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And Another Thing

July 6th, 2011

Okay, I may be a little bit defensive about my movie choices.

What it comes down to is that I don’t like being made to feel as if the ways in which I choose to squander my precious hours don’t meet the approved standard of time-wastery. The truth is that I’ve watched more of my life tick away trapped in pointless meetings during a given week than I’ve given over to Michael Bay in my entire life. If I want to blow a couple of hours watching the Chicago skyline collapse, what’s it to anyone else?

Recently, my friend Dave pointed out a blog post by Leonard Pierce that decried “the allegedly anti-’snob’ pseudo-populism that acts like it’s scoring some valuable critical point by making fun of straw-man ‘hipsters’ who only like indie movies.” Pierce’s argument was that “it’s a bullying cultural attitude…a triumphalist mainstream movement grabbing for the throats of a tiny minority of dissenters just because they can.” He added, “The kind of people who love blockbuster movies, conversely, have totally and completely won.”

I come away with a completely opposite view. I live in a college town, and I’ve spent enough time around not-at-all-straw-men hipsters, feeling belittled because I deigned to see Batman Forever or Tomb Raider. That tiny minority can seem awfully large when it’s sitting across the table mocking you.

So, yeah, I’m kinda sensitive.

I also disagree–in part–with the assertion that the blockbuster crowd has “won.” Yes, the lion’s share of resources are devoted to summer spectacles, not just because that’s where the money is, but because that’s what it takes to make them. No one would–or should–spend $150 million on My Dinner with Andre. Yet, despite the best efforts of Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean, indie films and prestige pictures continue to exist. Industry types like making them, and love giving each other awards for them.

I’d argue that the people who love blockbusters have about three months out of the year to enjoy them: May, June and July. August is usually given over to would-be tentpoles that didn’t turn out as well as the studio hoped. September and October are fallow months of minor comedies and medium-budget horrors. You get some big films in late November and December, but it’s mostly Oscar bait season. Then comes the long, cold winter of January to April, the elephant’s graveyard of Hollywood. (Yes, there are exceptions, and blockbuster fodder is starting to creep into early spring.)

After Harry Potter and Captain America open later this month, there’s nothing I’m excited about until December 16 and the Sherlock Holmes sequel. Don’t tell me that I’ve won.

I find it strange to be in the position of defending Michael Bay–especially in light of my searing hatred for Armageddon–but I honestly don’t see a great deal of difference between the likes of Transformers and the Saturday-matinee fodder that a lot of us old-timey sci-fi fans cherish. For every truly great film like The Day the Earth Stood Still or Forbidden Planet, there were a hundred more empty programmers like The Land Unknown or The Deadly Mantis. Did people attend George Pal’s War of the Worlds or When Worlds Collide for the characters, or to see state-of-the-art movie technology employed for the sole purpose of blowing shit up? Did anyone really care about the talky stuff going on between effects sequences in a Ray Harryhausen flick? (The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad excepted.)

I’ve “wasted” an awful lot of my life watching dumb-stupid crap like The Angry Red Planet, Queen of Blood and Crack in the World. Today I spent my afternoon off with my DVD of The Last Dinosaur, featuring Richard Boone, Joan Van Ark and a rubber tyrannosaurus. I’m sure that someone would argue that these low-budget movies of the past are somehow more pure than the modern blockbuster, but I know in my heart that junk food is junk food.

And some days–most days, to be honest–I just want an exploding Twinkie.

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