Monday, January 17, 2011

Film media and the moving image. Or something.

Having known a few “film buffs” in my time, I’ve been thinking lately about my attitude toward cinema and what I look for when I go there.

Quite simply, I go there to be entertained.

I don’t like films that I feel are trying too hard to be anything in particular. I don’t like films that try too hard to be thought-provoking or deep, and I don’t like films that try to hard to be amazing action flicks that BLOW YOU AWAY! It usually means that there is something important missing.

For me, a movie needs to have the right balance of three main things, plus an optional fourth:
  1. Character development
  2. Plot
  3. Decent effects/costumes/cinematography (depending on the type of film)
  4. Enough good moments to make it fun

The fourth is optional thanks to films such as Pan's Labyrinth, which isn't "fun" per se, but is AWESOME none the less. The characters rock, the effects are well done, the story is coherent. It meets the three most important points.

There are a lot of films which either excel in one or two of these while completely failing in the others, or fail at all of them either by trying too hard or not trying hard enough.

For example, the recent James Bond film, Casino Royal. It was mostly enjoyable - the plot wasn’t too bad, the characters seemed to flow well through out. But the action scenes left me confused. I wasn’t able to keep up with what was going on and actually had to have them explained to me because I was so lost.

It was similar with Transformers. Plot was thin, but some of the fun moments made up for it. The characters weren’t all that fascinating but, again, fun moments helped make up for it. Couldn’t keep up with the blurry action scenes.

Fight club was one which left me disappointed: Fight scenes were well-choreographed, characters developed well throughout the film. But I had no sense of plot. The person I was watching it with told me that the character development and the relationships between characters was the plot... For some reason that didn’t work for me (kind of like the Kushiel series of books by Jacqueline Carey; the politics is the plot and just had me bored; but this works really well for some people). Twice I paused the DVD and asked “Is this going anywhere?” because I was bored by the constant, repetitive fight scenes. I also couldn't keep track of the narration - the deadpan voice meant that I tuned out very quickly and didn't process most of what he was saying.

I’ve had a lot of criticism for expressing views like this - I’ve been called a “smart-arse” by someone who assumed I just took Fight Club at face value and was just objecting to the violence, rather than paying attention to the commentary on modern masculinity, or something like that. That really wasn't the case. I just thought it was over-done in a lot of ways, and under-done in too many others. It could have been better executed.

I watch films to be entertained. I do like them to have subtleties which can be analysed and poked at, but they need to be subtle or you lose entertainment value and you get something pretentious and annoying. In film, stuff like that should be explored later by the viewer, not in-film by the director and producer.

But that's just my take on it.


  1. I actually love Fight Club, the book and the movie, and think they're both funny and fascinating and terribly disturbing.

    I can see where you're coming from, though. I get very bored with violence, and the plot is kind of hard to discern... most of the movie, it just seems like he's going around sinking deeper into the pit, being seduced by the cynical desctructive Tyler. You only realise afterward that it was himself taking him there, that he had a massive, dangerous master plan that he kept secret even from himself.

    Of course, that doesn't mean everyone's going to enjoy it. Which is the part that matters, really.

  2. Actually, I picked the twist as soon as Tyler appeared. The flash of read at the start of the film tipped me off and I put the two together more or less straight away. I still found it very difficult to get into.

    I had real trouble processing the monotone narration as well, which probably made it even harder to enjoy. Had to focus very, very hard just on that and it detracted from the flow of the whole thing.

    I'd probably enjoy the book a lot more :-p

  3. One of the interesting things to me about Fight Club is that the author of the book has said he actually prefers the movie. But from what I can tell, your problem with the movie was more one of style than of substance, as the deadpan film-noir style doesn't gel well with how your brain works.

    And for the record, the character development and relationships between the characters usually forms the plot of a story — Fight Club is hardly anomalous in this regard. ;-p

  4. I loved Fight Club, but I don't mind movies where not much happens, and it's mostly the characters interacting.

    The book sucks. Seriously. I almost always prefer books to their movies, but the book is just not very good.