Did you see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX and break out into excitable spasms over your false childhood memories of watching A New Hope in the cinema for the very first time when you were negative 18 years old? False nostalgia is an odd mental state, one that the general geekdom has fallen into like Boba Fett into a giant spiky-toothed reverse desert anus. Such is the level of obsession and glorification over the original trilogy, A New Hope most of all, that I seem to have actual memories of going to see it.
To clarify, I am twenty one years old and I definitely did not, but people talk it up so much – it was so unique, so unforgettable, such a cataclysmic cultural shift – that when someone is heard describing their precious first memory of Han and Chewie breaking a space speed record in less than twelve Parsecs (despite that amount being a measure of distance rather than time, but that’s by the way.. ) I am actually able to recall a falsified moment in my past when I was there and I saw it too. Sinister Blade Runner/Tyrell Corporation memory inserts come to mind. The universal adulation, the uncritical worship – the memification, if you will – puts the original trilogy beyond any honest reproach. All this even though the Empire Strikes Back is the only film that sustains drama, immersion, and tonal consistency, and manages to not devolve into a block of cheese.
In thirty years’ times nobody will still be fawning over the new Star Wars in quite the same way that they continue to aggrandise the original trilogy or vilify the prequels. The era of mythologisation has met its choked demise at the strangling hands of the internet. Call it cynicism, but movies will never be the same now that we have unlimited access to every facet of their production. The more they try to make the audience ‘a part of the process’, the worse the films end up, as attested to by the Peter Jackson trilogy that shalt not be named.
Not to suggest that A New Hope was not significant; it was a game changer in many respects, whereas the Force Awakens is definitely more of a crowd-pleaser. And even if it was better than it is (which is still very good) it could never expect to equal the ruby and diamond encrusted reputation that the Episodes IV-VI have in the eyes of the rose-tint-bespectacled nerd kingdom. During the screening of The Force Awakens I went to, there were fully grown men and women in head to toe Star Wars outfits, swinging mock lightsabers about like the children they desperately wish they still were. Whooping and cheering and clapping erupted many times in the film – when Han Solo walked in you couldn’t even hear his first lines, such was the rancorous applause. They wanted to relive A New Hope all over again, and they sort of got to. At least it has ‘the feel’ of Star Wars, the lack of which made the prequel trilogy so barren.
Now to attempt to delineate just what it is about big budget movies that is wrong. Unavoidable, but still wrong. In the film business, first weekend box office sales and merchandising are as big a part of a movie’s success as anything else – Estee Lauder lightsaber mascaras and BB-8 tangerines were an indication that this Star Wars revamp is a lot more than JJ Abrams’ passion project. Merchandising was everywhere you looked in the build up to release, and it still is. Still will be, for the next decade, as we are unremittingly flung into the Galaxy Far, Far away for two sequels plus who-knows-how-many-more spin offs. Disney isn’t the only one at it, though.
Prior to the film starting, a few film trailers ran which defied belief. How cinema has progressed to this state in recent times is beyond basic understanding. On such a fundamental level the way the target audience for blockbusters is…targeted…has been completely altered. Filmmaking and promotional campaigning of the moment have no semblance to the practices even fifteen years ago. Green screen and profitability are the sole components of major studio productions. These IMAX trailers were the evolution of these sensibilities. First up there was Independence Day Resurgence, which could as well have been Jurassic Galaxy for all anyone could tell, with the series-straddling Jeff Goldblum back in the mix as the disarming scientist who stops the alien dinosaurs that were hiding on the shady side of the moon from coming back and force feeding us puny humans a nice mouthful of planetary extinction. Tasty.
Independence Rex is bombastic, overblown mayhem, the predictable plot entirely decipherable from a three minute chronological preview. Fake explosions, fake aliens, and inception horns are not – should not – be enough to get people into the cinemas, but as Jurassic World proved, if you fake it then you more than make it in box office returns. Fake meaning: transparent, illusory, charmless computerised effects that in five years will look worse than most contemporary video games. But people will go to see it in droves. Some people might even enjoy it. But it’s a money-making venture made for profit’s sake and nothing else.
Next came the extended theatrical trailer (because three teasers and a normal trailer aren’t enough) of Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice which revealed, blow for blow and in the most patronising detail, the entire film from first shot to final battle, with every interaction and key plot point along the way. Really, there’s no need to go and watch it at all, now. It’s the same as viewing a pithy paragraph summary of a ten page jargon-heavy academic article. Saves you time, skips the boring bits, gives you all you need to know. In this case, what is now known is that Dawn of Justice will be a dully obvious movie that will just about satiate hero-hungry crowds while filling executive’s bellies to excess . Must the viewer’s hand be held in such a way? No. It’s hard to believe that millions of people are still riding the never ending Marvel and DC hype trains. Age of Ultron and Ant Bloke’s receptions suggest that no one is alighting any time soon. Frankly it’s surprising that audiences do not demand more by now.
Anyone in the screening seeking to avoid details about the Dawn of Justice in order to go in cold had that hope unanimously smashed. Not that there is any reason why they should be excited anyway, as it appears to be made-up-on-the-spot garbage, like something the improvisational movie-trailer channel from Rick and Morty might churn out:
“Two heroes. But then another hero. Together that makes three heroes. That seems like enough… but, it’s not! Because a heroic trio now has to fight an old dead bad guy who the neutral but turned evil halfway through guy has resurrected to fight back, until he comes back as a zombie octopus version. But except only bigger now! And also he is played by a different actor and is 100% computer generated at this stage, so there’s that. So, yeah dudes, it’s three heroes, who don’t like each other, in-fighitng and regular fighting, until they win, to save humanity. And themselves, as well as saving humanity from itself at the same time, but the only way to do that is to make the whole world jaded against them. Because of comic hero tropes…They are misunderstood, you see. But they don’t care. Because they are super. Super men. And bats. And one woman. It’s SuperbatbothsexesofHuman versus Zod of the Undead: The Second One . Coming out in two summers . Action figures available in literally all stores now. All of them. EVEN THE NEWSAGENTS ON THE CORNER! EVEN YOUR LOCAL CHARITY SHOP! EVEN THE SNACKS KIOSK OUTSIDE THIS SCREEN!”
Last of all came a trailer – then immediately following that a promotional mini documentary about the trailer – for the World of Warcraft movie, Warcraft: The Beginning. This film looks so devoid of life it’s hard to imagine it even being made. Much of the cast are unknowns (done on the cheap in one of the areas that matters most) and the forced enthusiasm of their prolonged interviews was extremely painful to endure. “The world is so massive and astonishing and beautiful. You’ve never seen anything on this scale before. I never have. It is fantasy on another level. Amazing. Like, really, really, really amazing “, mumbles a generic looking lead man, while rubbing his stubble and moping at the floor with utter dejection.
One wincing glimpse of the shimmering Warcaft vistas tells you there’s not been a lick of location shooting. It’s been studios and skin-tight VFX suits all the way, and now these poor motion-tracking human puppets have to sit down in chairs on a season long press tour and wax lyrical about an imaginary land that hasn’t even been fully realised on a computer screen. It looks so utterly, ludicrously fake. So empty. So…shit, really. That’s the only appropriate word. Shit.
That shitness is what this post is against really; the acceleration an awful trend that shows as much chance of slowing down as humanity’s consumption of the planet’s natural resources. This ugly Battle of the Five Armies fake-ass plastic-looking hollow huge scale (but low-impact) Avatar-copycat bigger is better juggernaut mentality. It is horrible cinema. Flat, uninspired, worthless. On a cellular level I am in revulsion of it. Jurassic World, The Hobbit trilogy – and maybe the most recent Transformers flick – were the first of this newer and stronger breed of perfectly packaged ‘product pictures’, as I am now calling them.
These films are an affront to human creativity and the art of movie making. But we must embrace the shellshock of blockbuster carpet bombing or else lose faith all together. So when the 500 million dollar Minecraft films are announced, just smile and be glad that you’re alive to see them. Because there’s nothing like a bit of movie magic to help escape the reality of this neverending consumerist nightmare, right? Ah, the movies!