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Has cinema lost its way?

This blog is a bit of a moan, to be honest. A ‘I miss the old days’ and ‘where did it all go so wrong’ kind of blog.

Yesterday, I went to see Aquaman. The latest DC superhero film from Warner Bros. I went in with low expectations, hoping that maybe I’d be proven wrong. I don’t like to judge a book by its cover but I’d seen the trailer and straight away I thought ‘meh’. Avoid. It looked like standard Hollywood garbage. All the alarms and detectors were going off. Sadly, I wasn’t wrong.

The worst thing? Pitbull covers Africa. Really.

I found myself sitting through 2 hours and 22 minutes of really, really average performances, forced humour that fell flat, cliché after cliché (cue hero shot of god-like man walking away from camera and looking back over his shoulder), a storyline that was weak, brittle and jumping all over the world…don’t get me started on Pitbull’s cover of ‘Africa’ by Toto.

I felt disheartened to be honest. How many times in recent years had I endured this kind of misery from the big blockbusters? I cannot fathom how such weak scripts keep getting the backing of hundreds of millions of dollars. Who is giving the green light to these projects? Are we not better than this?

What’s the point?

The way I see it, the main purpose of a film was, is and always will be to tell a story. These days it feels like too many films are desperate to put in all these flashy effects and add heaps of sex appeal and forced humour, bending and forcing the ‘story’ (if we can call it that) to fit around these big selling points that the directors and producers apparently think we so desperately want. Yes, I get that films have to make money and that adding these things seduces the public into the cinema screen…but please. Have some dignity.

The greatest films that stand the test of time down the years work because nothing is forced or mashed together – the story is in place and that dictates what happens. There are countless examples of this throughout the history of cinema but one that stands out most – and perhaps demonstrates my point best – is the contrast between the original Star Wars trilogy and the ‘new’ trilogies.

How Star Wars lost its way

On one hand you have this epic space fairytale that really takes its time to focus on the character development. The special effects, space battles and iconic lightsabre duels (which are stunning) are but mere sideshows. They happen because the story has permitted them to do so. The real success and everlasting popularity of these films is the story. It’s so strong. The audience was given the time to process and understand who Luke Skywalker was. They empathised with him and then, they were taken on his journey and followed his development every step of the way. They truly cared about what happened.

Contrast this with the I-wish-that-never-happened trilogy in the early 2000’s. There was literally no story. It was all about how can we move this character from A to B and get them to blow that thing up and then have a lightsabre duel because that’s AWESOME and that’s all the audience wants to see right? MORE LIGHTSABRE DUELS. I mean, yes, we do…but not at the expense of the story. I hesitated to even use the word ‘character’ here because the audience never really gets the chance to form a bond or connection with the actors on screen. It’s a well-documented disaster and sadly, you can find these same mistakes plastered all over nearly every Hollywood blockbuster.

If you want to go deeper into The Phantom Menace, check-out Red Letter Media‘s 7-part review on each of the prequel trilogy. It’s thoroughly entertaining.

DCEU vs MCU

Going back to DC’s Aquaman for example. It feels like DC is trying to constantly play catch-up with Marvel. The problem is they haven’t quite understood why the Marvel films have been, for the most part, rather good. Especially the masterpiece that was Infinity War.

Marvel really took the time to craft their stories and get the audience to truly care about their characters – they made 20 films all building up to Infinity War! 20!! Each origin story allowed the audience to make a real connection and empathise with the heroes as they developed. Hours were spent with each individual. So by the time Inifinity War rolled around in summer 2018, the events really hit home. I’m not going to reveal spoilers here just in case, but seriously, if you haven’t seen Infinity War by this stage, what are you doing?

Under the sea

When I was watching Aquaman yesterday, it felt like the writers, the producers and directors were all far too keen to get to the ‘juicy’ fight scenes. They wanted an epic war and incredible CGI effects plastered across the widescreen because that’s what sells right? And so, in order to reach it as quickly as possible, all the build-up was rushed and diluted, meaning that I didn’t actually care about what happened to the characters in the final act. There was no emotional attachment. Nothing. I just wanted it to finish so I could get home and bang a pizza in the oven.

I suppose I wanted to write this post to get to the moral of the story. The moral of the story here is that story is king. If you want to make a good film, you need to focus on the story and make sure that aspect is absolutely nailed. Before all the fancy effects, layers of humour, boobs and explosions can be introduced, you need to have that story in place that ensures the inclusion of the above is actually warranted.

You know what? Maybe they don’t care. The joke is on me because I’ve already paid my money. That’s all that matters.

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