Brittnie and I have had a pair of free movie tickets sitting on the bookshelf by our front door for months. Last night, we pondered why they are still sitting there, collecting a sheen of dust, rather than being torn in half at our local movie theater.
If you scoot around this site for a little while, it’ll become obvious that we’re BIG movie fans around here. Between the two of us, we own well over 500 DVDs, and depending on the time of year, we get anywhere between 5-8 Netflix discs out at a time (in addition to all the streaming we do.) We love everything from silent films, to hyper violent horror, to goofy anime, to Bollywood comedies, to epic political dramas, to…well, just about any kind of genre you can name. It doesn’t matter if a movie cost $5 or $5 million or $5 billion to make; it doesn’t matter if it has top-notch CGI, or uses 2-liter soda bottles for spaceships; it doesn’t matter if it’s long or short, new or old, funny or sad; if it’s a movie, chances are we’ll enjoy watching it, then dissecting and discussing it over a post-cinematic cigarette.
Our love of movies also, at one time, extended to going to movie theaters. I’ve waxed nostalgic about some of my movie theater experiences in the past, but I’ve never really discussed that nostalgia from a high-level view. There was always something awesome about greeting the ticket taker, waiting in line to buy overpriced food, walking across a sticky floor, and watching a movie on a big screen. The crowds, the noise, the aforementioned overpriced food…it’s all a part of an experience. That experience is one that both Brittnie and I loved and enjoyed for a long time, longer than we’ve even known each other, going farther back than either of us can remember (or care to admit!) Some of our happiest memories involve going to the movies, whether it be with family, friends, or each other.
That’s why it’s so sad to live less than a mile from one of the best theaters in all of Maryland, and yet have ZERO motivation to go. In fact, we’re about to renew our lease at this apartment for a second time, and I don’t think we’ve been to that theater once since we moved here. It’s not the crowds, the food, or anything like that; as I said before, we both consider that to be part of the experience. No, the problem is much deeper than that.
It’s not like stupid movies haven’t been made since the dawn of the industry 90 years ago. It’s not like remakes haven’t been around, and it’s not like sequels haven’t filled cinema marquees for decades. The problem isn’t even “the business”, as films have been considered a murky commercial venture almost as long as they’ve been around. I’m sad to say that the problem is one that may be irreparable: movies (and consequently movie theaters) have lost their spirit.
Every decade or so, we get the next generation’s Metropolis (that’s the Fritz Lang epic from the 20’s, not the anime from the aughts, although that one is definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it.) We’re talking about films that showcases the spectacle and ingenuity that a dedicated filmmaker is capable of, while simultaneously utilizing technology in new and/or hypercreative ways. In the interest of space, let’s start at an obvious point in film history: in the 70’s and 80’s, it was Star Wars that enabled film to break through the next technological and story barrier. In the 90’s, it was a tossup between Terminator 2 and the first entry in the Matrix series. In the aughts, it was Inception.
Most likely, your initial response involves yelling at your screen in an attempt to get me to recognize my stupidity in not mentioning any number of other movies, which leads to my point. The 70’s and 80’s had a TON of movies that pushed the special effects and story envelopes, like A Clockwork Orange, Suspiria, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, Videodrome, John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, The Breakfast Club (from a story and cultural standpoint rather than special effects, obviously), etc. The 90’s had things like Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction, Titanic, Forest Gump, Saving Private Ryan…just like the 70’s and 80’s, the 90’s were chock full of films that turned the film world on their head again and again, over and over, each one jockeying for the coveted “biggest impact on culture” position.
Now look at the time between 2000 and 2010. There are still a lot of films we can call out, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, Batman Returns/The Dark Knight, Avatar…but do you notice what’s happening? Aside from an increase in “series” and a decrease in “one-offs”, we’re starting to see movies that are shoe-ins for bringing in huge amounts of cash. Yes, some of them push the cultural barrier, and most if not all of them push the special effects barrier seemingly to its breaking point, but they are becoming increasingly packaged and formulaic; not just the result of an industry, but fine-tuned and specifically designed to bring in the most money possible.
Big-time modern movies are insanely expensive, which I completely understand. After all, the amount of effort it takes to make a small indie-film far surpasses what most folks realize, much less sci-fi epics that take place on imaginary, fleshed-out worlds, or movies that delve far into the human psyche and show you what they find. Still, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain depth or “special something” that feels like it’s missing from modern cinema. This is something that’s hard to describe, but you can almost feel it when you go into a movie theater. We’re not talking about a love lost to the gnarled hands of time…this isn’t something that’s occurred because I’m “no longer a kid”. This is something that’s been brewing for a while, and has only recently worked its way into the vast majority of major Hollywood productions.
I used to go to the movies every single weekend, and there was almost always something worth seeing. Hell, it was even possible to spend an entire afternoon there! Now, however, it’s not uncommon for us to skip out on the movie theater for months at a time. Again, this has nothing to do with the act of going to a movie theater: the whole experience, start to finish, is something we both greatly enjoy. It just seems like the magic is gone, as if the whole industry has become too industrialized. Or, to put it another way, we no longer feel that the movies are the product: we feel as though WE’RE the product. As previously stated, I recognize that movies have been a business since the 20’s, but still…something odd has happened in the past decade, and the past few years especially.
I don’t know, I feel like I’m not explaining this clearly…but there’s just SOMETHING missing, isn’t there? Between the endless CGI kids movies, dime-a-dozen movies based on comic books and video games (although, admittedly, some of those are pretty decent), the standard RomCom, and the emotional tear-jerker clearly engineered to secure an Oscar win, something is missing. Even though the film industry has more money, talent, and technology at its fingertips than ever before, Brittnie and I find that we’re looking back nowadays, rather than looking forward. With all the amazing films we’ve missed over the years, why would we go see some formulaic commercial product that, 90% of the time, isn’t going to show us anything special or unique? I’d rather see what inspired these things, instead of the mangled corpse propped up in front of the paying public. In many cases, the source for that inspiration is decades old. In some cases, it can be as young as a few years (case in point: the huge number of cyberpunk and anime-styled sci-fi movies released in the wake of The Matrix.)
At the very least, I’d like Hollywood to take a chance and greenlight more movies like Inception, Primer, Donnie Darko, or The Fountain. Movies that no only push the envelope in story telling, but movies that visually and emotionally engage you. Movies that grab you by the rasoodok, and refuse to let you go. It saddens me to say it, but I think the next time those movie tickets shift from our bookshelf is going to be when we decide to live somewhere else.
Then again, maybe we’re just a couple of jaded nerds pushing 30.