What better time to hit the theaters than winter? With a lot of cheer and a lot of free time, these cold months are the ideal period to spend time with old friends and/or family by sitting down and watching a movie together. Nowadays Christmas break, or winter break for you progressive thinkers, is one of the few special occasions that brings together my family from areas across the United States. Awesome; let’s watch a movie for old times’ sake.
At our local theater in a small farm town that will remain anonymous, (south of Fresno, west of Visalia, next to Hanford), the hot tickets at the time were “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “War Horse” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” Upon my mother finding out that five grown-ass men aren’t going to go and watch a horse movie, the selection was quickly cut down to two. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was by all means the favorite, and for good reason. The film is based on an international bestseller and is directed by David Fincher, one of the greatest directors of his generation; for those of you unfamiliar with Fincher, think “Seven,” “Fight Club” and “The Social Network.” Then there’s “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” In general, I have a huge distrust of movies that are the third sequel, but after the cat was out of the bag about the angry anal rape scene in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the viewing options were promptly cut down even further by mom, a respectable lady who also wanted to read the book first or something.
Why not give it a shot I thought? “Mission: Impossible” was an excellent movie and sure, “M:I-2” and “M:I-3” were about as creative as a preschool finger paint, but in this era of big budget series face-lifts I thought maybe “M:I-4” could pull off the same class as the film that successfully started the series. And seeing as I’d submitted my dear old mother to “Leaving Las Vegas” (Figgis, 1995) and “Pusher” (Refn, 1996) the past few nights in the living room, I figured going to a more family-friendly movie was the least I could do. Besides, who can turn down a free trip to the theaters?
Hell, with a pocket full of newly acquired season cheer and being the big (unwise) spender I am I even broke down and bought the over-priced drinks and a large popcorn so everyone could get the full theater experience, which, in theory, was great.
It turned out the theater was too full for the family to sit together so I was stuck all by my lonesome with a bucket of popcorn on my lap and a screen full of crap in front of me. Sure some parts of this crap were mildly entertaining. Without giving away too much of the plot: yes, there were guns, yes there were bullets, yes there were explosions and yes there was Tom Cruise climbing on shit. About midway through the movie when all this bland “action” started crapping together, I couldn’t help but ask myself: A) Why am I here? B) Why are there so many other people here? Both answers are pretty simple and pertinent to the point of this article, I promise.
Due to the recent state of the economy, studios (the companies with enough money and connections to produce movies that require multi-million dollar budgets) have given up the idea of taking chances on, for lack of a better word, “edgy” films and have adopted a trend of investing in films that encompass larger audience demographics and have the possibilities of many sequels, preferably based off a literary best seller which already has its own fan-base (this includes fairy tales). The Harry Potter series, for example, is the favored model. Naturally, this significantly cuts down the creativity put into these blockbusters by limiting them to suit these proponents. Why do they keep doing this? Because, for the most part, it works! In this day and age of careful spending, people don’t want to risk going to an unknown artsy film that could be really crappy, so they favor going to a mildly entertaining blockbuster re-composed of all the mildly entertaining crap used by the mildly entertaining blockbusters before it. And who can blame them? What works, works!
We can only blame ourselves. Sure, not all of us consider ourselves to be experienced cinephiles or want to dive into something too over the top, but we are still intelligent, especially the people reading this paper! Yes, sometimes it’s nice to smoke a doobie and eat copious amounts of over-priced concessions while watching subpar films. But this is not all that cinema can offer, and making a habit of only watching mildly entertaining crap, leads the studios to believe this is all your mildly entertaining crap-loving selves can handle, which in turn, leads to the regular release of more mildly entertaining to really awful crap. Stop being hustled, my friends! Being the fourth installment of a series that only had one good film doesn’t make it a good movie. Do not be fooled by the hype of a big name film; it is the studios’ jobs to ingrain in you the “value” of their upcoming release. Most likely, it’s just as bad or worse than the previous two.
Do not fear the unknown. With new technologies, the ability to make a great film has become tremendously cheaper than in years before and has lead to a huge boom in the independent film scene. Trust me, I am not a hipster, and I am not telling you to go out and watch a 2-hour subtitled Danish film from the ’90s yet, but by being more open to different films — films that may not have all the glamour or publicity of a studio production — you will not only find that there are a lot of great films out there to be seen, but also show the studios you’re not as simple as they think you are.
To end this article on a positive note, “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” is not a bad movie. Yes, it is crap, but it is definitely not the worst crap I’ve ever seen. Also, there’s nothing wrong with going out and paying for crap, if that’s what you’re into. But to be a serial perpetrator of the promotion of shitty film is limiting your cinematic pleasures in the short and long run, which according to everyone other than the leaders of our nation, is a bad investment.
It is the beginning of a new year. If you are reading this article you are most likely young and more than likely intelligent. Do not be afraid of a film that isn’t publicized on the side of a city bus or on the contents of a McDonald’s value meal. Yes, there will be some bad apples, but with enough practice you’ll soon be surprised at how good you are at sifting through the rotten ones. Then, you will experience how invigorating a truly entertaining film can be.
To experience the worst crap this correspondent has ever seen in feature film form, watch “W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism” (Dušan, 1971).