July 9, 2009
The mindless movie debate
The new Transformers movie has sparked a lot of controversy about the nature of entertainment and what people actually want from it. If all people really want is two and a half hours of incoherent explosions, that could be troubling news for the human race. The biggest defense of the film is that sometimes people just want predictability and mindlessness. I thought I understood that argument, until I was directed to this quote from Roger Ebert:
"Do I ever have one of those days when, the hell with it, all I want to do is eat popcorn and watch explosions? I haven't had one of those days for a long time. There are too many other films to see. I've had experiences at the movies so rich, so deep--and yes, so funny and exciting--that I don't want to water the soup."
Here's where the mindlessness argument starts to fall apart. The problem is that people making that argument are saying there are only two types of movies in the world: the Shoah type (that's a 9.5 hour documentary about the Holocaust) and the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen type. That just doesn't make any sense.
There are definitely days when I'm not in a Shoah mood. Like anyone else, it could be a long day, a tough week, or just the laziness to not be particularly challenged that day. But that doesn't translate to a desire to experience cinematic catharsis akin to Freud's anal stage of psychosexual development (aka when a toddler's primary joy in life is pooping). On these days I pop in a comedy or a musical. But not a dumb, mindless comedy such as Adam Sandler's last 3-5 movies - maybe a screwball comedy of the 1930s, which still sparkles with wit and energy (but not in a draining way).
Even action/adventure/sci fi movies don't have to be vapid junk. Look at the films of that genre that have become classics - ones that even diehard T:ROTF fans certainly love. Think Alien(s), Star Wars, Back to the Future, etc. These films endure because in addition to the fun and thrills, they have character and story. But those elements don't weigh it down. It's not like T:ROTF is a purer cinematic form because it's stripped of those things. None of these films would be deemed too taxing after a long day. They're still entertainment, but a more nourishing kind. They're nutrition bars that taste exactly like chocolate, whereas T:ROTF is just a chocolate bar. With flies on it.
So the next time you find yourself gravitating towards "mindless" entertainment, pause for a moment and consider your options. You don't have to sacrifice content for fun. They are NOT mutually exclusive. And for those who think T:ROTF is a masterpiece, ask yourself this: which holds a dearer place in your heart, that film or Star Wars? I won't deny that nostalgia probably factors in here, but at the end of the day you'll have a greater love for and inclination to revisist movies that appealed to you on a deeper level. Even if they have explosions.