another FX scene in there before they realize we don't have real characters!" Moviegoers want a longterm love affair with their movies; the studios are giving us one night stands. Dramatic drops in ticket sales after opening weekends indicate this.

So pardon me if I seem unimpressed. It's not just because I am becoming prematurely crotchety. Occasionally, movies do come along that still blow my mind. Return of the King blew my mind. Spiderman 2 took me for a ride. King Kong blew my mind. Some parts of War of the Worlds blew my mind. I have every finger crossed that Transformers blows my mind. Will I be disappointed? Only time will tell. Given Michael Bay's record for visuals and ADHD editing before story and characterization, I may need more fingers to cross. As far as satisfaction, I am betting on Pixar's Ratatouille to give me the most bang for my buck.


  1. I couldn't agree more. To me, a good test of how a movie will hold up is how many one-liners there are. I've never thought of Bond movies as very well done films, just action-candy with the occasional hot dame. Casino Royale, however, was a really well done movie and it's because the writers didn't insult the viewers with quips about people burning up as "getting fired" or cutting someone with ajavascript:void(0)
    Publish Your Comment chain saw as "he had to split."

    If the movies don't take themselves seriously, if they feel they have to appeal to the lowest common denominator, then that's the kind of movie you'll get. I'm hopeful for Transformers too. I'm actually hopeful for F4-II. I'm guessing I'll get more entertainment out of Ocean's 13. (Don't judge me, I love those movies.)

    Good start to the blog, consider me a reader.

  2. I definatly agree. While I enjoyed Spiderman 3 for the sake of how much closer it has come to the comic than the others, many of the greatest scenes were left with feelings of "so what" or worse, "nah, that doesn't work at all.
    I love special effects as much as the next guy, but dang, can I get a plot that's not a cliche horror flick?

  3. I went to see the movie a while ago when it came out, and I still think it was a ride. They sure were able to make me hate the Peter Parker character for what a jerk he became, but you're right, the visuals did take the front seat. I might have a little bit of affinity to the scene you are thinking of because I was there while they were filming it. I was taking a trip with my choir and one morning we woke up and looked out of the window of our hotel and there were smashed things on the ground and people hanging from wires and a huge crowd staring at it all. The thing is, they were still filming that scene days later when we left New York and you want to ask, if they had devoted all that time to just one scene, couldn't they have used it better somewhere else?


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