The Conversation

Blockbuster fatigue

In response to Breaking: The Lone Ranger Murders Captain Jack Sparrow:

Interesting points, Ace.  Your comment about the ship-to-ship flying sequence in "Star Trek: Into Darkness" reminded me of the ship-to-ship passage in "2010," which was far more suspenseful and exciting, even though we heard only the noises the characters were making inside their helmets.  I still tense up when watching that scene.  I can easily imagine myself in John Lithgow's sweat-filled space boots. 

There's no suspense or sympathy in the "Star Trek" scene.  It's an incredibly flimsy pretext for an action scene, the characters aren't terribly sympathetic - I completely cashed out of that movie when told who Benedict Cumberbatch was supposed to be playing, and I like him as an actor - and it's too noisy and busy to build any suspense.

I think part of the reason for blockbuster fatigue is that CGI, plus the obsession with luring in short-attention-span teenagers, has brought movies uncomfortably close to video games.  I like video games just fine, but I don't go to the theater to spend $30 or $40 on a date night to spent two hours effectively watching other people play video games.  There are sequences in the video game "Dead Space 3" very similar to Kirk and Not-Khan's little flight between the Enterprise and the S.S. Plot Device.  You can buy "Dead Space 3" for less than the cost of two tickets to watch that "Star Trek" film, and it'll give you many hours more entertainment.

"Avengers" worked because it had a decent script, witty dialogue, engaging characters, and enough imagination to make its world live on in your head, long after you leave the theater.  All of those things can be done for less than $200 million, and there's no reason to charge people several hours' worth of their salary to watch the results.  The great renaissance of TV viewing, the growth of the video game market, and the rise of Netflix binge-watching, tells me there's a tectonic shift in entertainment under way.  "Grand Theft Auto V" made $800 million in a single day.  It costs less than taking the kids out to see a movie that will be over in two hours.

There's another way CGI is helping to kill the movies: it's making it possible for creators with a low budget, as with cable TV shows, to deliver considerable spectacle.  High-end computer graphics cost a fortune, but lower-end special effects look pretty damn good.  A show like the "Battlestar Galactica" remake was able to deliver some astonishing visuals on a TV budget.  Those in search of breathtaking spectacle don't have to fork over a couple of twenties at the box office any more.


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