It’s been a while since I went to see a movie. I should try to go more often; I do enjoy going to the movies, despite all the evidence to the contrary in my rantings.
I went, recently, to see a movie, with a sense of morbid curiosity and on the recommendation of a friend. It should be noted that the recommendation was “didn’t make me want to strangle the director”, take from that what you will.
I went in expecting 180 minutes of action sequence and scenery, and that’s pretty much exactly what I got, with a couple of nice surprises amongst the facepalm moments.
The film, by the way, was the Tarzan movie. While I feel like I’m doing it a disservice by not talking about the representation and portrayal elements, I am so not qualified to tackle that topic in this particular context. I’ll leave it at “the premise is pretty problematic to begin with, so I didn’t expect much. What I got could have been a heck of a lot worse, but still had some glaring, glaring issues, probably including several more I didn’t even consider.”
But on a technical level, it’s pretty emblematic of a problem I’ve had with most of the big blockbuster movies I’ve been to see in the last year or two.
It had about six plotlines, and four antagonists. And that’s too many for a movie with a two-hour runtime.
I have no idea what’s going on in the movie industry at the moment. That’s not an expression of hyperbolic frustration – I honestly just don’t keep up with it as much as I do other media industries, so I don’t know what the state of the industry is. But I can’t help but get a niggling feeling that it’s a state of mild panic.
I’ve talked before about how the TV show is rising in popularity as a medium. More and more books, (such as True Blood, Game of Thrones, or Hannibal) are getting adapted into TV shows instead of movies. I like this idea – there’s more room in a series, even a mini-series, and it allows a more complete adaptation. Now, this is not a new idea, but I think it is becoming more popular for high-profile single novels or short series, rather than being reserved for long series (Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie’s characters, for example).
It also used to be that the only way you could see a movie was to either go to the movies or obtain a hard copy, either buying it or renting it. Now that people are switching to digital, and especially to streaming services for a certain amount per month, movie ticket sales are increasingly the main (sometimes only) source of revenue for movies.
I can’t help but think this is freaking out the movie industry a little bit. The push to make blockbusters big and exciting so that people will go back and see them again and recommend them to their friends is increasing. I think there is also a push to make movies “smarter”, as criticism looks increasingly down on cliché, fairy-floss or popcorn movies.
So, we end up with movies like Age of Ultron, the fourth Transformers movie, the 2016 Tarzan movie, the second Amazing Spiderman movie (with Andrew Garfield), the later Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and so many others, that felt like they had just a little bit more story to tell and ended up bloated, and ultimately the worse for it. Movies that feel like they could have ended really nicely there, but what do you mean there’s another hour left? Movies with three villain battles in the space of about twenty minutes (looking directly at you, Tarzan) because they had all these people who had some unfinished business with the protagonist(s) and they needed to wrap them all up in the climax of the movie. Movies that make you think ‘wait, which one is the main conflict again?’
What was the point of this movie again?
Movies cannot treat themselves like TV shows, and they cannot treat themselves like novels. Movies have to get into the mindset of the short story. They have limited space and thus must have limited plot.
This is not a bad thing. A simple plot doesn’t mean a simplistic plot. It just means a plot that doesn’t have six damn villains in it. I sincerely hope that’s not too much to ask.