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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Five Worst Things to Ever Happen to Movies

There are a lot of things that have been used to make movies bad over the years (bad promotion stunts, tabloid controversy, Pauly Shore), but there are five that really bug me.  These five things make me dread going to the movies, I often face-palm in their presence, and they are often deal-breakers for me, making me instantly hate the movie I’m watching.  Sorry if you don’t like the list, but to speak for this list (because I wrote it): the feeling is mutual.

5. Animals
Over the Hedge (2006; Dreamworks)
    Okay.  So movies with talking animals do well.  Why?  Kids seem to gravitate to anthropomorphism as though it where Ritalin.  They are mesmerized by the fact that that a dog, cat, horse, pigeon, marmoset, or any other non-human creature is speaking English.  This appears everywhere: in movies, television, games, books, comics…  Every-freaking-where!  It’s not the animals that bother me so much as how they are presented.  Disney is responsible for this nonsense, and I will never forgive him for it.  Disney was often able to do it right, with charm and good animation (well, not so good anymore but… we’ll get to that shortly).  

     Some live-action movies used animals as characters and they weren’t always bad.  Films like Bringing Up Baby and National Velvet were animal movies that felt natural, but in movies  like Dumbo and Pinocchio audiences where subjected to singing foxes and dancing mice.  These, incidentally where creatures most Americans made a point to kill or repel at first sight, but we are teaching our kids that they sing?  What the HELL is wrong with people?  If my dog suddenly broke out into song and dance I would check myself into the hospital, and fast.

4. Dubbing
I hate you Godfrey Ho.
     Most of the classic foreign films, such as the works of Akira Kurosawa and Fritz Lang, used subtitles to present the story to those of us who are not fluent in their native languages.  Across the bottom of the screen, text would provide a rough translation of what the actors are saying, while we became engaged by the events on screen.   Yet, despite having to read while we watch what’s going on, subtitles are usually not at all distracting to those of us who are used to watching foreign cinema.  It’s a sort of strange phenomenon that you are reading, and you know it, yet you don’t notice you’re doing it.  It’s sort of automatic and natural.

     However, Hollywood found (as they usually do) a way to screw this up.  The dreaded English Dub.  99.999999% of the time, the dubbing is unbearable.  The actors that provide the English voices sound nothing like their onscreen counterparts should and the mouth movements have never matched up well at all.  The only exception to this is foreign animation, as this is easily masked because the characters’ mouths are not speaking naturally (normally they just flap open and shut).  Still, when you watch a b-grade kung fu flick circa 1978, and you hear the terrible dubs over the original soundtrack, you can’t help but laugh.  My personal favorite is when the mousey-voiced guy dubs the big fat dude.  Classically terrible.

3. Ledges
Vertigo (1958; Paramount Pictures)
     Hollywood never found a ledge it didn’t want to hang an actor from.  Thanks a lot Hitchcock!

     Vertigo used the idea of a fatal fall to build tension, and to create truly suspenseful scenes.  Nobody could make you fear for a character’s life more than Alfred Hitchcock.  Still, ever since that piece of perfect cinema had its leading man (James Stewart... Duh!) hanging fearfully from a ledge, we have seen this scene over and over again.  At this point, since the end result is about as original as opening credits, there is no suspense.  None.  None at all.  It worked with Hitchcock because he was notorious for killing off big stars in his movies without a flinch, so we said to ourselves: “Is he really going to die?”  Now we watch Denzel dangle or Statham swing and just think: “Okay, now just get up and throw the guy off already.”

     There are a lot of ways these clichéd scenes play out, but they typically boil down to a few basic categories:  1)  Guy A chases Guy B across the roof, Guy A jumps and makes it, Guy B jumps and slips, he ends up hanging by his fingertips; 2)  Guy A throws Guy B off roof and Guy B is hanging.  Guy A stomps on fingers, or uses a pole to jab (if pole is used Guy B will usually grab the pole and use it to pull Guy A off);  3) Character will fall, but instead of dying, will hit a number of objects on the way down, kind of like a human Plinko game.  Don’t worry, the Guy is fine;  4) Guy A is hanging, Guy B gives a monologue.  Now, those aren’t all of the scenes I know, but those are common examples.

2. Product Placement and Tie-Ins
     This is the worst example of shamelessness in corporate cinema.  Nothing sucks you out of an experience like flagrant commercial promotion of a product.  The worst offenders are the soft drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi.  Other industries who refused to pass up sticking their products into mediocre Summer blockbusters include national pizza chains, car manufacturers, and the worst offender of all, video game companies. 

     This was at its absolute worst in the late 80’s into the 90’s, but it’s still very prevalent today, often appearing more subtle.  Back in the day, you would go to your local Burger King and there would be ads for a major summer flick everywhere (there still are but not like back then) and then, you would go to the theatre, by a soda, and on the cup would be the movie, with a Burger King logo, then the movie would start and we would be hit with one Burger King logo after another.  It’s painful…  And sad.  Some of the most notorious offenders are the Wizard, which was essentially a 2-hour Nintendo advert, and Leonard: Part 6, which might have put its stars into diabetic comas from all of the Coke they consumed in the various “dialogue” scenes.

1. Computer Animation
     This is the biggie.  I know this is going to piss a lot of people off, so before you start ranting, I don’t care.  I really don’t.  I know what movies are good and what aren’t.  This is what I do.  I am a movie aficionado, trust me, I’m a professional.  Well, not really a professional but you get the picture. 

     CGI: Computer Generated Imaging.  It was a medium of special effects that showed promise in its infancy.  We saw movies like Jurassic Park, Jumanji, and Toy Story and said, this is going to just get better and better.  We watched in amazement as T-1000 melted and took the form of the actor he was standing next to in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  To go even further back, Tron gave us a taste of the 3D world few had only read about in niche science magazines.  It was wonderful!  So WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED!?!?!?!?!

     It’s simple.  With the boom of the world of technology that just exploded in the late 90’s, we saw thousands of new little 3D modelers pop up from various sci-tech schools and one studio after another begin pumping out CGI-laden crap.  We saw disasters like Lost In Space, the Star Wars Prequels (and Special Editions), and silly uninteresting monsters in movies like Godzilla and the Jurassic Park sequels.  With all of the technology, one thing became apparent over time: the animation was getting… worse?

     As we saw the world of video games get prettier and prettier, the animation in movies seemed to digress.  Eventually a few directors decided to just do away with actual sets altogether and just film the whole damn movie in CGI.  The most obvious example is the CGI fetishistic bore-fest that was Avatar (or as I like to call it “Dances With Wolves: The Blue Edition”).  With all the money, time, and resources that went into making the Na’vi “human,” it was lost in the dreaded Uncanny Valley (and extremely uncomfortable “love scenes“). 

     So there you have it, my top five of a laundry list of clichés, and gimmicks that Hollywood has used to make movies worse and worse through the years.  Now before you FREAK OUT and start bombing your keyboard with your sticky and strangely aromatic fingers, you should know, this list is MY opinion.  You are more than welcome to share yours, but I probably won’t read them, because that’s just the kind of person I am.  So blatantly defending Avatar or Burger King ads in movies would be a sad waste of your time.  You can share for the other people who may read this and think “This guy doesn’t know what he is talking about.”, but just know, nobody reads this blog, so you’re wasting your time there too.

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