Monday, January 17, 2011

A Slight Change

As much as I wish I blogged as much as I used to, the fact is that I don't think I ever will unless there is serious external motivation, whether that be money or community or free sandwiches. But I do wish I blogged more. To that end, I'm not going to keep track of my hours anymore on this blog. While it's not the hardest thing I've ever had to do, it was just enough work that it was just enough discouragement to prevent me from blogging. I'll still call the blog 10,000 hours, and I still plan on publishing some finished, or approximately finished stuff, I just have to figure out how I want to do that. Should I promise to publish X amount of things in X amount of time to create false obligation so that way I'll (probably) actually do it? And what kind of stuff should I publish?

And that's what I got for right now.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Love for The Awful

This started out as an email to the author of an article I read on, being this one specifically: . At some point I figured I would be better off making huge rambling thing an actual blog entry and just emailing him the link. Much interest would be for him to respond, but I'm certain that anyone who contributes to a major blog gets so many useless spam and flame emails that their blood pumps binary.

first is that as surely as there is a golden age of TV, so also do TV and movies go hand in hand. the theatre seems interminably split between artistic, intellectual, thought provoking and moving and the mentally retarded. Few summers have there been where i could walk into the theater to see Where The Wild Things Are, and then walk out to buy a ticket to Transformers 2, Avatar (on rerelease), The Hangover, or any number of aborted attempts at quality movie making like Prince of Persia, Clash of the Titans. I mean, you know this list. But crappy movies (and TV) have all existed, and it's not like this is really a new phenomena; Hollywood being built on the backs of terrible movies either suffocating good movies, or sometimes rarely helping a quality movie float to the top.

But here's what I don't get, the comment that made me want to email, and the true crime of the exchange between movie maker and movie goer: "Goofily enjoyable in a Hasselhoff-y type of way, maybe. But actually good? Not a chance." Why is it as consumers of entertainment we feel vindicated in watching terrible terrible entertainment, that we would readily admit is terrible, as long as we "didn't expect it to be good"? This is a phenomena I can't wrap my head around. My family loved Transformers 2, and in unflagging pavlovian fashion, they are the litmus for good movies: a "positive" result (they like it) means a terrible movie; a "negative" result means a good movie, and thus we see the purpose of the quotation's ironic use. Knowing it was bad (because I saw the first one, and moreover it's Michael Bay) I never saw it until Rifftrax put it in its proper place, and the magnitude of TF2's sin was staggering. So I started asking my friends who saw the movie, who willingly went to the theater, put down a crisp tenner (or more if you saw it in 3D) and was not embarrassed to say, "One for Transformers 2: Revenge of The Fallen at 11:30 please!" I was shocked to see how many people had! And these are educated people: engineers, artists, teachers, filmmakers and accountants and students. Some have children, so I can't fault them necessarily. But on more than one occasion I heard the following rationale: "Well, I wasn't anticipating Citizen Kane. I got what I expected and wasn't let down." As if there's a continuity of film: Citizen Kane at 10, and Michael Bay movies as some negative number in which it no longer looks like a number, and the only sin is indulging in anything between the extremes with one important caveat: that the offending movie be bad as you expected it. So at which point did this become a good rationale? 10 dollars is more than most people make per hour, and yet it's totally defensible to throw 10 dollars at something you find fulsome, as long as fulsome you expected.

It's not as if these movies are necessarily being watched ironically either. It's not us watching Adam West's Batman and taking a shot every time Robin says, "Holy (something) Batman!" or like we're watching Catwomen of Mars and making fun of it. No! This is us purposefully paying to see something we know isn't good, and then genuinely enjoying it because it isn't good, just like we predicted! Hooray! In other elements, this makes no sense. Are we going to buy and then subsequently enjoy Fred (from YouTube) Covers Big Mama Thornton and enjoy it because it's bad; not because we want to make fun of it, or because we want to own a piece of kitsch, but because we fully expect it to be bad and then will enjoy the experience because it was bad like we thought? Are we going to buy a bucket of questionable fried chicken from the local chicken joint, y'know, the one that's famous for giving people the runs, and then enjoy eating that chicken because it gave us the runs like we thought it would? Of course not. Now, food is a false corollary, but the point is that only with movies do we readily indulge in a subpar experience and then enjoy it because it turned out like we thought.

One excuse I often here, at least concerning TF2 (and other equally terrible movies have their equal defenses) is, "Well, all I wanted to see were giant robots fighting, and that's what I got, so I'm happy," which on its surface holds water. At the risk of sounding like judgmental buttmunch, however, I would have to say that this reasoning can only possibly hold for people who fall on a continuum of below average to average, at best. Or ideally it should. Consider the following: Mortal Kombat was a fantastic awful movie. Why? Because it stuck to the premise of the video game being, "An excuse for a bunch of weirdos to get together and beat the shit out of each other." The movie delivered on the weirdos, violence, and didn't alter the concept. A genuine ABC experience that's easy to summarize. Compared to TF2, things get weird. TF2 has the facade of being a movie about robots that beat each other up, but it quickly falls apart when you stop to consider that really only one of the robots has any kind of reliable characterization, the badguys are a blur of sameness, and then the movie aspires to something grand: an interstellar plot of ancient gods and ancient technology (and robot testicles). But the plot gets so muddy that things make no sense. Why Egypt exactly? How do we get to DC and then back again? Did Optimus just die three times in two movies? Did that robot just shit itself? Who the fuck is that? What am I seeing: knives in a blender? DID OPTIMUS JUST STRAIGHT MURDER ANOTHER ROBOT? I THINK I SEE THE SPASMODIC ENDING OF MY CHILDHOOD IN SPURTS GASHES AND GASPS!

My point is that MK succeeds because it has a paper thin conceit, but man does it stick to it like a kid covered in boogers sticks to a cartoon dog. Transformers flails all over employing the shotgun method to storywriting. In the minds of the viewer who "just wanted to see giant robots" story is meaningless. This means we have a medium based on story being allowed to succeed without story. TF2 isn't the only one: I saw those Twilight movies (RiffeTrax'd, as any good American should); Avatar had some pretty frown inducing plot holes; Clash of the Titans had a drive through in the back. A medium based on story being allowed to succeed by violating that simple dictate, and people are glad to hand their money over to encourage more awful storytelling to pass through their eyes.

Special effects does have a lot to do with it, but what about those people I mentioned before? Engineers working for Ball and animators at even a small animation firm aren't gobsmacked by simple FX; people who read Dovstoyesky for fun shouldn't be enthralled with such inept storytelling. Even people in the prime SFX demographic (like my family) who even admit that the 3D gives them headaches and that the fight scenes were impossible to decipher still think these shambling Frankenstein's monster style movies are passable, or even "The greatest incarnation of the Transformers to ever happen!"

I don't get it: why are so many people so predisposed to liking something awful? And it's not dumb people like I would have expected, but it's the artists and the engineers, the people who read Dovstoyesky and the people who struggle with the back of the cereal box.