The dirty little secret about me is that I love big action movies.
Well, I would love them, if they weren’t so lame. I mean, for $250 million you should be able to have things blow up and come up with a story that makes sense. Wow, you might even throw in characters you could give a damn about, too. I mean, I know those big bloated action pix make a ton, but might it be possible for the studios to even make more bringing intelligent adults (like me) back into the multiplex?
I do go occasionally, if only to be reminded why I don’t go more often (can you say “Prometheus?”).
So why don’t the studios think that story is important? In my recent interview with Morning Edition and LA Times critic Ken Turan, he explained it this way:
This is a dollar driven business. And it’s not clear to the studios…first of all it’s hard to make an intelligent film. It’s just harder…with special effects you just throw money at it and you’ve solved the problem. You throw money at a script and you may get nowhere. So it’s harder to get it done, or it’s not clear that it means more money and it just becomes something the studios are not averse to but it’s not a priority.
Which is why I left the first J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” movie so excited a few years back and why I returned to see “Into Darkness” last night. And loved it.
Now admittedly, I have a relationship with this franchise (see picture), and that makes it easier for the filmmakers to create a world that is emotionally satisfying in a way that the majority of blockbusters are not. But a reboot also poses it’s own set of problems – you’re often trying to please two, often mutually exclusive, audiences – in this case, altacockers like me who grew up with Kirk and crew and are attached to the “old ways,” and the young folks who don’t know Sulu from Hulu and expect some bang for their buck.
I just can’t believe how Abrams and crew succeed for both crowds. And I think that’s because they are so focussed on story as the starting point.
Yes, we can sit here and pick the plot apart for logic flaws. But the point is that with a focus on story and character and great dialogue, those flaws are not so glaring. And when you do identify them, you’re much more forgiving. I had to really put my mind to it to figure out what really didn’t make sense in this film (of course there’s plenty), but frankly I don’t go to movies like this to think.
I understand the reticence to put a priority on story. But I think the studios are leaving money on the table. Look at the top grossing movies of all time. What’s a common denominator for most of them? Underlying all that expensive production value and star power, there’s a real story (I cannot explain the success of the “Transformers” movies).
I know I’m not breaking any new ground here, but I think it bears repeating. Mostly because I want to be able to put my Spock ears (or other geeked-out fanboy accouterment) and head back to the theater for a popcorn movie more often!
I want to give a shout out to Jon Favreau, another director who gets this concept. I loved the first “Iron Man” and don’t forget “Zathura,” a great – if overlooked - sci-fi film with story and character. His use of practical (rather than CG) effects also gives the film a kind of heart that the big digital epics just can’t touch. The DVD has a great featurette about how they used in-camera effects…I’m trying to get my hands on it. Here’s a sample…