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.