I’ve heard a fair few jokes that start with “There are only two kinds of people in this world.” Many people think there are two kinds of moviegoers in the world: those who rush to go see the latest blockbuster just because of its stars or because it has stuff blowing up, and those who prefer what they perceive to be more substantive and tasteful filmmaking, usually independent or art house films. I say, why can’t you be both? I most certainly am. I love little indies like “The Hurt Locker” and “(500) Days of Summer,” but I also enjoy movies like “The Hangover” and “Star Trek.” I live for November and December when the majority of the movies nominated at the Oscars are released, but I also get excited for May and June when the summer puts forth movies for all tastes.
But, alas, I am one of very few people my age that can make such a claim. I can guarantee you most of my friends haven’t even heard of “The Hurt Locker;” heck, some of you all reading this probably haven’t. And that’s alright, but we won’t be seeing any movies like it in the future if Americans consciously choose senseless entertainment like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” over higher-brow movies. On occasion, the two have been able to blend successfully, in movies like “The Dark Knight.” Yet few will dispute that movies with such a plot might not have been so commercially viable if they had not worn the front of your typical blockbuster.
The legendary movie critic Roger Ebert has some harsh words for my generation, saying that we may be headed for a “Dark Age” in cinema, mainly due in part to teens who throw their money mindlessly at the big-budget studio movies. He thinks that because we don’t read reviews from critics regularly, we are more prone to drink the blockbuster Kool-Aid. He even goes as far as to suggest that we don’t even care about reviews and that we don’t even have the brainpower to go see the movie that isn’t showing on the most screens at the multiplex. The root of this mindset is “the dumbing-down of America” that has sprung from our worthless education, failing to provide us any sort of curiosity in anything beyond what we see constantly advertised.
Ebert does bring up some good points. It is the teens who swarm the theater every weekend and never fail to go see the hit movie of the week. It is the teens who demand more action, more star power, and bigger explosions. It is the teens who line the pockets of Michael Bay and the studios that let him put such garbage on the screen.
But I don’t think he is entirely right. There is hope for this generation, and I have seen it. Back in December, I was among the first to see “Slumdog Millionaire.” Before it was the sensation that it became, I couldn’t get anyone to go see it. I had a friend who ridiculed me for seeing it instead of “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” That same friend is now one of the movie’s biggest fans. I also convinced him to go see movies like “Frost/Nixon” and “The Reader” before they were nominated for Best Picture over movies like “The Unborn” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” I spread the word about these movies and I got my friends to see them, and I think they were pleasantly surprise when they not only knew, but had seen many of the nominated films at the Oscars.
That hope is extending past Oscar season, when it is easy to support indies. Many of my friends are discovering “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Hurt Locker” without a huge media push (or even my own push). These are the same people who saw movies like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and demanded more for their money and their time. I think what Ebert fails to comprehend is that although many of us go see these movies, that doesn’t mean we love every one we see. We are a curious bunch: curious to find the next “The Dark Knight” in a heap of blockbusters and curious to find the next “Slumdog Millionaire” in a mass of indies. Critics and parents often have different tastes from ours, and how will we know unless we take a look for ourselves? One man’s “G.I. Joe” may be another man’s “Citizen Kane.”
It is easy to look at all the terrible movies that have been released recently and think that American cinema is in a bad state. And yes, my generation has been the driving force behind the spawning of so many of them. But give us a break. We want to be enthralled by movies just as much as any adult. We seek out good entertainment too, but blockbusters are usually the first place we look. We teens are the target audience of comic-book movies, and that has produced beloved critical darlings like “The Dark Knight” and “Star Trek.” We love raunchy comedies, and that genre brought “Knocked Up” and “The Hangover,” both of which were lauded more than Best Picture nominee “The Reader” (according to Metacritic). We are not the root of the problematic dearth of great entertainment at the movies, but we are the easiest to blame. Even if you were to eliminate the types of movies that give critics such a headache, such as comic book adaptations and frenetic action movies, there would still be bad movies. But whether you prefer blockbusters or indies, we can all do our share to demand better quality from the movies that we watch.
Until the next reel,