posted by Karen Burnham at Wednesday 6 July 2011 @ 4:18 am BST
I recently tossed out the following topic to the Roundtable discussion group: The summer blockbuster movie season is upon us, and as usual various forms of genre film are dominating the screens. This year the offerings range from comic book movies (Thor), sequels to sequels (Pirates of the Carribean 4), kids films (Cars 2), and new outings from big-name directors (Super 8). Is it easy to sit back and enjoy the spectacle or do you find yourself trying to re-write the film as you go? How well do these movies represent the genre as it stands today?
I was afraid that this topic wasn’t going to get very far as the first few responses were from people who can’t stand today’s movies and stay as far away from them as possible (by way of excusing themselves from participation). However, I soon heard more diverse opinions…
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I will unabashedly admit that I went to Thor in order to see the man-flesh. I’ve found I am usually disappointed by the structure of movies – for example, I thought Midnight in Paris was a rancid POS with a light glaze of Allenesque witticisms. And I react with irritation when Hollywood movies try to manipulate my emotions because they’re so ham-handed about it.
But I do love spectacle in a movie, which Thor provided in spades with the rainbow bridge and Asgard in general. Green Lantern’s another recent example of something where I went to see the landscape, not the storyline. I’ve found the superhero movies tend to supply this, and it’s one reason why I’m pleased that special effects have gotten to the point where we can’t see the strings enabling the superhero to fly anymore.
Short answer: contemporary skiffy films have no relationship to the literary genre, and never did. I’m a film fan, read reviews and seek out offbeat and/or ambitious films when I hear about them and have time to see them (albeit less and less often in recent years). Very few of them are sf/f. As has always been the case, most skiffy films play off tropes from literary sf from 30 or 50 years before, when it was not even literary sf, more accurately pulp sf – and I’m not sure cinematic skiffy has caught up much since the ‘70s, in this way – and lately, if I believe Gary Westfahl’s Locus Online review of Super 8, they are playing off tropes from earlier skiffy films of three or four decades before, not even based on literary works (or by ideas advanced therein, or by advances in speculative science) at all.
Though I still feel it worthwhile to cover sf/f/h films on Locus Online, and have Gary Westfahl and the team of Howard Waldrop & Lawrence Person cover them, I rarely see those films myself.
OTOH Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life has a visionary recognition of the expanse of time and space and the context of a human life therein, such as what we typically appreciate in SF; though far from being SF, it seems a tad inclined toward naïve religious imagery. Nevertheless this film is more of interest to me, as a reader of SF, than any of Hollywood’s generic offerings.
Yes, ditto Mark — in my (extremely limited) moviegoing experience this summer, most stuff seems to be scavenged from earlier movies and not literary sources. I will admit that it’s far easier for me to remove my critical brain when watching a movie than when reading — I set the bar a lot lower, and also I don’t watch much stuff. I did see Malick’s visionary Tree of Life, which was about equal parts brilliant and terrible — I thought the whole Genesis sequence was brilliant, loved the dinosaurs, and had no problems with how bizarre it was within the context of an ostensibly realist film. And I was very glad I saw that in a theater, because I would probably have turned it off if I’d been watching it at home. I also saw Super 8, which was dopey and had more stuff blowing up than in anything I’ve ever seen (I don’t know as I’ve ever watched a Michael Bay movie so can’t compare), but I found it mindlessly diverting for 87 minutes. Derivative, etc., but the young actors were good. Mostly I just kept wondering about the destruction of the town and the absence of TV crews. Given recent real-life catastrophes, it was disturbing to see a city destroyed so blithely, and then have that ridiculous ET-ish ending tacked on. I hate zombies, but I was SO HAPPY to see the zombie movie-within-a-movie at the end. That was cute.
I’m rarely impressed by movies of any sort, and almost never go to see them in the theaters, preferring to wait for On Demand or Netflicks for those few that I do want to see. Some of the Big Budget Special Effects genre films can be entertaining eye-candy, but rarely have any real substance to them. You’re more likely to find interesting work on TV these days, especially HBO, with shows like Game of Thrones, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Treme, and Justified, which strike me as considerably more intelligent and edgier than almost any genre film out there at the moment.
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