I have bent my brain around this problem for many years. Why is the movie the prevalent entertainment form of our times, and why are most of them terrible?
Finally, I have an answer.
I blame you.
You have let the movie take over, first of all. Way back in the olden golden days, people entertained themselves by reading. They read novels, short stories, and poetry. "Poetry?" you ask. "Is that the form of art most commonly practiced on Hallmark greeting cards, and Maya Angelou inspirational art-paper plaques?" Well, yes and no. There were days when poetry mattered. There were days when poets captured politics, emotion, fire, and beauty, all in a few short lines.
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air
Those days are gone forever. Now when people think of poetry (as they rarely do), they're reasonably likely to think of Jewel.
But that's not all you've done. In addition to ignoring poetry, you've let the live theater shrivel and die. You never go to plays. Even if you don't live in New York or Chicago or Washington or LA, there are still plays. Non-musical ones, even. There are a zillion different kinds of theater. And how much do you watch?
None. Zippo. Zilch.
Watching Chicago on DVD doesn't count, and neither does catching portions of HBO's Angels in America miniseries. Movies are not plays, even when based on them. They're more demanding, more immediate. They're ephemeral, and infinitely varied.
But you don't go to the theater. Oh, it costs a ton. Yes. And it's not nearly as convenient, yes.
Okay, that's only partially your fault. But it's still true.
So you stay home and watch television, but that's barely a choice, that's just sitting around the house. And it doesn't matter, there, what you consume. You could be watching "Will & Grace" or "Babylon 5" or one of a zillion sad reality programming ventures, and nobody cares. Unless you're a Nielsen family, they don't know and they can't tell. Advertisers are fronting the bill. It's bought and paid for. When you're deciding where to spend your entertainment dollar, if you want something that's neither food nor drink nor concert-based, you're really consistently making the same choice.
You are going to the movies.
And how do they rule? Tyrannically, cruelly, with little regard for your pleasure. They do not want you to have a good time. They do not want you to enjoy yourself. They want you to pay your money, and be satisfied enough that you will not ask for said money back.
High standards we've got.
Sure, you're not entirely in control of this one either. You head to your local multiplex, and even if you're dying to see Lost in Translation, you don't have that choice. You have to choose between Cheaper by the Dozen and Elf, between Mona Lisa Smile and Honey.
Someone else higher up, someone with the money and the clout, has decided for you. They've limited your options. They're the ones who are putting forward that sad, mediocre, low standard. Because it's easier to distribute something that's not risky, something that will bring in larger crowds. Memento is, for many of us, genius. Is it something 90% of America is willing to see for a relaxing Saturday afternoon matinee? Not a chance.
And this is why you go to the movie theater and all you have to choose between are Terminator 3 and Bad Boys II.
But instead of ditching them, instead of seeking your entertainment somewhere else, you choose the lesser of two evils, because it's good enough.
You shouldn't be happy with what's just good enough. You should want something better.
And there's the secret. The problem. The challenge. Because as much as I want to blame you, it's my fault just as much as yours. I rant and I rave and I sarcasticize my way around town, but I've still got the DVD of Daredevil sitting on my entertainment center, because even though it might not be great, I expect it to be at least mildly entertaining.
I expect it to be good enough.
So I'm just as guilty as you are, and if the entertainment industry continues to release middling product that just barely entertains us, we've got no one but ourselves to blame.
Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
1.5.04 @ 5:08a
I brought both Daredevil and Hulk to work with me tonight, expecting to watch at least one to fill in the void between the early evening rush and the early morning rush; both remain where I set them, 12 hours ago.
So since I didn't get to watch them when I needed mindless entertainment to keep me awake, am I obligated to watch them still, in order to recoup some of my financial outlay?
1.5.04 @ 8:33a
While I must admit that about ninety percent of the films set out there to amuse and edify me do not do either, I still have that ten percent which generally do. If there are explosions, car chases or blood spatter I generally do not pay my money for it. If Brad, Tom, Julia, Emma or Hugh are in it, I generally do pay my money and thoroughly enjoy it. There's just no accounting for taste. Betcha never heard that one before!
1.5.04 @ 9:49a
They've already got your money.
That said, do NOT watch Hulk. It is not an action movie worthy of the name. It would not have kept you awake.
Play Civ instead. You can get the Conquests expansion for $10 on Amazon.
1.5.04 @ 10:17a
I'll not take the blame!
Sure, I love good films - Usual Suspects, Training Day. But Hollywood has a trend - if you can't make a good film, make a half-ass film that is so similar to a prior good movie that MAYBE nobody will notice!
Example: film innovation: Memento: a guy who can’t remember tattoos notes on himself as he gets clues. Cheap knockoff: Paycheck Ben leaves clues in an envelope to figure out what happened. Should have left a note and made it easier on himself (loser!)
So I’ll watch crap like 2 Fast 2 Furious instead. Why watch something that just is a poor substitute for a good movie, when I can watch a huge bomb and laugh contemplating how anyone ever approved the script / agreed to play the roles / directed / funded / etc. The comedy of errors is too hysterical!
1.5.04 @ 10:19a
I'd go watch plays if they were more like Tivo. When I get bored or have to go to the bathroom I could just shout out pause and freeze the moment. Now that would be good stuff!
Kidding of course but it does show you how mindless our viewing habits are becoming.
1.5.04 @ 10:52a
I watched Swept Away just to see how bad it would be. 15 minutes in, I said, "The coals are too hot - I can't take it anymore - turn it off, turn it off!" but no, I stayed through the whole, disasterous affair, driven by the pure and complete disbelief that it could be as bad as it was.
That's a different form of entertainment altogether.
1.5.04 @ 11:11a
Ditto Glitter. And in some ways, I can get behind that kind of HBO viewing, because you're paying for the channel, not the movie. DVD even channels money into the coffers of mediocrity. HBO has original programming and some of the best stuff on TV... plus, utter trash! I can't count the number of times I've seen small slices of Drumline.
Walker, I don't think they were trying to make Memento out of Paycheck; I think they were trying to make Total Recall out of Paycheck. Anyway, we can only hope it does poorly. I'm ready for Ben Affleck to be done already, and to go the way of Vin "This Pan's Done Flashing" Diesel.
1.5.04 @ 12:55p
I thought they were trying to make The Bourne Identity out of Paycheck.
I won't be watching either of the two movies as I left them on my desk this morning. Must be my unconscious mind, attempting to protect me. And I'll get my Jen Garner fix next Sunday anyway.
And...no Conquests for Mac. Yet. If ever.
1.5.04 @ 1:36p
The funny thing about Daredevil is that in the in-flight magazine description I read last month, most of the rundown is about Jennifer Garner. Affleck isn't even mentioned until the last sentence, even though he's the main character.
How things change.
1.5.04 @ 1:39p
I admit it, I will watch some crap on TV, but when it comes to my entertainment dollar, I'm rather frugal. This weekend I went to see "Big Fish" and we were late. My roomate suggested that we see something else instead, but I refused. I'm not dropping $10 to see something I truly don't care to see. Even if it looks "good" but not "great," I'll wait for video.
Though when I was at Blockbuster the other day, I was truely inclined to rent "Gigli" strictly to find out if it could really be that bad.
1.5.04 @ 1:49p
For what it's worth, Swept Away really is that bad. At least the parts I saw before my brain started threatening me with hysterical blindness and deafness.
1.5.04 @ 4:03p
I watched the original Italian version of Swept Away, which in interesting in a historical and cultural sense because it deals with class "warfare" as it existed in Italy during the mid 1900's.
The Madonna remake without the cultural context is about as logical as making a remake of a world war II movie set in the future, but without any explaination as to why anyone is at war.
Where's my popcorn?
1.5.04 @ 4:38p
Oh wow - I didn't know it was a remake.
That makes it even worse.
See, Glitter I could laugh at, because Mariah, like Madonna, takes her acting soooo seriously, but the semi-autobiographical stuff was over the top. In Swept Away, it was that husband and wife effort that made it just gawdawful.
Yeah, when Gigli lands on HBO, you can bet I'll be parked right in front of it.
HBO: Original Programming, and Other Shit You'd Never, Ever Pay for.
I actually enjoyed Drumline, because I used to go to the band playoffs at Grambling University in Louisiana, and therefore, thought it was true to life and fun. I thought Drumline was a lot like Bring It On - again, a free HBO selection I never would have seen otherwise.
1.5.04 @ 5:08p
I enjoyed Drumline the first time. Now I'm just sick to death of it. Even in Spanish. And Powder. Why must they constantly show Powder???
Swept Away? The actor who plays the main guy is the son of the guy who played the main guy in the original. Giancarlo Giannini, I think.
1.5.04 @ 10:54p
I've been avoiding Swept Away because, well, I'll admit it, I only like Madonna when she's singing. I loved Evita, and Dick Tracy, but just have her act and I'm bored.
As for Glitter. Oh, no. I can't use that kind of language here. Well I could, but I think you get my point.
I wanted to see Paycheck because John Woo directed it. I overlooked the fact Affleck was in it. He was very good in Daredevil, but I love just about any comic book generated film.
1.6.04 @ 12:06p
swept away: 1974 version.