Hollywood’s Blockbuster: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Theater.
Over the last couple of years there’s been a steady upsurge in the number of big budget, high concept films fueled almost entirely on catchy, gimmick-ridden premises. They flood the market with outrageous budgets and ridiculous scenarios that simply cannot hold the weight of their own water. OK. Enough water metaphors but clearly we’ve been submerged beneath the tide of expensive, bad movies far too long. Too much is too much even though they continue to make money and we can’t seem to get enough comic book adaptations, video game ride franchises, remakes and prequels. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with spectacle, escapism for the sake of 90 minutes of non-stop devastation followed immediately with a rapid-fire wrap up so all the unknowns become known in four minutes so fifteen minutes of credits can scroll to an empty room. Let’s face it, we all need our escape ships from the sinking mother ships of our lives, but now more than ever we’re seeing the same blueprint for movies that cost too much and don’t go anywhere, movies that are quite obviously thrown together for the sake of ‘product’ and we’re left paying too much for popcorn and nachos. All this Hollywood genuflecting and no one is complaining. Why? For some reason we’ve lowered our standards or maybe mediocre is enough or perhaps we just don’t care. It’s not enough to say a movie was “OK” or “pretty good” or “entertaining”. We shouldn’t have to resolve the fact that a franchise was just getting started so all the exposition and drawn out history lessons were important for the sake of the original comic book or just because Disney did it on a stone tablet we should keep on doing it the same for the sake of tradition. We need to make a stand and start demanding more from the movie makers or scrap the whole lot of them and start over.
It used to be that blockbusters were smart, character driven and well thought out. We embraced these behemoths because for all the grandeur and landscape epics there remained a solid foundation of story, and for all the archetypes and generalizations that fueled the characters they were also unique, charismatic and cavalier. Indiana Jones with his hat and bullwhip, Princess Leia had Luke Skywalker and those spiral hair bob things and she could handle a weapon just as good or better than the boys. Story was a starting place with a plot that developed over time, rewarded us with exciting stunts and amazing locations, explored familiar themes and projected curious scenarios about space, afterlife, greed, avarice and the hereafter. It wasn’t that long ago that these big films commanded our attention and we gladly became audiences all over the world based entirely on the quality of the experience not because of how many zeros were in the budget or box office receipts. These films became part of the world lexicon and remain widely recognizable, celebrated, quoted, imitated and revered. There’s a reason why Spielberg gets to make OK movies these days or Scorsese can make a movie as bad as Shutter Island and people still go see it. There is a legacy of smart, sophisticated films like E.T., Close Encounters, Blade Runner, early Indiana Jones and the first couple of Matrix films. At some point though, we started lowering our expectations and instead of every other film paying us for the price of admission it was every fourth or fifth film and we were paying for the occasional Iron Man or Sherlock Holmes scattered among really bad Adam Sandler films and everyday ordinary films based on painfully boring jobs like zookeepers and mall cops. Then we were enticed with gross budgets, IMAX, 3D, and if we’re lucky we get an action toy with our hamburger and processed cheese theme meal. Lethargic plots and thrown together stories are now the norm with films like Armageddon, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Source Code. All of sudden the blockbusters of an entire generation are forgettable, laughable yet bankable. In the end it is up to us to make the water safe again. If Hollywood is the giant metal shark of our generation, of the now generation then one of us needs to pick up the badge, put on the hat and pick up a pair of those stylish 70s shades and become the Chief Martin Brody of today and put the bomb in the shark’s mouth.
No matter what you’re told or sold, convinced brilliance lives in convoluted interpretations of the reinvention of tired superheroes and comic book characters that were vastly better written and realized on paper, we can and must demand more than we’re getting from Hollywood. OK isn’t OK when you’re paying for good. A movie simply cannot be labeled a thriller or suspense if the sum of the plot is replaying the same 8 minute scene a dozen times as tiny, nearly imperceptible changes occur. Making the climax of a film our realization that the whole film took place in the protagonist’s last minutes, that he was stuck somewhere in a vacuum chamber the whole time, that a secret shadow agency figured out how to keep him alive long enough to save the planet from exploding (Source Code) is not only ridiculous but insulting to the senses. A film should not require the totality of dialog to serve the plot so as the audience can follow along (Inception) and when we are told that a beloved children’s book is the source material for a film that is an interpretation of that material rather than in the spirit of the original (Where The Wild Things Are) we must complain either in voice or by action and demand more from those we’ve elected with our ticket stubs to make our movies. Plot is not akin to body count or devastated space stations or giant talking robotic cars and Tonka trucks throwing each other around along with some of the worst dialog ever written. Sorry, it’s not. We have to demand more from Hollywood or they’re going to keep shoveling us manure and laughing when we step in it and track it all over the carpets of our lives and spare them the stink.