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Big, dumb popcorn movies - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Big, dumb popcorn movies
So, after working for a long time without a day off (I volunteered for a couple of Sundays, forgetting that I also had a Saturday plus the normal weekdays in there), I had today off, and thought about going to the movies, because one of the girls asked me how long it had been since I went to a movie, and I realized... pretty much, last summer.

Only when I dropped into the local multiplex, I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to spend money on anything there.

I want summer.

Because I LOVE big, dumb popcorn movies.

Apparently, this is not a phase.

It's weird. I've always been English major material in a lot of ways (though I ended up in comparative religion because I liked the stories better), and I like character work and do it in my personal writing. But in terms of movies?

Well, a review of Speed once said, paraphrased, that the movie was fun because it did well at knowing what it was about--"big, dumb things moving fast." Add "blowing up" (and a couple of things did in Speed), and I'm halfway to a fan. It has to have some plot and a stab at character here and there--a Vin Diesel fan, I'm not--but ultimately? Yeah. It can be relatively smart, like Narnia, or fairly dopey, like Independence Day, and it can be in several genres.

I keep expecting to wake up some morning with a burning desire to go to small theaters and watch little art films. All my life, I've expected that sooner or later, growing up as a Smart Person (tm) would mean that I would miraculously cease enjoying Harrison Ford growling "GET OFF MY PLANE!" at Crazy Gary Oldman (I bought the Air Force One DVD today on a whim), and take to really, really wanting to see a fine exploration of surburban hypocrisy. I've enjoyed a few small films (Shattered Glass kinda ruled), and I like seeing them on television, but mostly, on the big screen, I like my movies BIG, the sort of movie that you come out of shadow-boxing bad guys, and I don't seem to be outgrowing it one little bit.

Being an intellectual despite this, I have to analyze it.

First, totally honest and non-intellectual, it's just fun. I don't attend movies because they're good for me, like I might eat broccoli or do an hour on the treadmill. I go to the movies as a form of recreation. I therefore expect to have fun.

Second, getting into more high-falutin' stuff, it's more fun to analyze fluff than it is to analyze things that were written with the express purpose of being analyzed. Saying that American Beauty is an indictment of meaningless suburban life is dull, because, well, that's what it is, and what it's supposed to be. Saying that Twister is a commentary on the disintegration of the American family, or ID4 is a metaphor about the puzzlements of modern life, on the other hand, amuses me endlessly... mostly because the case can be made, and all the pieces fall neatly into place. It's not a counter-interpretation--for all I know, those themes were meant--but it's definitely something you have to dig for a little, which makes it much more fun than the dinosaur bones that have already been oh-so-artfully arranged and placed behind a velvet rope in a museum. And sometimes those old bones have more life than you think. Oh, wait, entering thematic Jurassic Park area. (Dangerous rise of nostalgia, anyone?) It's pure bullshit whether it's intended or not, since the greatest intention of these films is to be entertaining and rake in some bucks, but it makes me happy.

Finally, there's the one that I think would break my sophomore creative writing teacher's brain: I have a sneaking admiration for the writing.

Gasp, shudder.

No, I'm not complimenting the undying dialogue of Star Wars (though it has its own stylized kind of charm, if by charm you mean, "You'll never forget it because it's so very, very unnatural"... which is, imho, part of the reason it's written the way it is, and why I don't hate it the way some writers seem to). I'm talking about the action sequences themselves. I find character studies very easy--just observation of people, with an ability to tell the truth about what you see and a grasp of the fundamentals of writing. But action? Plot? Man... those are work. Foreshadowing, setting up climaxes, keeping track of which person is where on the stage when you've got a five way battle going on? Plus keeping the prose/film punchy and exciting? That's something I struggle with, and therefore something I admire when other people seem to do it so effortlessly.

When's it going to be summer????? I need PotC: At World's End. Stat. ;p
14 comments or Leave a comment
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: March 9th, 2007 10:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fern, I owe you a big one.

I finally, after listening to you rave about On Writing by Stephen King for so long, read it.

I want to own this book.

Thanks for the rec.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 9th, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Any time! It's a neat book. (And manages to be a love song to his wife at the same time it's a writing manual. I think it may also slice, dice, and make perfect julienne fries.)
trinity_clare From: trinity_clare Date: March 9th, 2007 10:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, ditto. Ditto ditto ditto.

For me, it's partially that I'm somewhat of an escapist. I don't go to the movie theater to see the dirty truths of my society revealed to me. I go for plotty, good-looking, competently written, neatly-tied-up stories with a little suspense and a dash of cliched romance. Now obviously I watch all kinds of movies, but I might like those the best. Actually, any movie with good, quotable one-liners is a good movie in my book. Which, come to think of it, is me being a product of my upbringing in a family that watches a lot of movies and hoards the one-liners to the point of being able to carry on whole conversations in movie quotes.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 9th, 2007 10:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think there's a distinct difference in what people perceive movies as there to do. Me? Aside from just seeing them as amusement park rides of various sorts, I look at them as kind of cultural campfires, which the tribe all gathers around to hear the community's mythic stories, which are almost always simple, and whose characters are often deliberately Every(wo)man types, specifically so that everyone watching can feel connected and understand what the story means on whatever level it means something. The other school of thought is more about art as self-expression and social critique. They're both valid, but I seem to be hard-wired toward the communal story preference.
trinity_clare From: trinity_clare Date: March 9th, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I like that image.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 10th, 2007 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)
"Aside from just seeing them as amusement park rides..."

This is one of the main reasons I go to these types of movies in the theater. It is like being on a great ride with a group of people who are all getting emotionally pulled together. I save most of the "art films" for viewing at home because I do not need the big screen to enjoy them.

I like your description of the "campfire". The idea of being with a group and eating flame licked food and getting a bit toasty on one side gets my blood going. I can't wait for summer flicks too.

I'll admit when I was watching TV the other day I saw an ad for TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and I got excited at the prospect. Lots of butt kicking, explosions, and one-liners... count me in.

ncp From: ncp Date: March 9th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like big, popcorn movies too, but I need some character development with my popcorn. I also have a deep aversion to clunky cliches. I hated Independence Day. The characters were cardboard cutouts and every movie convention was followed to the letter. OTOH, I loved Terminator 2, because there was something going on in people's heads, and the cliches snuck up on you.

Isn't 300 supposed to be big and popcornish? It's based on a graphic novel, it's bloody and violent, and plays fast and loose with historical fact. Plus it's just so pretty.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 9th, 2007 10:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, hey. Yeah. That one wasn't up at the multiplex I stopped in, but I was thinking it might be good.
shallanelprin From: shallanelprin Date: March 9th, 2007 10:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Bring on the summer and the big popcorn movies! When I spend money to actually go the theater, I want to be entertained - none of this serious, it's going to make me think and consider stuff. That's why Netflix is around (for chick flicks and serious movies). On the big screen give me action - chases and fights and things blowing up.

Summer list thus far: TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Transformers, PotC 3, Spiderman 3, OotP and I know I'm forgetting a couple...dang it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 9th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was so excited to see the TMNT commercial. I've been so out of touch that I didn't know they were making another one. Yay! Dunno about Transformers; depends on how much money I've spent on the others, but probably.
angua9 From: angua9 Date: March 9th, 2007 11:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
One thing I've had to gradually learn over the years is that being smart, even being an intellectual, is not the same as having highbrow tastes. The only field where I have "good taste" (in other words, where I naturally prefer the same things that specialists and critics think most highly of) is art. In all other fields - movies, books, music - my taste is quite firmly in the popular middlebrow region. Which is kind of good, actually, because the stuff I like I find there's rather a lot of. :) And lots of people to talk about it with.

And I strongly agree with you that creating action, excitement, suspense, and PLOT require craftsmanship worth praising and emulating.
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: March 10th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't buy your dichotomy, Fern, about "big & dumb = fun" and "arthouse = too intellectual to be fun". A year ago I'd have agreed with you, but last year in January, I got a Netflix subscription for the first time, and have since consistently watched 13-15 movies a month. The "big & dumb" stuff leaves me (at the risk of sounding melodramatic) empty inside. I've come to crave the thrill of the incredibly well made flick, there's really nothing like it.

Take PotC, for example. Far be it from me to knock it, because it was a heck of a ride, several times I was delighted and just gleeful at what I was experiencing, and it makes me want to be a Johnny Depp fangirl.

But it didn't stay with me. Now, A Streetcar Named Desire did all of the above (ooooooooooooooooooh, Marlon Brando!!!) plus it made a very lasting impression. It's not an arthouse flick, but it's considered 'highbrow', but sheer fun I had watching it is matched by very few other movies - like The Wicker Man (1973 version, creepiest movie I ever saw), This Is Spinal Tap (rotfl!), Z (1969, not only the best documentary, but also one of the best thrillers I've seen), Andrei Rublev (an old Russian movie about monks that will astound you, I guarantee), Fargo, The Children of Heaven (Iranian, charming beyond compare), and all those wonderful Billy Wilder movies, especially Sunset Blvd.

There're also big popcorn movies that cross the line into greatness - the prime example for me is Ferris Bueller. Just can't think of that movie without getting a big grin on my face, you know? That for me is FUN.

All this is a matter of taste, anyhow. But as a freshly minted movie buff, I have to disagree with you when you say "intellectual" can't appeal to the id.
knight_ander From: knight_ander Date: March 11th, 2007 01:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Trailer for PotC: At World's End comes out March 19th, so that might help. :)
aeterna13 From: aeterna13 Date: March 11th, 2007 02:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Not big and popcorn-y, but I just saw Bridge to Terabithia, and it was excellent. It's always hard to know with childrens' book adaptations, but this one was right on. I love the movie just as much as I loved the book when I was a kid, which might have something to do with the fact that I haven't read the book in years and therefore was not nit-picking the details of it, but you know it's probably better that way anyway.
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