Sunday, August 16, 2009

Roboseyo's Guilty Pleasure Corner: The Rise of the Craptacle

So, it's been so hot lately, and without an air conditioner, I've been feeling like this guy: (face-melting wrath of God warning: Raiders of The Lost Ark)

Been going to the movies lately, too (mmm. Big, air-conditioned rooms) and got to watch my childhood in some big action movies.

And I'm still not sure whether my childhood has been violated, or whether Transformers and GI Joe got EXACTLY the movies they deserved.

Transformers 2 starred this guy.

And I have to agree with this (must, must, must read) review: "Michael Bay Finally Made an Art Film"

See, I kind of thought, with Titanic, that movie budgets had reached a breaking point: I remember a movie reviewer predicting that the failure of spectacles like Pearl Harbor would lead to movie studies giving up on glamour and spectacle, simplifying, and going for lower budgets with better characterization and writing, because sinking a hundred mill into one movie was just too risky, when that hundred mill could instead be used to support smaller projects that, even with modest returns, would be turning profits. We overestimated Hollywood. Instead of budgets becoming smaller and stories becoming more important, Hollywood's swung exactly the opposite way these last few summers.

The first death-knell of story was the rise of the sequel: when The Mummy Returns made more money (and was actually a better movie) than The Mummy, when X-Men was written specifically in order to spawn sequels, and when the first couple of Batman Sequels were reasonably watchable and profoundly profitable, sequels became a safer bet, which put less stress on original story ideas.

The second death-knell were the especially bad sequels like Matrix: Revolutions and Pirates of the Carribean 3, which seemed to show us that audiences don't really even care about consistency of story: familiar characters moving through familiar scenarios with ever-bigger set-pieces and effects was enough to put bums in movie seats. Character died? Who cares? Bring them back! Logic? What's logic? If the movie's loud enough audiences won't notice logic until they're in the bathroom after the movie's finished. Case in point: Terminator 3.

The next death-knell was the rise of high-speed internet. You see, acting, good writing, and well-plotted stories show up just as well on my computer screen as on the big screen, so why wouldn't I download that art film which I heard was really well-made? In fact, the only element of a movie that DOESN'T show up just as well on a computer screen is spectacle. That means big, sweeping cinematography (Lord of the Rings), or big, noisy explosions are the only thing that can give watchers an experience they can't get at home by downloading... so is it any surprise movie studios are loading up on exactly that... even at the expense of stuff like story, dialog, and characterization?

We're slowly, inexorably, moving toward this, and I've got a name for it. A craptacle. Spectacle + crap = craptacle.

And with Transformers, Die Still Harder Than You Ever Thought About Dying Before!, Terminator, G.I. Joe, X-Men Wolverine, and last year's Indiana Jones 4: all either sequels or meant to have them, all profitable, but all crap, as well as noisy failures like Speed Racer and profitable but unlikely to have a sequel movies like Hancock, the craptacle is the latest genre to take over Hollywood. Often they're sequels, but not always: Speed Racer was a non-sequel craptacle, but then, it was a manga adaptation, which isn't far off: several other graphic novel adaptations have come dangerously close to being craptacles, and if it weren't so ponderously paced, Watchmen would have been.

So they're dumb. Epically dumb. But they aren't pretending to be anything other than exactly that. And the funny thing is, as long as the movies know they're dumb, I'll forgive them, just like as long as Abba sings cheesy songs about dancing and fuzzy bunnies, they're a great dance band, and I'll forgive them. If Abba had gone through an existential phase where they tried to channel Bob Dylan, I wouldn't buy it. Nobody would - that's why Abba never made a Bob Dylan album. That's why Michael Bay didn't direct Kate Winslet's latest Oscar vehicle, and will probably never work with Meryl Streep (unless she wants to get paid). If it succeeds at being dumb and fun, well, they hit the mark they were aiming for, didn't they?

But the funny thing is... my expectations have gotten so low for Hollywood movies, that I'll take it. Go ahead and make a dumb movie about stuff blowing up. Just make one or two of the characters likeable, and don't offend me, and blow the stuff up REAL GOOD and that's enough. The racist tweedledee and tweedledum in Transformers offended me; other than that, it was an amazing craptacle, and a hilariously stupid way to kill some time. Plus, remember that part where Sam's mom totally ate a pot brownie? Or that part where those other decepticons totally joined together into a mega-decepticon? Or the way the mega-decepticon had balls? Or when the old transformer farted and a parachute came out? Or when Optimus Prime stole parts from that other Autobot (who might have been Leader 1 of the Gobots trying to sneak in for a cameo) and became Optimus President's Super Prime With A Baked Potato? That was awesome! I mean, (SPOILER ALERT, NOT THAT SPOILERS MATTER) how much awesomer can you get than a movie with not just one, but TWO resurrections from the dead during the final scene? AND a Mega-Optimus transformation, too! I think I just peed a little bit in my pants!

I feel like Chris Farley in those SNL skits where he'd interview movie stars, but instead of asking them questions, he'd just say things like "Remember that time when your character jumped out of a helicopter and landed in a convertible and said, 'I'd like that to go' -- that was so awesome!"

Ditto for G.I. Joe: in which the underwater arctic fortress hit the self-destruct button, and when it started blowing up, huge chunks of ice started to fall. But who cares? There were NINJAS! And they blowed up a buncha stuff, plus, they blowed it up real good! And blowing stuff up real good is FUN! So yeah. Let turn loose your inner seven-year old (and what seven-year-old won't suspend disbelief all the way down the block?) and bring earplugs if you like (it's not like the dialog is really worth it anyway), and enjoy the heck out of the next craptacle to come to your theatre!

It's my new guilty pleasure, and I barely feel guilty at all.

1 comment:

Brian said...

You know, Korean TV loves to show Craptacles from the 90s: Air Force One, Con Air, Independence Day, Armageddeon (sp?), The Rock . . . all of them make me embarrassed to be an American.

And retro was neat to be into, like, 13 years ago, but it kills me that the prevailing sensibility back home is ironic humor and retro TV shows. Whatever happened to originality?