Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Problem with Movies Today, or the Problem with Me

Went to see Jurassic World yesterday. It was okay. Not worth the $ billion it has already made. And then there will be the next Avengers movie that'll make a $ billion too. And it won't deserve it either. How much have super hero movies made cumulatively over the last five or ten years? Many billions, I am sure. Why? I am picking on these kinds of movies, though I could certainly pick others to talk about, like the teen distopians, for instance.
oh no you didn't!

Most movies are boring. Most are trying repetitions of plots and characters we have seen a hundred, or a thousand, times before.

Is there something Christian in this musing of mine, or is this simply a disquisition on fiction? Yes, something Christian too. There has to be something Christian, not because I happen to be Christian and I am the writer, but because the universe is Christian.

And yet, some movies I enjoy. And it's not only about my subjective preferences. I am inclined to think prima facie that better movies reveal something interesting or important about the human condition. Maybe that's not the only factor of importance, but it seems to me it's one of the big ones. I like certain zombie movies for this reason - how can human beings cope with impossibly horrific scenarios? What is courage, foolhardiness, selfishness?

And yet direct treatments of the human condition aren't the only movies I like / good movies. If you took the sci-fi elements out of Star Wars they wouldn't be as good, that's for sure. Excitement is, well, exciting. I, confessedly and rather uncustomary for me, enjoyed the latest Mad Max movie a few nights ago and the only thing I can come up with for why I liked it was the excitement factor.

Pagan wish-fulfillment does nothing for me. What do I mean by this? It's the reason I don't care for super hero movies and those futuristic utopian movies like Interstellar, Tomorrowland, Wall-E, etc. The Facebook guy said recently that one of his goals is to help people live forever. I guess he's never seen a vampire movie nor visited a nursing home. What Zuckerberg's statement reveals is paganism plain and simple: paganism yearns for what only Christ can give: meaning and life. In lieu of that, they say, let's try to imagine meaningfulness. Their version is simple, straight-forward paganism: the same view of immortality that the Babylonian, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, etc., came up with: more of the same as this life. And what will that forever look like for Zuckerberg and his ilk? You don't need to guess, you can see it in their movies: lots of thin, multi-racial, young people. Being around these vacuous idiots forever, I would call that hell, not heaven.

So what makes a good movie good? I have been enjoying the short stories of Alexander Pushkin - find out all about these at the Catholic Review of Books, online and in print. These stories aren't about amazing things. They are set in the early 19th century and are about people, usually young people of the upper class. Pushkin's characters don't have the recipe for eternal life nor are they able to defeat the dark forces from Alpha Centauri with their magic rings. They are clear and simply-drawn rather average people who manage to reveal something really interesting about the human condition.

Let me close by talking about some of the fatal flaws of movie plots today. I have no remedy for movie-making today other than to say don't do these things.

1) bigger, faster, eviller sinkhole. How do you justify a second Avengers? Well, the enemy has to be even more powerful this time. This was the essential justification for making another Jurassic Park movie: the new dinosaur was even more powerful than the t-rex. If you contrast this with, say, the original Star Trek movies, it was not that each sequel had a consecutively more dangerous enemy to overcome. They were all about very different things: one an alien space craft, another, super-human hybrids, another a guy who could manipulate human fears, etc. The new series seems to have doomed itself to the bigger, faster sinkhole.

2)  Revisiting stale old tropes and caricatures. I think this pretty much explains itself. Are the people who enjoy these movies really this shallow? Rom-coms are legendary for this, but let's not forget like every action movie ever. Jurassic Land was full of these things too: the kids whose parents are about to get divorced. The smart kid who knows everything about the subject at hand (in this case, dinosaurs) and has long, unkempt hair. The mis-matched leading lady and fella who end up falling in love. The 'evil' guy who ends up getting eaten.

That may be so, but just like your electric guitar won't work
without electricity, a movie plot won't work
without meaning/significance.
3) Not dealing with actual life but some special condition that doesn't relate to anything other than the special parameters of this story or dealing with something that no thoughtful person could ever honestly care about. The worst case of the latter would be Pineapple Express, where I am supposed to care about a type of weed that can make you "really, really baked." A lot of this has to do with the manner in which the 'special circumstance' actually exposes something about human nature and life itself that is worth thinking about. The Goonies would be a good example of this. Every contemporary ghost story would be a bad example of this. The remake of Poltergeist was a stunningly bad example of this, the Insidious movies... Arbitrary rules decide the plot.

Anyway, enough about movies. It's interesting, though, how the types of movies being made reveals something about us today, something that is very unfortunate: we are a shallow people. We are a shallow people who look to absurd circumstances to give our lives meaning. At no cost to us, but with absolutely zero return.

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