In Defense of Being a Movie Snob [OPINION]
I’m a movie snob; I admit it and I see no problem with it. I’m highly critical of cinema because of my passion for it. Yes, it’s an art form and art is subjective, but I also believe there are aspects to film, just like any art, that are measurable and go to determine the quality of the piece and the skill of the people responsible for it. A lot of movie-goers today seem to confuse the idea of a “Good movie” with an “Enjoyable Movie”. Yes, you go to the movies to be entertained, but just because you find enjoyment in something doesn’t automatically mean it’s a quality piece. Your toddler is walking across the living room, stops, and makes a dramatic gesture while farting. Odds are you’re going to laugh your butt off, but you’d never call that one fart the pinnacle of comedy. However, many comedies today rely on humor to the level of a toddler farting and suddenly it’s a hit at the box office.
I perfectly understand that the point of any movie is to entertain the audience and make money. But I don’t think that’s an excuse to provide poor quality to that audience. With how expensive movie tickets have become over the past fifteen years, you’d think the quality of the product would reflect the change in price. If you shell out more money at the grocery store, you expect to be paying for a higher quality item. But when it comes to movies, many people are quick to turn a blind eye to bad movies as long as it entertains them. How many people flip their lid and complain at Starbucks when a $5 Frappuccino doesn’t taste right, but they’re perfectly fine dropping $10 a ticket, plus $20 at the concession stand, to see Adam Sandler run around in a wig and dress with the worst Jewish accent in the history of film?
An enjoyable movie isn’t always good, just like a good movie isn’t always enjoyable. The true point of a film, and its basic point and value, is to tell a story. The success in telling that story is a huge factor, though not the only factor, in one enjoying the movie. However, the nature of the story will also make a person like the film or not. Take “The Godfather” for example. One of my favorite films and widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever. But a lot of people have expressed displeasure with the movie, primarily because they find it boring. And honestly, I can’t say I blame them. I recognize the cinematic achievement that is “Gone with the Wind”, but I can’t stand the movie. I’m so bored by it because I find no interest in the subject material. Same goes for people with “The Godfather”. The amazing writing and performances won’t be enough to sway someone if they aren’t interested in the subject material. Same can be said for music. You may not be a fan of the Beatles, but you cannot deny their mastery of making music.
There’s no text book that says, “To write a good script you have to first do A, then B, then C, etc.” But when a movie fails to do something, it’s easy to see. There are different styles to writing, but basic points that must be addressed in any script, such as the necessity for the audience to connect to the major characters, hero or villain. In the case of the hero the audience needs to feel sympathy/empathy, and for the villain the audience should love to hate them, or even root them on. This was a major problem for a lot of people with the “Twilight” films in that the character of Bella wasn’t a likeable person. Her motivations across the films are entirely selfish, only concerned about her relationship with Edward, sacrificing her friendships and family relationships in the process. Normally, a good screen writer can have a lead character like that but still give the audience something about her to like by having the character redeemed of her unsavory ways, but by the end of the series Bella simply got her way, learning no lesson and making no true amends for the harm and hurt she put on others. Where the films did succeed in terms of writing came from the other secondary characters, such as Bella’s friends and the Cullen family, who were far more interesting and fleshed out, blending the unlikable and likable aspects into a complete character.
By far the most successful film of 2012 was “The Avengers”. Joss Whedon’s script had the balance needed to carry the audience for over two hours, but also make you like just about every character you meet, no matter if they are the hero or villain. Tom Hiddleston played the major villain Loki, but his performance combined with Whedon’s dialogue made the character a likable and enjoyable one, but you never forgot that Loki was the bad guy.
But even movies that are critically successful can fail, and fail hard, when it comes to something like script writing. Widely acclaimed by critics and fans alike, the Harry Potter films are full of Deus Ex Machina (“God out of a machine”) and Fan Service, major plot points entered without acceptable pretense or explanation. Across the entire series there are many instances that only make sense to those who are intimately knowledgeable of the book series. Over the course of the movies the audience never finds out who gave Harry his father’s invisibility cloak, who created the Marauder’s Map, or why Snape is the Half-Blood Prince. These are minor plot points indeed, but still items that were focused on at some point during the story but never brought to their conclusion. But if you read the books you’d know that it was Dumbledore who gave Harry the cloak (revealed at the end of the first book), Harry’s Dad, Lupin, Sirius, and Pettigrew are the creators of the Maruader’s Map (we see Sirius and Lupin show understanding of the map and even later use their nicknames from the map, but their status as its creators is never said), and Snape called himself the Half Blood Prince because he’s a half-blood wizard whose mother had the surname Prince. In the last film while talking with the ghosts of his fallen friends and family, Harry makes reference to Lupin’s new son. This line seems completely out of nowhere because the audience is never even shown that Lupin and his wife Tonks were expecting. The last time we see those characters together Tonks says she has something to tell everyone, but is cut off. When it comes down to it, as the Potter films progressed, they became less for a general audience and more for those who already knew the story, a major failure for any film.
There are so many aspects to movie making that I can talk about that help bring a quality product to the screen, like cinematography, directing, set design, etc. But for the sake of not making this longer than it already will be, I’m only going to focus as writing and acting, two aspects that go hand-in-hand. A great actor is nothing without a quality script and story, just as the script doesn’t live up to its full potential without the actor giving an inspired performance. Name recognition has always been a driving force with marketing a film, getting the audience to come to see a movie because it stars an actor they like. Unfortunately, name recognition isn’t the case anymore, its character recognition. Instead of banking on a particular actor’s acting ability, studios are banking on an actor’s character they are known for, and likely playing again. Look at the films of Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Seth Rogan, and Jonah Hill. All of these guys are famous for playing the same characters in nearly every movie they are in, but when they branch out and play a different type of character, the film goes unnoticed or not rembembered by audiences. Even an Academy Award nominated actor like Will Smith, who has shown impressive acting ability, falls into the rut of playing the same character over and over again, “Bad Boys”, “Wild Wild West”, “Independence Day”, “Hitch”, and “Men In Black” just to name a few. But then actors like Gary Oldman, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Daniel Day Lewis, men who live up to the title of “actor” take on characters unlike themselves, aren’t considered box office draws and rarely get the audience attention shown towards actors like Vaughn and Rogan.
Just because I’m a movie snob, that doesn’t mean I expect others to be snobs. I do however hope that people in general would hold their entertainment to a higher standard. We as a society constantly complain about the lowering of standards in things such as politics and education, but we celebrate mediocrity in film and television. We idolize actors who don’t really act, praise movies that don’t tell a complete story, and spend top dollar to watch a two-hour CGI demo reel. Not every movie needs to be on the level of “The Godfather”, but that doesn’t mean the filmmakers should just slack off and not try to produce something of quality, nor audiences should just continue to flock to the theater to see something that insults their intelligence.