Friday, August 10, 2012

Movies make us stupid

As I walked out of "The Bourne Legacy" to give a comment to the Universal Studios monitor -- all critics have to do that -- a fellow walked by and pointed a finger at us. "Never mind what HE says," he interjected with a small grin. "It had lots of action. Three stars!" I hadn't opened my mouth, yet he assumed I'd say something negative. That told me he knew the movie wasn't good, but the free screening had passed the time pleasantly for him.

I thought about this stranger on my way home. There HAD been plenty of action, much of it badly shot. It was blurry, choppy, sometimes incoherent and often nonsensical. (A man on a speeding motorcycle leaps onto the back of an enemy on a speeding motorcycle, who flails at him -- and the bike doesn't change  course at all.) So the stranger's enjoyment didn't come from the skill with which the sequences were done: He simply liked watching bullets fly and cars careen, however drab the characters may have been and however shallow the story remained.

The marginally better "Total Recall" remake has the same qualities: It sets up a patchy story quickly, sketches characters who remain mere outlines the rest of the way, then devolves into scene after scene of mayhem. It's as if the producer told the writers, "Guys, you're allowed to use only 2,000 words total, and the time spent on human interaction can't exceed 30 minutes." The director shot the quiet scenes for the beginning of the picture and thought, "Uh-oh! I've used up all the words! Better start killing people."

Christopher Nolan can blend crisply defined action scenes with complicated situations and fleshed-out characterizations. But most directors can't, and Hollywood has realized they don't have to: People will pay fairly large sums of money for second-rate goods. Moviegoers are like people at an all-you-can-eat seafood bar: They don't mind if the lobster is bland and lukewarm, as long as they can eat a mountain of it.

This is a mind-deadening cycle. Studios say, "Why take the trouble to make great movies? Audiences don't seem to care or even notice." Moviegoers may grumble a bit but hand over their money, because they don't know better or aren't willing to stay home until they get something better. As they receive less for their dough, they begin to expect less: "Well, this is how movies are nowadays." The films have been dumbed down -- but so has the audience.


Anonymous said...

In an America that places little value on erudition and literacy, what else do you expect?

We are slouching toward (apologies to Joan Didion) an idiocracy of epic worthlessness and stupidity.

Oh, forget it.

We're already there.

Anonymous said...

Ow my balls...

Anonymous said...

These so-called movies have to be dumbed down to the intelligence level of the average Government School student. The overwhelming violence of the movies and video games is being played out on the streets of America everyday. Wake up America before its too late.

Anonymous said...

I've watched overwhelming violence in movies and video games growing up and here I am in a cubicle working a typical job. My friend, who I saw a lot of these movies with and played those same games, is also in a normal job.

I'd say the difference between most people who have done the same thing and those who are out there is discipline. When you haven't been shown any, you tend to test the system. And they are the ones getting arrested. So end your feeble attempt at belittling America's crime problems into something as simple as blaming movies and games.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Toppman,
A related issue that brings part of this to mind. Try to show a movie in local schools today. Selected parts only. Remember compare and contrast? Remember read to enjoy the opportunity to see the film? Remember juror#4, #7, and incredibly #3 in the play? Reggie Rose took those words to Sidney Lumet and Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb are what "The Bourne Legacy could never be, introspective, provocative, and brilliant.