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The Hollywood Blockbuster: Take ‘Em, Or Leave ‘Em

Friday, May 25, 2007


“We become clockwork oranges if we accept all this pop culture without asking what’s in it.”

Taken from Pauline Kael’s review of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (which she hated, by the way, and wasn’t really a blockbuster).


So this is the summer of the tri-quel. A trilogy of movies is what many a good franchise dream about, and this summer we have: Spiderman 3, Shrek 3, Ocean’s 13, The Bourne Ultimatum, Rush Hour 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean 3. But it’s not just the triquel. We’ve got sequels (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Evan Almighty, Hostel Part II and 28 Weeks Later), and quadriquels (Die Hard 4: Live Free or Die Hard) and even quintequels (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix).

This, of course, is old news. Not only do studios love sequels, so do the marketing guys and gals. And so do websites, newspapers, and radio and television stations. When does a spot on your local news station about people lining up to see Harry Potter or Pirates cease being news, and just become free advertising for the studios and theatres? It certainly isn’t news, it is lazy reporting – a quick filler.

Some newspapers are the same way – when the weekly film column only lists the year’s upcoming blockbusters, instead of having anything meaningful to say about them, you know there’s a problem. Websites are probably the worst offender. If you try to find sites about the movies coming out this summer, you are inundated with thousands of sites merely offering a list, the cast, a synopsis of the plot, and perhaps a trailer or two. The ads on the screen generally take up more space than the content.

But here is my dilemma: Going to the movies in the summer is fun! The thrill of sitting in an audience full of people on opening night is electric. The popcorn! The trailers! The laughter! Even though I know my ticket purchase will just be added to the daily grosses, I can’t help it. I have to go to the movies, and watch, with a carefully practised sardonic smirk, the latest thrills from the dream factory.

Am I just a pawn in the marketing machine that is Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general? They couldn’t care less whether I liked the movie or not (though this does help DVD sales), I’ve already bought my ticket, and I’ve seen their product – “thank you, come again.” So what’s a supposed ‘serious’ and snobby film guy to do? Carry-on indulging his adolescent pleasures by watching the dreaded blockbuster, or stop going all together, and wait until the fall when the supposed ‘serious’ films are released?

Well, I guess there’s some truth in the adage, ‘whatever doesn’t kill you, will only make you stronger.’ And by that I mean by watching the inane and explosion-filled blockbusters, you’ll only appreciate the really good stuff even more. But I don’t think this is why I go to see these films. For all my love of serious film criticism, part of me really wants to go and enjoy a mindless romp through space, or the high seas, or mystical worlds full of broomsticks and wizards. And sometimes, I’m genuinely surprised by how good a blockbuster film can be. Spectacles like the Bourne movies, the first two X-Men films, the first Matrix, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – all of these are actually decent movies in their own right. Sometimes the genre picture can capture genuine moments of truth about humanity, whereas ‘artsy’ films already pretend to know everything, and therefore are not nearly as exciting or entertaining.

This might sound like I’m contradicting myself, or that I’m embracing the form of the blockbuster outright. I guess what I’m driving at, in a way about as meandering as the newest Pirates movie promises to be, is that one can appreciate good art, and popcorn art at the same time. Let’s face it, I’m a child of the 80s, and a teen of the 90s. The blockbuster is part of my blood, part of my soul. I can never hope to escape it, but the one thing I can be is as critical as possible. I’ll continue to deride the bad blockbusters (of which there are legion), but equally, I’ll champion the good ones, even if that means inadvertantly supporting the marketing machine that drives the whole industry. 

And, as usual, I find later a better article that talks about similar things. llewopemearg

11 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Friday, May 25, 2007 3:38 pm

    You forgot to mention The Simpsons.


  2. Friday, May 25, 2007 7:18 pm

    I figured someone else could write about television shows adapted into major motion pictures and include Transformers.

    Since The Simpsons is neither a sequel, triquel, quadriquel or quintequel, I chose not to include it.

  3. Saturday, May 26, 2007 4:18 am

    Your titular grammar is atrocious.

    But more on task, here’s my reasoning: a great, small movie is a great thing, but a great, big movie is incomparable, and is when you’re seeing film at its most filmy. The kinds of suspense, emotion, character you find in a top-notch example of a more modest production are usually (though by no means always) available in other mediums, or are at least comparable to what you can find in other mediums. But there’s no other way to get a Raiders of the Lost Ark, or a Matrix, or a Die Hard. The stories can be told elsewhere (Die Hard was based on a novel, after all — though loosely, I suspect), but the impact can’t.

    As for blockbuster sequelitis being a perpetual criticism of the industry, of the 13 film series referred to in your article, plus my Indy addition, for 7 of them, one or more of the sequels was as good or better than the original, in my opinion (and in 4 of them I haven’t seen the sequels or, in 2 cases, the original). So sequels don’t always suck, just in case you were wondering. Though direct-to-video sequels, yes, I believe those probably do always suck.

  4. James17930 permalink
    Saturday, May 26, 2007 5:08 am

    Are they still doing Indy 4? Cause they really shouldn’t.

  5. Thursday, July 19, 2007 8:20 pm

    o0DvwN I put together a show of about forty photographs at a frame shop. I invent a unique way of mounting the pictures, flush on aluminum with a spacing device to move the picture out from the wall. This way of framing has never been done before, at least in our area. (Now I see it all the time on styrafoam board.) The show is a wild success with about a hundred people at the opening including the former director of the Playhouse 90 series on TV (a teacher in my department) who loves my work and brings the Chairman of the Art Department with him.

  6. James17930 permalink
    Friday, July 20, 2007 1:08 pm

    O . . .k . . .

  7. Friday, July 20, 2007 2:35 pm

    Good to know, Rick Doble. If that is your real name.

  8. James17930 permalink
    Friday, July 20, 2007 4:36 pm

    Maybe he’s a spy. Probably, in fact.

  9. James17930 permalink
    Saturday, August 4, 2007 6:22 pm

    So let’s run them down so far:

    Spiderman 3: Not so great.

    Die Hard 4: A lot better than it should have been. Happily surprised.

    Transformers: Alright.

    The Simpsons: Funny, but nothing really special.

    Ocean’s 13: Very disappointing.

    Harry Potter 5: Was gonna watch but the internet copies I could find were pretty poor quality. I shall keep hunting.

  10. Saturday, August 18, 2007 12:57 pm

    Let’s run down James’ rundown and see if it’s been properly runned:

    Spider-Man 3: It was fine. Lots of problems, but enough really good stuff to balance it out.

    Live Free or Die Hard: Agreed. Surprisingly good, though it really shouldn’t have been called a Die Hard movie.

    Transformers: King suck.

    The Simpsons: Comes out in Korea on Wednesday. I return to Canada on Tuesday.

    Ocean’s 13: Disappointing compared to 12, but I never for a second thought they’d get it up there again. On its own, 13 was quite entertaining.

    Harry Potter: It’s a Harry Potter movie; they’re all basically the same. Nothing wrong with it, can’t say for sure that I’ll ever watch it again, though.

    Bourne Ultimatum: Not out in Korea yet, but it’ll be one of my first viewings upon returning to my native soil.

    28 Weeks Later…: Please let this be playing soon at one of the few remaining Toronto rep cinemas.

  11. Sunday, August 19, 2007 1:56 pm

    I saw Spider-Man 3. Was Disappointed.

    Haven’t seen any of the others, and probably won’t till DVD. I did see Pirates 3, which was terrible, just like I knew it would be…

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