I’m a little bit worried about what future generations will look back on when they study the beginning of the twenty-first century. It seems to me that since the pop culture and political uprisings of the 60s, Western films have slowly cultivated a culture of repetitiveness and lacklustre creativity.
While the creativity of certain individuals has flourished in our mediocre epoch, there seems to be a decline in original thought and mind-blowing talent. Proper art, something that was all the rage just a few decades ago, now seems few and far between. Skilful acts such as directing a film that doesn’t rely on special effects to tell a story, is subsumed by CGI and mega-budget, hour-long series of explosions. Just think of a classic movie that you watch over and over such as Wizard of Oz, It’s A Wonderful Life or Home Alone: there’s a reliance on telling an intriguing story first, and creating a cinematic wow factor second. Classics such as these have been sacrificed to the altar of middle-brow box office grossing, whereby we worship the same four plots (give or take) over and over.
Think back on what films you’ve seen recently and try to count the ones that aren’t a remake of an old classic, a rewind of a comic book superhero, or a story rehashed for a new generation of moviegoers.
Did you think of Star Wars? I definitely did. This revamp of the hugely popular sci-fi/fantasy classic (and I’ll try not to reveal any spoilers here) had a mind-boggling amount of tricks and stories taken straight from the original three movies (I’m sorry, but 1, 2, and 3 just don’t count as Star Wars films for me). Yet, Disney is rolling in dough after this release and is set to make heaps more Star Wars films. It seems like they’re all about making money and not about surprising audiences or giving us something juicy and memorable. So what’s the deal with that?
Well, the answer struck me whilst watching (yet another) revamp of an old story when I sat down among a mix of young and old moviegoers to check out The Peanuts Movie. Whilst the animation was beautifully kooky and cartoonish, yet somehow polished and bold; and the storyline heartwarming and fulfilling, I felt a strange emptiness creep up on me as the movie unfolded.
I realised that I had fallen into the trap of forking out huge amounts of money to a company that was focused on making enough cash to bolster their profit margin. The film industry is one of the biggest moneymaking machines out there and the majority of us don’t baulk at the price of a movie ticket or of some popped up pieces of corn. So I ask again, what’s the deal with that? Why don’t we question the value of the lazy, meaningless output?
Well, my answer is two-fold. You see, there’s a little something called collective consciousness. To explain it, I’ll analogise all the talent and ideas and thoughts any human has ever had or currently does have, as aisles in an enormous supermarket. Whenever we like we can then buy, borrow or steal those ideas and use them in whichever way we see fit. This isn’t often done purposefully, it’s a kind of spiritual exchange through time and space. More often than not, for the purpose of making money and getting famous, an idea is taken from the past and reworked into our present and voila! You’ve got something familiar, yet new, and that’s sure to sell big.
No film, nor any other work of art, exists without making use of something in the supermarket, even if it is only subtle flake, an implicit morsel, or a reaction to the lacking nutritional values of previous offerings. New films refer to old films, our present is linked with a history of ideas.
I think that there may possibly be only a certain amount of unique thought and invention out there and that, at the peak of cultural and political revolutions and renaissances, humankind used up all of these great ideas all at once. Sort of like a kid that eats up an ice cream too quickly. So then, this child with brain freeze – the new symbol for the Western film industry –learns the lesson that slower consumption, (and likewise slower creation) will be far more pleasant (and far more fruitful).
Much like this kid, then, film has used up all its fuel in one go, and is now carefully treading through pop culture. We are not taking huge leaps of innovation, nor are we trying to be too risky. We are sitting back and getting comfortable in the large comfy chairs we’ve just assembled from IKEA. We are happy with this for the time being. Our ignorance is pure bliss.
Movies like Star Wars or The Peanuts Movie are not only the result of carefully chosen formulas that have worked time and time again, they are also made because we have the capacity to make only these types of films. Or least for now, until our next revolution and leap in invention decides to awake from its slumber.
If it doesn’t change for the better now, then I hope that at least my children don’t have to study the plotline of Pitch Perfect instead of The Sound of Music.