We’re all movie experts in our own right, aren’t we? We know what we like. It may not be what the next person likes, but what we do like, we are experts at. And in the past, there has always been a movie to suit our individual and collective tastes. Not this year. I have always been a big movie-goer. My parents used to take us to the old local theater downtown every Friday for a flick. I saw Indiana Jones forty times and loved it every time. But recently, with ticket and concession prices on the rise and movies that are becoming more miss than hit, I’ve stayed away. Let’s face it – even matinee prices are too high to make recent movies worth it.
There’s been much ado in the news lately about the slump at the box office. According to reports, ticket sales are down more than six percent compared to last year and movie executives fear that this will be the biggest slump in twenty years. High hopes had been pinned on Star Wars: Episode III and Batman Returns, but the two movies have failed to make up for the poor performance experienced so far. And for some reason, it’s a big mystery as to why moviegoers are staying away. Some blame it on higher ticket prices, while others point fingers at pirated movies being downloaded over the internet. Many other reasons have been suggested, but as the theories keep coming, no one seems to agree on any one of them. Well, let me help all of you multi-million dollar entertainment executives figure it out:
Your movies are crap.
Admittedly, I am a book nerd and prefer books over movies. A book can give you so much more depth that a movie can’t. When a movie is released that is based on a classic book (for example, The Count of Monte Cristo) I will avoid that movie like the plague, and for good reason. The book that the movie is based upon is a magnificent story; an elaborate, well written novel that a movie would not possibly do justice to within a two hour sitting. (Read my words carefully here because I didn’t say that they couldn’t do it justice, I said they wouldn’t.) The movie tends to not be even remotely similar to the original story and, nerdy as it sounds, I get angry that people think that what they saw in the movie was what you would read in the book. Because so many great books such as this one have been horribly disfigured on film, there is a general sentiment among movie-goers that the book is almost always better than the movie. Exceptions would be epics like The Lord of the Rings – but these are few and far between. Movies are focusing more and more on long, flashy, expensive scenes, at great sacrifice to the plot and character development.
This week I went to see Kingdom of Heaven. I had high hopes because it was directed by Ridley Scott. On the other hand, it was starring Orlando Bloom, who I really wasn’t sure could pull off a leading role. I stand corrected; Bloom wasn’t bad at all, it was the story that I hated. The fighting scenes were only okay – is it just me or are these epic battles getting old? I enjoyed the tactical fighting of the siege to Jerusalem very much, but the hand-to-hand combat is becoming old hat. Even so, this would have been forgivable except for the storyline. The main character leapfrogs from plot-point to plot-point, giving us very little time to think about why he’s doing anything, and the audience is left with a feeling akin to whiplash. By the end of the movie the audience has no emotional investment in the character, so as Balian rode off into the sunset with the princess, no one cared.
…Which brings us nicely to Star Wars. Oh George, you’ve done us so very wrong! No, we weren’t asking for the bravado of Han Solo, but we at least wanted to love Anakin Skywalker. We wanted to fall in love again with the most beloved villain of all time, journeying with him to the Dark Side. Instead, we were given a whiny, complaining boy that no one liked. The argument to this is that he needed to reflect the same attitudes that Luke Skywalker also portrayed in IV and V, and I also agree, but Luke’s whininess was tolerable because he was offset by some very strong, opposite personalities like Han Solo and Obi Wan, so it was never allowed to distract from the story, unlike Anakin. In Episode I, the only character anyone really liked was Darth Maul, but he had no lines and really added little to the story other than to look cool, fight a little and get killed. Why didn’t we see more of him? In Episode II, Obi Wan becomes Anakin’s whining mother and the contrast between the two of them is aggravating: Tuck in your shirt, Anakin, stand up straight, Anakin, save my ass faster, Anakin – it made the whining even less tolerable. In Episode II, did we really like any of the characters? I’m not bashing Hayden Christensen by any means. His performance in Shattered Glass and also in Episode III shows that he’s certainly capable enough, so I’m not pointing my finger at him. It’s mostly that the characters were not likeable – not even Yoda! (George, how could you?!) The emphasis was placed too much on long, spectacular fighting scenes, without bothering to give us characters to care about. Episode III was good and finally gave us a little more of what we craved from the earlier movies, but I am only mostly satisfied. “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.”
Oh for the days of low-tech, low-budget films when a gripping story was all that we needed! Today’s movies are missing the mark completely by giving us bigger, faster, louder – at the expense of a good story and character development. Give us shorter battles with characters we can care about and simplify the stories so we can feel like we are a part of something. But to date, nothing is really giving us a bang for our buck. The prices have been raised, but there’s not much worth spending that kind of money on. Give us better stories and more likeable characters and maybe we’ll return to the theater – maybe. As for me, I’ve seen the titles coming out over the next couple of months and I think I’ll keep my nose in the books.