My third installment of thoughts on why I dislike most movies.
Over the last few days there has been some news about The Hobbit film(s) directed by Peter Jackson. The plan had been to make two films out of the book, but now there will be three. I have seen some speculation about what, exactly, the films will portray and how the narrative will work (see, for example, Tim Burke’s thoughts), and at least one person has mentioned his concern with Peter Jackson getting too epic-y (particularly after the adventure with Godzilla), quipping that Jackson needs to learn how to edit. These are valid questions and concerns (as is his development of a female lead for the Hobbit, but I am a stickler for detail), but I do not care that much about the films. I will see the films, but had considered not doing so on the grounds that I have been disappointed by every film or movie created about a book series I like–including Lord of the Rings.1 My resignation and disgust about splitting the film further has little to do with Peter Jackson, though, since it feels to me like a move designed by the studio in order to get people to go see the story in three parts, rather than two. This, then, is another reminder that filmmakers are only beholden to the audience so much. The higher up the corporate ladder the calculation goes, the more this is true.
I am reminded of a blog post that John Scalzi wrote wrote on Whatever in 2006, wherein he annoyed a number of people by saying that Star Wars is not so much entertainment as “George Lucas masturbating to a picture of Joseph Campbell and conning millions of people into watching the money shot.” Lucas created a mythology and then put it on film and licensed it out so that a whole bunch of other people had an opportunity to play in that mythology. I enjoy Star Wars tremendously, and somewhat disagree with Scalzi about its entertainment value,2 but I agree with him in the sense that a lot of people mistake what Star Wars is. It is George Lucas’ playground that he merely licenses out to the rest of us. The entertainment value of Star Wars is an unintentional byproduct of the creation process.
Then there is the issue of rebooting series. A blog post on the economist suggested that the rumors about a new Batman series already in the works is a response to Christopher Nolan’s infidelity to the Batman comic books in his own reboot of the earlier movies. While there may be some truth to that underlying rationale with the people pitching scripts and plotlines, and in how the studio will publicly justify the reboot, and there may evern be some truth to that rationale as to why people would go see another Batman film, I suspect that the studio is planning another reboot of the Batman film because the last one was spectacularly successful and there is money to be made from such a venture. It is the same reason that a studio purchased the rights to 50 Shades of Grey and there is a plan in the works to re-do the Twilight films.
Yes, some films are excellent for their plotting, their acting, and the overall appearance, but far more make (or try to make) money based on other charms, sexual or otherwise. The basic fact is that most of the movies that come out are bad, but for one reason or another they appeal to an audience and people go fill the seats. Certainly, not everyone is as mercenary as I am describing, but more often than not I feel that what is put on the screen is a noxious attempt to make money rather than to create any legitimate artistic entertainment. This does not mean that I require every film produced to be high-brow entertainment, but there does need to be some sort of readjustment as to what we consider entertainment.
To start, I would prefer that people just stop attempting to recreate written stories when those stories are already available for people to read, but I understand that that is not likely to happen any time soon. Surely there are other stories to tell, and stories that are better suited to a visual medium. After that, there is a difference between providing a smart product and a high-brow product. For example, I would not consider the sitcom How I Met Your Mother particularly highbrow, but it does attempt to give actual story lines between the jokes. A comparable example in film might actually be the new Batman films, which I believe bring in a lot of different thematic and narrative elements and are well acted, but still having a lot of violence, explosions, and, at the end of the day, a guy who runs around in a cape beating people up. Part of the problem here is that there is often no attempt for movies to appeal to anything but the lowest common denominator, which is basically a pair of tits and some explosions, or some fast cars and a sex scene or three. I like action and adventure films, but, most of the time, those, films aren’t entertaining. Distracting, perhaps, but not entertaining.
The idea that movies are inherently meant as entertainment bothers me because I don’t believe it to be true, at least not now that they are ubiquitous almost to the point of being obsolete. Once upon a time, perhaps, movies had an inherent novelty and therefore were entertaining in and of themselves, but no longer. No, the job of the filmmakers is to get people to pay to watch whatever they put on the screen. I won’t go so far as to say that the entertainment and artistry of film is an accidental effect of this process, but it is close. Screenwriters, directors, actors, and producers probably do care about their product, but, ultimately, the film itself is a commodity that the industry wants people to purchase and nothing more. As it so often seems (particularly with books, and not that this is anything new), there is more profit to be had by catering exclusively to ratings and rankings rather than the quality of the product in question. These are not always mutually exclusive, but there does seem to be a growing gulf between them. My frustration is that more and more I get the impression that films serve no purpose but to scam me and everyone else out of our money rather than showing us a story we can actually enjoy.
1The films were pretty good, but I had significant problems with them. I believe that it is impossible to get the level of accuracy in film that I desire and it makes more sense for me to avoid seeing the movies. I will be happier as a result, my imagination works plenty well, thank you very much.
2Then again, when I am reading a book set anywhere other than earth, I look first and foremost to the world created by the author and have been known to overlook other literary flaws if the world pulls me in. Star Wars is a perfect trap for me.