By Adam Glasspool
I love film; film is fantastic. At every turn in my life I have consistently chosen to study the medium, write about it, or get involved with it creatively. Given the chance I’m sure many of you, if you don’t already, would do the same. But if you’re honest with yourself – as honest as you were when you admitted that that weird thing you do is an out and out fetish – then you’ll find that ‘film’ on the whole is preposterously crap. All I have to do is do a quick check of cinema listings, my own DVD collection, and browse Amazon for half an hour to discover that about 81% (a statistic that I just made up) of film is anything but good. That remaining 19% doesn’t exclusively feature the phenomenal either. The phenomenal takes up maybe 5%, so the left over 14% are the films that are ‘good’ and some of the better ‘okays’ (i.e. films that ‘have their moments’).
The idea of what constitutes a good film is seen to be wildly subjective, but in my opinion it’s actually very simple. There is a difference between something being ‘good’ and something being enjoyable. I’ve had this discussion many times, usually in a state of vitriolic drunkenness during which I throw things and gradually strip myself of clothes whilst simultaneously weeping, and the best example I can come up with is Schindler’s List (1993). Schindler’s List is an undeniably good film but it certainly isn’t an enjoyable one – it’s harrowing and an extremely uncomfortable watch. Bad Boys 2 (2003) is a terribly executed, overlong, vaguely sexist mess and yet it’s enormous fun…even if you do feel guilty for days after having watched it. The cinematic pile of vomit that was Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) is neither good nor enjoyable and remains one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, will see, will think about seeing or secretly imagine.
The difference between the former film and the latter two, as I’m sure you’re aware, is manifestly huge, and happens to be one of my primary reasons to hate film. What? Oh, thank you for asking… My primary reason for hating film is how much ‘dumbing down’ has happened to almost everything that occurs on and off the screen. This applies most to big summer blockbusters. Comparing Jaws (1975) and Transformers 2 is a bit like trying to compare lettuce and an internal combustion engine: difficult and utterly pointless. They’re two completely separate things and yet Jaws and Transformers 2 exist in the same medium and both attempt to fulfil the same criteria for entertainment. Jaws manages it by being enthralling, witty and suspense-driven, and Transformers 2 fails because it’s dull, joyless and predictable – as are most blockbusters these days.
Last year Clash of The Titans, Iron Man 2, Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time, The A-Team, Predators, and The Expendables all suffered from the ‘if-we-throw-money-at-this-there’s-no-way-it-can-fail’ syndrome and consequently all looked exactly the same but with slightly different costume design. Dumbing down is almost acceptable in some instances; it’s entirely at odds with my character but I actually have no problem with the upcoming Attack The Block being subtitled for American audiences. If it gets the little British film out there, then great! What we should object to, as an audience, is the same people making the same film again and again forcing us to watch it all summer and probably ever other summer for the rest of our natural lives. May is upon us and we’re getting another Pirates of the Caribbean film. Why? Just why? I’m aware that the film industry being run by money is no revelation but a fourth outing for Jack Sparrow seems ludicrously greedy, especially after the self-harm inducing sequels I’ve only just managed to forget about.
It seems an especially redundant move when last year saw Christopher Nolan prove that you can take a genuinely interesting concept, overwhelming originality, clever dialogue, and a twisty-turny narrative and turn it into a film that still makes an incredible amount of money. Yes, there was slightly too much expository dialogue and it was a touch too long, but Inception never treated its audience like the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals that the producer’s of most summer releases assume we are. It also used visual effects to service a plot, as opposed to just throwing them at our faces like yesterday’s gruel because ‘oo, they like shiny things don’t they? The people that sit in dark rooms, eating their popcorn with their stupid, stupid grins’. Inception was the exact antithesis to Avatar (2009), a film that had only the visuals in its favour, visuals that were hung on a story borrowed from five other films extended to a frankly unbearable length and then served up as entertainment with no regard to narrative. I missed three birthdays watching Avatar. That’s true. Count them.
The abandonment of story-telling in favour of the ever-evasive ‘wow’ moment induced by special effects is a sad loss to film. Narrative becomes nothing more than a ghost in the machine, quite literally in the case of Transformers. With the advent of 3D it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon and so we must continue to be treated like idiots who are generally belligerent and uninterested in any hint of artistic depth. This year, as well as the aforementioned Pirates sequel, we’re getting Thor, The Hangover 2, Green Lantern, Transformers 3: The Dark of the Moon, Cowboys & Aliens, Captain America, and something starring Martin Lawrence incredibly titled Skank Robbers. I can only imagine the amount of explosions we’ll have to sit through in Transformers 3 alone. And robots punching each other. And then some robots punching each other. And then more robots punching each other. Then Shia LaBoeuf looking confused. And then some robots punching each other. And then me punching myself in order to deal with the pain in my retinas. And then some robots punching each other. And then some robots punching other.