Firstly I should say I have a pet hate. I can't stand it when people criticise something they haven't seen or read. People will declare that "Mr X is a terrible writer," or "Ms Z can't direct," or "That film sucks,"but when you push a little closer you find they haven't read the thing that Mr X has written, or seen the film that Ms Z has made.
I can't stand that. In all honesty, I find it dishonest. I try to make a living from writing, so I feel I owe other creators -especially writers- a certain level of professional respect. So, given how much I dislike that school of criticism, I'm about to tread a fine line.
I have no issues at all with the quality of PACIFIC RIM. I can't have. I haven't seen it. I have no comments that I can make on whether it's a good film, but I do want to talk about the way these films are marketed and the culture of accepting it. If I do start to read like I'm attacking the quality of the film itself, slap me.
Here's a conversation I had with a friend this week;
FRIEND: "Seen the trailer for PACIFIC RIM?"
ME: "Saw one before STAR TREK"
FRIEND: "IT LOOKS AMAZING."
ME: "Really? All I got was that giant robots are fighting giant monsters."
FRIEND: "What more do you need?"
And here, somewhat related to the theme, is a conversation I had with another friend a few years ago when I was complaining about what a bad film TRANSFORMERS 2 was (and I will criticise it, because I paid to go see it);
ME: "I hated it. No structure. No story. No internal logic."
FRIEND: "You paid to see a film about giant robots fighting. Were you expecting a story?"
And so here we are again.
PACIFIC RIM could turn out to be a great film with a gripping story. There are many people whose tastes I trust who will be seeing it, and i might add it to my list if they report back on it being good. The thing is, they will have done a job that the film's marketing team don't seem to feel they need to. They will have convinced me of the films quality.
On the part of the studio and the marketing team themselves, they seem to think that just shouting "GIANT MONSTERS FIGHTING GIANT ROBOTS!!!!!!" is enough. And, you know what? It seems that they're right. Any time I voice an opinion to the contrary I'm starting to get people who think I am the strange one. That second conversation, the one about Transformers 2, does seem to be becoming representative of how we make these decisions. I'm the one who is strange for expecting a story when I pay money to go and see a film that someone was paid thousands to write.
High concept and one line pitches are nothing new. We've all seen them, and all used them.
It's like JAWS but in a JUNGLE. It's a HAUNTED HOUSE movie in SPACE. It's like ALIEN but on a boat. It's like DIE HARD but on a BUS. It's like THE TERMINATOR but with the number TWO after it. It's like your MUM but BETTER.
But am I the only one feeling that we're now getting further and further down this road, and that things like story no longer matter? Am I wrong, and it's always been this way?
And furthermore, when I come out of these films and then moan about the lack of story, I get told that I simply "don't like fun." Have we lowered our expectations so much, that "fun" now means "crap?" (Again, that is aimed at the films I have seen.) This culture of "switching your brain off." I'm pretty sure that if I switch my brain off, doctors will come into the room, shout out the time, and write my name on a certificate. To look at my list of favourite films is to see quite a few films that I would consider 'fun.' RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. BACK TO THE FUTURE. GHOSTBUSTERS. These are fun films. And for each of them there are moments when you need to suspend disbelief, when you have to trust the narrative over trusting external logic. But the films earn those moments. That no longer seems to be a consideration. We've accepted that "fun" means people getting paid thousands and millions to make films, that we then pay a percentage of our weekly wage to go and see, that don't have to make any kind of sense or have any kind of story. I don't find that "fun."
But I'm off topic. I'm not trying to talk about the films themselves so much as the way they are sold to us.
Is my generation to blame? The kids who grew up in the 80's constantly mashing things up. The decade when action figures had exploded, when TV series were now made simply to sell those toys. When we would run around the playground arguing about who would win in a fight between He-Man and Optimus Prime and also testing the theory out with plastic avatars? When we could argue about who would win in a fight between Freddy and Jason, and if the Terminator could take out a Xenomorph? Many of these things were turned into comics that people my age lapped up. And, in turn, some of them have been films. People my age our now writing movies, they are now selling and advertising them. So maybe it's all our fault.
Am I alone in wanting to have someone pitch to me as if they take me seriously? Am I alone in wanting to at least think that the marketing people credit me with a brain and with some interest in story or character? It does seem that the marketing people are right. That this is what "we" are happy with.
So, once again, I have no beef with the quality of PACIFIC RIM. It has a very good Director. It has a strong cast. I believe some of the influences come from Greek myth, and I'm a big fan of those same myths. It has every chance of being a good film. But that also seems to be entirely incidental. The marketing is not interested in whether or not it's a good film with a compelling story. And, it seems, the people I speak to who are excited about it tend to leave that as an afterthought, too. It's just the film about GIANT MONSTERS FIGHTING GIANT ROBOTS. Eh.
PACIFIC RIM has a chance of being a good film. It's by a good Director. It has a good cast. But none of those seem to be the selling points.