A friend of mine told me recently that her adult son liked to see movies where the fight scenes looked “real.” And for that reason, he would not see “Avatar.” This is a valid argument perhaps, however it is certainly not the only reason I would choose not to see “Avatar.”
If I believe that the world in which the aliens live is a viable and realistic depiction of an alien life-force, I would go see “Avatar.” If I believe that the dialogue between the main characters is witty and realistic and engaging, I would go see any movie.
If I believe that I will learn something or become engaged in an emotion and/or cathartic moment of cinematic magic, I will see a film. Movies are meant to be viewed and reviewed by all different types of people. Some movies are not “my cup of tea” but I know they are valid and have merit.
Other films I love and realize they are not viewed in the same light by many other people. The same is true for all art forms, including paintings and literature. But the criteria for movie-going cannot be narrowed to a bias that some of another generation can reduce to “kick-ass” cinema, as I call it. “Kick-ass cinema” can be defined as a type of film where the predominant emotion is one of elation when the hero “kicks-ass” against the protagonist and the entire film-making experience is cathartic only for those who view life through a very narrow window.
This is not really a new problem for film-makers and there are a number of films that have been made from the post-WWII generation through today catering to the “kick-ass” audience. However, the types of films that have lingered in the highest-grossing list and the ones that have earned sequels in the past ten to twenty years represent the “dumbing-down’ of a large portion of the movie-going audience.
To be fair, films like Titanic & Avatar don’t really figure in this category. But films like “Fast & Furious”, Transformers and other mindless high-speed car chase action films are fast becoming the sure-fire hits for Hollywood studios. These films are the counter-point to the small, independent pictures that have been made in the U.S. and abroad since the ‘60’s.
The breakdown of the old Hollywood studio system did spawn independent and foreign films that make us think. But the “kick-ass” brand of film-making makes money and that is why they are here to stay. At some point in our lives, as we age, we start to ask ourselves how much money we want to spend to be entertained by the same mindless pap that is being paraded on screen and masquerades for “entertainment?” Speaking for myself, this is a nasty apocalyptic thought. Even the notion of having to waste two or more hours sitting through this type of dribble has made the very thought of becoming a film critic akin to someone condemned to a torture chamber.
One of the most satisfying addendums I have seen in recent times comes in one of my least favorite movie guides, “Entertainment Weekly.” In the sidebar, there is a list where the highest-grossing films of all times are adjusted for inflation, and the list begins to look quite different. (“Gone with the Wind” comes out on top, I do believe!)
So the good news is that there are still great films being made, even in Hollywood. But the demand is high for pabulum and dribble being churned out of Hollywood simply to generate revenue, and that is all we may eventually get. Imagination and originality in plots and content are all that should be asked for in good film-making. It’s not too much to ask and we should all demand more of it in the days and decades to come.