As I’ve mentioned before here, I don’t much care for the movies that are released in theaters. I believe the entertainment industry is incapable of making good movies except by accident. It’s the medieval printing press formula of spitballing. That is, mass production of a large number of products in the hope that something will stick and make enough money to make up for the tremendous losses of everything else that bombed.
You see it books, television shows, video games, and popular music. A whole lot of garbage, and a few lucky shots. Yet the industry, with its medieval guild system of cutting off free markets via the control of distribution, refuses to diversify for its own financial survival. All I see is consolidation into large, inefficient corporations that struggle to make the margins. It seems like in the news the only game to play is buyouts.
Without the propaganda machine known as the entertainment public relations industry whipping up public interest, the struggling entertainment industry (again, that term, which suggests craft, but conjures up images of sweatshop smokestacks) might be in worse shape. The mantra is always that it takes “the big boys” to make quality, and since they take all the risks, they deserve all the profits.
Well, hey, if that’s true, how come I’m not entertained? Where’s the “quality” I keep hearing about? All one has to do is read the first sentence of The Da Vinci Code, listen to ten seconds of Britney Spears’ “Gimmie More”, or watch a minute of any show on the SciFi Channel to know this doesn’t pass the laugh test.
The decline comes not just from a longstanding contempt for the public and what it wants, or the exploitation of artists and craftsmen desperate to make a buck, but also from an emerging sense by a new generation of people trained in the computer. These young people are growing up with tools not available even ten years ago that are cooperative, creatively open, and allow you to do work that used to take entire studios of people to produce.
It’s entirely possible now, for example, for a group of people to put together an original, entertaining show, if not better than a mainstream one, using a computer. Sound, video, special effects, and the portability, along with a massive distributor called the Internet, you can do it. You can even set up a website and charge for it if you want, or just post it on YouTube for people to enjoy simply for the love of sharing. It’s all about creating, passing it along, and getting involved.
The iron hand of oligarchy may yet crush this sentiment of the unwashed masses as they evolve towards freedom from coercion. It wouldn’t be the first time. If you look back through the centuries at the history of newspapers, pamphlets, and hootenannies, you’ll see how the owners seized control of popular culture. But as always, one can never tell how things will turn out, it’s anyone’s guess.
But I digress.
I saw a movie called “300”, which is a story about a battle between a small group of Spartans (the good guys) and a gargantuan army of Persians (the bad guys). The battle decides whether the last stand of the good guys inspires their allies to band together and have a chance at remaining free, or they fail and the leader of the Persian army conquers everyone (this is bad). That’s the movie in a nutshell, and it’s been lauded as a macho man story of serious butt kicking and decried as a historically inaccurate appeal to patriotism.
I think both sides are completely wrong. It’s just a really, really bad movie that people are throwing their own projections upon, either because they feel powerless and want to watch some pump up, or they expect disappointment in today’s movies and this one grants them the opportunity to complain.
To the people expecting “quality”, “historical accuracy”, or even things like “realism” or “authenticity”, you are deluding yourselves. This is a fantasy, adapted from a trade paperback taking liberties with history to start with. All you have to do is look at the cinematography, with it’s green-screen generated landscapes and phony-baloney colors stolen from every music video filter of the nineties, to know this is an internal story, not an external one.
The characters move and speak like figures from a daydream or an idle fancy. The outrageous wolves with glowing eyes or rhinos decked out in battle armor are exaggerated monsters of the unconscious with no relation to real world animals. The crazy maneuvers during the fight scenes have nothing to do with physics and everything to do with how adolescents play with action figures.
I’m not knocking this approach. I’m just saying you can’t expect such an overt disregard for reality to hold up under anything more than a loose, subjective viewing. You can say such a shallow presentation neither nourishes the soul hungry for art nor makes for fascinating intellectual analysis, and I’d agree. See that industry treadmill spewing out offal? Yes, it’s gross, and it’s useful to consider the ways in which it falls short (ahh, that sulphurous, rotten egg smell of a group of men pushing an armored elephant right off a cliff). After all that, it’s time to start talking about alternatives.
To the people who think there’s a lot of kicking of butts, I think you need a reality check from Patton: “Now I want you to remember that no *#&!#%$ ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb *#&!#%$ die for his country.”
Sure, there’s a lot of awesome battle moves going on, the Spartans inflict huge losses against an outlandish array of revved up opponents, and they all die fighting. That’s not kicking butt, that’s losing with a flourish.
Yes, their heroic sacrifice inspires the wimp allies to stand up to the invaders, but we never see if that final battle leads to victory. Without final victory, you lose. Yes, you can say we know what happened in history, but remember this is a fantasy. If it isn’t on screen, we can’t imply anything. It’s a complete let down.
You want butt kicking? After a long movie of fighting down to the bitter end, the superhero leader of the good guys gets a chance to spear the bad guy leader — and clips the bad guys ear. He missed (if the guy’s not dead, you failed). Since the movie is a shallow fantasy, the symbolic effect of such an act in real history means nothing (but having a Man Who Would Be King scene would negate the movie’s premise and ending).
This pathetic miss occurs in an interesting context. There’s an earlier scene in which a lesser character performs an amazing feat of throwing ability. His spear lands dead on against a huge, armored rhino at least a hundred feet away, exactly enough to kill the creature so that it slides to a stop inches from the guy.
And it’s strongly implied that this lesser character’s weakness of “needing his father’s approval” is what leads to his horrible death. The movie’s implied moral statement is “anything that makes you weak makes you worthless”. Things like feelings other than murderous rage, not being a Spartan, and having a disability.
The leader of the Spartans, who embodies the butt kicking principle to the utmost, should at least be able to duplicate the dead loser’s killing shot from what, twenty feet? Right? This is for the win, leader dies, army falls apart.
Failure = 100%
I don’t watch “butt kicking” movies to watch the heroes lose. I watch to see the good guys inflict major hate and discontent. That’s what my subconscious primitive is paying to see.