Monday, July 20, 2009

What Happened to Quality Entertainment?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Some of the movies I’ve seen lately and some of the reasons why I walk out, shaking my head. I remember an age where quality movies fell into the theatres with abandon. There were original storylines, Grade-A actors/actresses, award-winning dialogue. Those were the good old days. Hollywood writers seemed to take their jobs more seriously, directors were trying to push the envelope to bring new avenues to the theatre-watching public. It was a good time, and I feel very strongly that those times have been buried underneath the rubble of quick-made films amidst crappy plots.

I’m not sure exactly when the quality of movies dropped, but the more I think about it, the more it wrenches my heart. I used to be excited to go to the theater, excited to see what was going to happen to our heroes next, excited to see what new plot twists had been devised to keep us on the edge of our seats. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are still some great movies being made, they are just few and far between. There are movies that had the time and money and talent spent on them and they came through in the end, inspiring me, stirring emotions in me…doing what a good story should do. Watchmen, The Dark Knight, Quantum of Solace, V for Vendetta, Speed Racer are all great ones that come to mind from the last couple years. These are good movies to say the least.

I don’t feel I can even go to the movies at night anymore because I can’t possibly justify spending $10 on a ticket, especially in this economy, for something my gut instinct is telling me is going to be a waste of time and money. What happened to the starlit evenings where we went out to a nice dinner with our better halves and relaxed with a late-night movie afterward? Those times are slipping away my friends and have turned into grabbing a Starbucks and seeing a bargain movie at 8 in the morning. Not that there's anything wrong with looking for a good bargain, but there used to be movies that I would turn around and spend $10 on and not bat an eye at because I was that confident that it was going to be a decent investment of time and money.

I have to say it: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull should never have been made. Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg should have left the three Indiana Jones films intact in my innocent childhood memory and let it be. Instead, Hollywood had to resurrect a legend from the graveyard of great icons and make a movie that is so blatantly outrageous with its storyline, dialogue and acting that it almost puts the whole franchise to shame. I think Hollywood needs to learn where to stop, especially when you’re talking about making sequels to a movie franchise that ended in the 80’s.

More recently, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince disappointed me on an epic scale. I’ll preface this by saying that the Harry Potter films, for the most part, usually do a good job of entertaining me. I have not read the books, nor do I have any interest in reading them, so I can't compare the movie to the original stories. This recent one though did nothing but inspire a snooze fest and an incredible urge to watch the Lord of the Rings movies again just to fulfill my fantasy movie desires. Throughout the whole film, Harry is referred to as the 'Chosen One', the only one who can defeat ‘You Know Who’. He is hinted at as the 'Chosen One' throughout the series before this point, yet Half-Blood Prince doesn’t really do anything with this partially interesting fact. Instead, I’m stuck in a theater for 2 ½ hours watching a fantasy-style soap opera filled with rivers of teen-angst and hormones gone wild as each of the characters vies for the others’ affection. The magic and mayhem of the films before it is gone, replaced with love potions and lots of teenage drama. Hints of a darker side to the series are exposed through flashbacks/memories, but they are few and far between, though I feel they were the better parts of the movie. Only in the last half hour do we get some sense of grand evil, but in preparation for the next movie. Harry has no final battle, there is no real confrontation with the band of villains that are seen minimally during the movie, doing close to nothing the whole time. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s sitting through a slow movie to get no real payoff by the time the credits roll. Give me something!

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was another movie I had the opportunity to see recently, and even though I watched the original and thought it was a dud, I decided to give the 2nd movie a chance and was pleasantly surprised with it as a whole. The story, for one, was a big improvement on the first. However, Hollywood thought it pressing to include more adult humor, risqué scenes and constant profanity. And when I say adult humor, I’m not referring to the kind of over-kid’s-heads innuendo that Shrek uses. No, the adult humor found in Transformers was a good deal of male sexual humor. Fabulous, Hollywood, absolutely fabulous. You make a movie based on a kids – KIDS – cartoon and decide to take the humor level in the direction of Superbad standards. This is an example of where writers sometimes get the balance all wrong, trying to cater to ALL audiences, yet using an avenue that has been near and dear to kids’ hearts for years.

The list goes on and on. I’m not trying to bash the film industry, but I really do wish writers and producers and directors would try to think outside the box, but do it with the same techniques that have worked in the past. Be creative, be original. How many times am I going to go see a movie, come out and say how good it is, only to have the person walking beside me tell me that the original was just as good. The original? You mean, that was a remake? A REMAKE?! How utterly disappointing. Improving on something that has been done before can be considered original if it's done right, but copying an old idea and not doing anything to further it is a travesty. Originality, people. It can go a long way.