There is a pattern that is emerging in film these days. It is a rather tragic pattern, and doesn’t give enough respect for the people who have come before. It is a pattern that honestly gets on one’s nerves, if they share the same views. It seems to happen with a lot of great filmmakers these days, and it should be discussed more, because honestly, like every other element of culture, what one sees when they look back on cinema is important. However, since this is all subjective, many may not agree, but the fact is that this does need to be discussed. The great failing of modern cinema is that it doesn’t seem to take its audience very seriously.
Take a look at a lot of the movies that really bring in big bucks these days. Anything by Michael Bay will do. He is one of the great masters of believing that the cinema audience is nothing but a bunch of slack-jawed idiots who don’t care what is in a film, or what they are looking at. But then you get the people like James Cameron, who has a really bad habit of making some very good films, like Terminator or Aliens, and then turning around and making over-the-top crap like Avatar. There are films who tend to just believe that their audience is completely blind to everything but gorgeous effects.
To Bay and Cameron’s credit, both have created films that are visually gorgeous. As much as I hated Transformers, and all the subsequent sequels, I will give that these films looked great. The robots looked cool, and the battle scenes, if they could actually hold the camera steady for a second and not give the audience whiplash, were pretty awesome. But, both Transformers and Avatar suffered from the same thing – not taking their audience seriously.
If the success of filmmakers like Chris Nolan and Pixar animation studios has shown us anything, it is that people can actually handle very complex characters and interesting plots along with visual stimulation. Nolan remade a comic book character from the ruins that Joel Schumacher left it in after Tim Burton was ejected (for no good reason). He made it into something almost exclusively for adults. The Dark Knight was a film that only adults could truly enjoy. Children would probably be terrified by the psychoticness of the Joker, and the violence was a little much for kids at a lot of points.
And a lot of people have made the arguments that, with kid’s movies, that they are for kids, so they shouldn’t be so serious. This argument is a complete falsehood. Pixar has been able to create intellectually engaging films for both kids and adults. WALL-E had some great themes attached to it, like our over-indulgent culture, our dependence on machines, and our lack of accountability and our desire to take the easy way out instead of making the hard decisions. And a lot of kid’s movies have done the same.
The Secret of NIMH was one of the most visually beautiful films that was ever made. Everything Don Bluth did before 1990 was amazing. After that, well, nobody knows what happened. It also had an incredible storyline that is regarded by many fans of animated films to be one of the best. This is another problem that a lot of great filmmakers have. They start out wanting to take risks, to do their own thing, and after they start to make a lot of money, they become part of a culture of slackers who take the easy way out. Don Bluth is the perfect example. It was like he realized he had a lot of money, so he didn’t care what he created anymore.
Now, while Pixar was mentioned, it should be said that Disney has a back and forth problem of creating really arresting films, like one of the most perfect forms of visual poetry ever made, Fantasia, to their straight-to-video or dvd films, which won’t be mentioned here.
And the same thing happens with filmmakers for the older audiences as well. Take a look at M. Night. There are two M. Night Shyamalan’s. There is the first who made The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable (probably one of the most underrated films ever made), and then there is the one who made Signs, and every other film that followed. Here is a guy who seems to have just forgotten what people want to see. One could argue that Steven Spielberg had the same thing happen to him. After Jurassic Park, very little of what he did has consistently been good, although there are still some unsung heroes of his, like AI, which one could argue is one of the most thematically brilliant films that has been made in a long time.
The fact is that film creators have an obligation to the audiences to actually take what they do seriously. Great film is becoming a harder and harder thing to come by. The market is swamped with bad films now that straight-to-dvd films are becoming a huge market, although there is the occasional diamond in the rough in that market as well. And it has been proven that audiences like to be emotionally engaged. They like to be shown that we have enough respect to believe that they want to see a good movie.
The audience isn’t as stupid as Michael Bay believes them to be. At least, let’s hope they’re not.