In defense of the silly summer movie

2009/08/13

Like many of those of my gender, one of the many reasons I look forward to the summer is that there are often a slate of movies released during the season, often of a particular style. You know the ones – some city/country/planet is imperiled by some nefarious types, and it is up to the hero/heroine/ensemble of heroic types to save the day. If you’re at all familiar with this type of movie, you’ve also just read the sum total of the plot of such movies. This summer, of course, is no exception, with at least two major releases falling into this category, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. [1] I will also freely admit that I watched both movies and enjoyed both, with some qualifications that I’ll explain later.

Almost invariably, movies of this type are reviled by the cinematic critical establishment; I’m sure we’re all familiar with the complaints, many of them, admittedly, legitimate. Plotlines in such movies tend to be simple and predictable. Characters, even the main ones, are often framed in rudimentary terms, at best, and often lean more towards caricature than realism. Dialogue, what little of it exists, is also quite simple and, more often than not, banal and/or silly. Pacing tends to be frenetic, with little chance for even a brief respite from the action. Even so, I submit that these are not the reasons that people want to watch such movies.

People watch these movies for one simple reason: they’re fun. No, they’re not the most intellectually stimulating fodder, but that’s just not the point; for that matter, they they were never intended to be such. Honestly, if you’re venturing to the theaters to watch one of these movies, and you think you’ll be sitting through a riveting, dramatic, culturally significant event, well, what planet do you come from? Why would you have such expectations in the first place? Silly you. You really shouldn’t be expecting such things. While I understand the criticisms of such movies, I’m also not convinced that they should really matter, either. One wonders why the film critics so often appear surprised that these movies don’t live up to their haughty standards. At the same time, it is not surprising that people often perceive an intellectual bias on the part of those who espouse such perspectives; why else would one evince such contempt for the filmmakers who bother cobbling together such drivel, when they could be pursuing nobler goals? Indeed, it is for such reasons as this that common folks often disparage the elitist tendencies of those whose lofty expectations are clearly not out of step with the reality of that with which the latter are presented. One wonders why such individuals expect every film to be an intellectual masterpiece of the medium, even though it is plainly obvious from past experience that it is unnecessary for films to be formatted thusly to be both popular and financially successful. [2]

Don’t get me wrong; I am not an anti-intellectual by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy plenty of intellectually stimulating pursuits (even if my puny brain gets hurt in the process); I am proud of having read the books that I have, visited and appreciated art collections, played a musical instrument, [3] etc., etc. That said, I also enjoy shutting off my brain for awhile, and engaging in far simpler pursuits. Like watching movies that have almost no plotline, but involve lots of explosions and wanton destruction. Sometimes, it is useful to have that “break” from more serious pursuits. After all, the Roman intelligentsia often watched the various public games, and while most of them decried the spectacle, I would wager that some of them probably did enjoy watching, regardless. [4] In many ways, I enjoy such movies far more so than those that pretend to be more intellectual than they truly are; [5] at least the former are more honest about themselves. Mind you, I also enjoy movies that are both fun and smart; I just don’t expect that every film I see will live up to this standard, nor do I often care if the movie does not do so. Very often, I enjoy watching a given movie because I get to see exactly what I expected to see; simply put, I tailor my expectations to what the film is likely to offer, rather than expecting the movie to offer something that it clearly will not. As such, I am not often disappointed.

So, do yourselves a favor: ignore those silly talking-head critics (I almost always do), turn off your brain, and relax. Not every activity in which you engage needs to be intellectually stimulating. No, you won’t be getting any smarter by watching such movies as these, but unless you’re really trying to use your brain during them, I doubt you’ll be getting any dumber, either.

Notes:

[1]: Regardless of the merits of these movies, I find the use of the colons in these titles rather amusing. Oh sure, I understand the marketing aspect involved (both are based on toylines), but still.

[2]: Such as in the case of the G.I. Joe movie, which raked in somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million USD on its worldwide opening weekend. I wonder how many of those viewers went into the movie expecting it to be the most intellectually substantial film of the year…

[3]: Piano, if you must know, though I wasn’t particularly good at it. I’m not even sure I enjoyed it all that much. On the other hand, I also learned decent hand-eye coordination from doing so, and the ability to read sheet music is actually applicable outside of the musical field, albeit in the abstract, so it was useful.

[4]: To be fair, those that did enjoy watching the games probably did feel guilty afterwards. I suppose this is fitting.

[5]: At least two come to mind, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Core; both because they took their underlying concepts and wrapped them in layers of pseudoscience to make them seem “plausible” and serious, even though said basic concepts were laughably foolish. Okay, okay, anthropogenic global warming might be happening, but it is thus far unproven; as for us inadvertently stopping the core of the Earth from spinning, there’s just too much garbage here to even try untangling it. I should also point out that I do own a DVD copy of The Core, though its not because I find the movie compelling on any level; rather, I have said copy because I found the scientific idiocy of the movie so extraordinary as to actually be funny. Yes, you read that right. Don’t look at me like that; you know you’ve got your own guilty pleasures.

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