Tuesday, July 28, 2015

You Used to Be Sooooo Good: Summer Blockbusters

Today, my esteemed colleague Jingles and I, Dan Moore, will be discussing the disturbing trend of what was once our favorite popcorn eating time of year, summer, and how it has turned into a wasteland of special effects laden tripe on the big screen.
The Summer Blockbuster Season:  You Used to Be Soooo Good

JUSTIN: So, the summer blockbuster.  Yeah what's happened?  Summer movies are no longer allowed to be fun, are they?  Everything has to be deadly serious and feature wall-to-wall explosions to the point that you're just numb to the whole experience, like being smashed in the face with a hammer 600 times in a row.  By the end you don't feel anything, and you just wanna go home and curl up in a fetal position on the bathroom floor.

1980s summer movies conveyed a tone of adventure, wonder, and even comedy.  Indiana Jones for example had a ton of action set pieces but they were simple, easy to follow, and done with a sense of humor.  Action sequences now have to depict CGI armageddon and each scene has to be 25 minutes long.
Man of Steel......and Disaster Porn
There's no such thing as a fun little summer action movie anymore, they're all EPIC EVENT PICTURES.  The scope of all these films has to be as huge as possible so they're bigger than every other epic event picture.  And they must all cost over $200 mil and feature entire cities being destroyed.

I just saw Gravity over the weekend and one of the things I liked about it is that it's a space movie that is extremely small in scope.  It's just about these two characters and this one accident that happens in space.  90 minutes, short and to the point, no massively convoluted action sequences where you can't tell what you're looking at.  While I didn't love it, it was refreshing to not be pummeled by the special effects.

DAN: Probably the best summer of watching movies I recall from my youth was 1989. My Dad took us to go see Batman, Ghostbusters II (I was 10, it was great) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy was and always has been in my mind the perfect summer action movies. The scope, the action, the acting, the length, the emotion and the real stunts were the perfect amalgam of entertainment (I say WERE, as we now contend with crystal skulls…shudder).

Now they are all loud, 3-hour special effect mishmashes (with the exception of the Dark Knight films and The Avengers) selling toys and Honda Civics…you may hate the Civic now, Justin…but wait til you drive it. It’s your automobile.

Whore.  Label Whore.

At this point they are so repetitive.

“The world is in peril from (alien, monster, evil genius) and for the next two-an-a-half hours the (hero, rebel, misfit who has no business being there) must figure out a way to stop them before they blow up the White House, Paris, THE WORLD!!! All the while you get to watch us blow up 8,000 buildings, murdering countless humans, but F*CK THEM, look at this action! OH MY GOD, THOSE BUILDINGS ARE BLOWING UP!!” (That is of course in the Jim Ross voice.)

I did not see “Gravity” because the idea of listening to Sandra Bullock talk on screen for 90 minutes didn’t entice me, but from what I’ve heard, though it was a space movie, it was more of an arty piece, not blowing up your face with explosions and long running times. For that, I appreciate the movie, even though I will probably never watch it.

JUSTIN: I think another part of the problem is that the advent of CG has allowed for pure overindulgence on the part of action filmmakers.  In the 70s and 80s a filmmaker had to really think outside the box in terms of how to create the special effects, and the physical and budgetary limitations of what they could do both forced them to get really creative and also kept them from going too far. 

Consider the lightsaber duel from Empire for example.  It’s a fight that goes on for a long time in multiple locations, but the choreography is realistic and grounded so we can follow the action.  Plus it’s a really heavy scene involving the inexperienced hero who’s in way over his head, confronting this all-powerful villain who just toys with him.  We’re emotionally engaged in the fight.  It’s a really great duel, probably my favorite of the whole saga.

Now compare that to the Anakin vs. Obi-Wan duel in Revenge of the Sith.  This scene starts out pretty well because of the emotion involved, but after the first thirty seconds or so it devolves into a stupidly choreographed dance routine (what is that double swirl thing they both do??) that ends up looking like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, as they flip around and continue to swing at each other even as they dangle from ropes over a river of molten lava.  This is after fifteen minutes of this crap.  Had Lucas just used practical effects in real locations he would’ve been forced (no pun intended) to keep things under control.

I mean at this point, maybe get to solid ground
and then resume swinging laser swords at each other?

Pretty much every action scene in Peter Jackson’s King Kong is the same way.  It just turns into a goofy cartoon and totally takes you out of the movie.

DAN: Now, that being said, it doesn’t preclude me from going to see these films. I am guilty of seeing every Transformers movie in the theater. I'm not proud of this. Eh, maybe a little. It was like an endurance test filled with metal ogres and Megan Fox’s boobies. But I cannot discern the difference between them. They are all one long robot jumble of auto parts and glass smashing 3D-like in my face holes. All the massive kill-bots are the exact same and I could only differentiate between Megatron, because he sounds like that bad guy from the Matrix, and Optimus Prime, because he sounds like Optimus Prime. There is nothing special about those films. Well, Shia could be special.

Compare that to the summer movies of my youth. T2 is arguably the greatest action movie ever. Probably the perfect summer movie.  There are moments in Jurassic Park that are truly unforgettable. When the T-Rex first showed up in the flick, even though it had been shown ad infinitum in the commercials, it was still great. And it’s not just action and thrills. The Lion King is easily one of the top 5 Disney movies ever made. It’s a family classic.
It’s right after that film that we hit the line of demarcation. The movie I believe set us off on these huge event movies. Independence Day, starring Jazzy Jeff’s rap partner. I of course saw it multiple times in the theater. Loved it. Hell, I still do, even with all its flaws. But that movie was based off one image. The centerpiece of its marketing campaign essentially sent us down the rabbit hole of ‘blowey up all things’ movies.


Ever since we first saw that image on a commercial during Super Bowl XXX, Hollywood has been trying to one up itself. How can we get bigger explosions? How can we get bigger ships? How can we get bigger ships that explode??!?!?
It’s unfortunate, because the films during the summer are very much clones of each other. All destruction, all mayhem, no characters that really stick out, and a woman that can’t act in tight clothes (what a weird complaint). Perhaps one day again we will have a summer movie where you can remember plot and characters over special effects and explosions, and maybe, just maybe, get to see James Bond hit Indiana Jones over the head with a priceless vase.

Oh thank God.....

Justin: Well that wraps up the inaugural edition of You Used to Be Sooooo Good.  Thanks to Dan for bringing this idea to the table.  We’ll be back next week with the second installment, where we’ll discuss Harrison Ford.  How come he don't make good movies no more??

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