Jul 11, 2011

Movie Transformer

From the latest box office numbers, is looks like everyone in America is rushing out to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  I read on Facebook as dozens of my friends rushed out to see the film - some at midnight the day before it officially opened.  Then I read their varied opinions.  These ranged from "you will wish you were dead" to "that was the most amazing thing I've ever seen" and just about everything in between.  I keep hoping the movie will stop making money, but it doesn't.  This makes me wonder what exactly is wrong with me.  Why don't I want to see this epitome of a summer action flick?  Not only have no interest in seeing it, but I actually have been rooting for it to fail and be awful.  Why is that?

I am a movie fan.  And I am far from one of those snooty filmgoers that only watch foreign films and limited release films (aka Oscar voters).  I am just as likely to avoid an Oscar nominee as a brainless action film.  I set my own standards for what I want to watch.  They don't have to make sense to anyone else.  I really don't care if you think my decisions are stupid.  I'm the one who ends up having to sit there.  I used to go see just about everything that came out, except for horror films.  (I have NEVER liked those.)  But now I actively avoid certain movies.  What changed?

I spend far too much time thinking about this and came up with reasons.  And, more than that, I came up with an exact date when all of this changed.  September 11, 2001.  Now, I know a lot of things can be hung on that infamous date.  You may think it is extreme to blame my increasing disconnect with many movies to that day.  But I don't.  There are three major reasons that can be traced back to that particular 24 hour time period.  But they aren't all what you may think.

I used to be lustily waiting for big time disaster and action movies.  Independence Day, Armageddon, Deep Impact, Godzilla, Volcano, Dante's Peak, The Rock.  I loved those movies - even with all the completely impossible plot lines and over the top stupid dialogue and moronic characters.  I knew they were far from top notch cinema.  But they were sure entertaining.  And I was just as amazed as anyone else with the shots of the White House exploding and New York City being demolished.  But, when 9/11 happened, the reality came home to roost.  The fact is that a city being annihilated is horrific.  When it came down to it, no one sat there and thought, "Ooooo, cool.  Look at that sucker fall."  Instead, we all got nauseated and started crying.  Turns out mass destruction and global upheaval wasn't so cool after all.  I had trouble disconnecting that reality when I watched movies.  I couldn't help thinking about the aftermath.  We always are left with scenes of plucky survivors hugging and promising a new day.  But the reality would not even be close to that.

As we saw several other major disasters, like the tsunamis in Thailand and Japan and the earthquakes in New Zealand and Haiti, we began to realize the massive human toll in these events.  It isn't just special effects.  Cities and countries don't just "come back" from that.  They are decimated and may never recover.  For me, I couldn't always turn that off.  In some movies I really like (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Iron Man) I can turn down the volume on those thoughts.  But even then, I may have random questions pop up like, "How much money did it cost Gotham to rebuild that elevated train after it got blown up?  What did all those people think when their cars got destroyed?"  But I couldn't ignore it when movies like 2012 and Day After Tomorrow just cavalierly obliterated these mega cities.  That was one of the same things I thought about in the original Transformers.  There was this major battle in the middle of downtown.  Buildings are getting shredded.  City blocks are destroyed.  The mayhem is a little too much for me to take.

The second reason that came from that day was the awakened reality of human suffering.  That wasn't so much from the scene in NYC.  It more came from the fact that my first child was born at 2:11am on September 12, 2001.  In the midst of all that tragedy, my wife was in labor with our boy.  And now, I had this little life to protect and care for and hurt for.  And suddenly it wasn't so minor to watch lives get snuffed out - even in a fictional context.  Subconsciously, I am always aware of the fact that those characters had families.  Those thousands of people who just got blasted by an out of control robot had kids who now were orphans.

I know a lot of people say, "It's just a movie.  Lighten up."  But isn't the point of a movie to have viewers connect with the story on screen?  I just connect in a different way.  I easily slip myself into the story.  As a result, I have a hard time watching movies about kids getting hurt.  I don't enjoy movies that have a lot of physical pain or killings.  Again, there are some movies that I like enough to disconnect those things.  But this plays a major part in how I watch movies.  I remember going to see Monsters Inc after our child was born.  I had such a hard time because I sat there and kept saying, "This must be killing Boo's parents - to have her missing for days."  I actually had to walk out of Finding Nemo when I went to see it in the theater.  My pregnant wife was on a mission trip in Germany and my toddler son was staying with his grandparents.  The images of a father losing his wife and kids were too much - even if they were fish.

As my kids have grown and I have become more experienced as a father, this has diminished somewhat.  I have more experience disconnecting my personal feelings from shows and movies.  But I still try to avoid things that spend a lot of time showing kids getting hurt.  If a movie shows child abuse, I won't see it.  I didn't follow the Casey Anthony case at all.  When my wife and I had a free night this summer without the kids, we wouldn't go see Super 8 because I knew kids would be in peril - and our kids were hours away from me.  I couldn't just go home and kiss them after the movie.  Transformers is just another movie franchise that glorifies violence.  People get hurt without much thought.  And I just don't like that any more.

Money isn't so easy to come buy when you are responsible for a family.  That combined with high ticket prices means that you have to be choosy when going to films.  If I am going to spend $10 on a ticket - or $30 on a family worth of tickets - the movie had better be worth it.  I know that critics are usually giant wastes of space.  But, when there is an avalanche of bad press and negative reviews, it may not be worth my investment.  It used to be that I could use my student discount and get a $5 ticket.  If that didn't work out so great, it was only five bucks.  And what else was I going to spend the money on?  Now, though, it is much more expensive.

When you combine that with the easier access to movies after their theatrical run, it doesn't make sense to risk an unpleasant movie going experience.  I have Netflix.  For $8 a month, I can watch any of thousands of movies free.  So, if there is a film that I wanted to see and wasn't so sure about, it's easy to watch.  Or I can go to Redbox a couple months after the theater run and rent the movie for a buck.  Or I can buy it on DVD or BluRay for less than a family going to the theater.  So now, if I'm not sure about a movie, I just don't go.

It used to be that I would go to any superhero movie that came out - if it was good or not.  For Pete's sake, I saw Spawn in the theater.  But that changed when I had to buy two tickets, pay a babysitter, or leave my family home to go.  Now, I am much more discriminating.  Take this year, for example.  I saw Thor, Pirates 4, X Men: First Class, and Cars 2.  That's pretty standard.  I will go see any Pixar movie that comes out.  I go to see most Marvel movies - although I avoided the first Hulk and both Fantastic Four.  I did NOT go see Green Lantern.  I love DC Comics.  I prefere them to Marvel.  I like Green Lantern.  I like Ryan Reynolds.  But I had a bad feeling about this one.  I could just tell it was going to suck.  And, sure enough, it did.  It was either going to be phenomenal or a disaster.  I guessed right and saved a good chunk of money.  If there is a franchise I particularly enjoy (Harry Potter, Bourne, James Bond, Pirates) I usually will keep seeing them until they prove themselves unworthy of that support.  Pirates 4 did just that.  If they do a fifth film, I will not go see it.  I still want to go see Captain America, Cowboys and Aliens, and Zookeeper - and of course Harry Potter 8.  

[Side Note: Yes, I realize Cowboys and Aliens seems to violate two of my new rules.  But there are several things that make me want to see it anyway.  Jon Favreau is making it and I think he is brilliant.  It stars Daniel Craig - who I really like.  It also has Harrison Ford - who I have always liked.  Mix in Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde (NO! Not just because she is attractive.  She is an intriguing actress.  Follow her on Twitter and watch Tron Legacy and you'll see what I mean.  This is where I am interested enough in the movie to suppress the other stuff.]

I am even discriminating with kids movies.  My kids would go see anything with a G or PG rating if they could.  But I don't take them.  We have found out how to minimize costs (go Tuesday night to a Regal theater or before noon to an AMC one).  But it still is $25 doing that.  So, even though my kids wanted to see Mr Popper's Penguins, I didn't take them.  That is a Redbox movie.  I still love movies and watch a lot of them.  But, honestly, I have swayed more to television shows - I think they have a higher percentage of enjoyable ones.  And I just watch my movies in different ways than I used to.

So, when it comes to Transformers 3, it fails on all my criteria.  It has too much wanton destruction and violence.  It is cavalier with human life.  And I wasn't sure it was going to be worth seeing.  I never saw the second one and didn't feel like I had missed out on anything.  I even got the DVD for it from Netflix and sent it back eventually unwatched.  Truth be told, I could have been fine without ever seeing the first one either.  It wasn't exceptionally enjoyable or life changing.  I think Michael Bay knows how to make an exciting loud movie.  I don't think he knows how to make a good one.  I hated the Transformers in their modern form.  They were so chaotic it was impossible to make out many features.  The voiceovers were poorly connected to the character (like my argument for why the Hulk movies keep failing).  The movie is so loud and wild - just for the sake of being loud and wild.  Shia Le Bouf is so annoying; I think he ruins anything he is in.  I feel the same way about Megan Fox.  And, replacing her with an animatronic Barbie doll isn't going to help matters much.  So, I just will remain in the minority of movie fans and stay away from Transformers.  I may have felt different if everything I read and heard was trumpeting the film as a work of cinematic art.  But, since even my movie loving friends couldn't decide on it if was "epic" or "lame," I stayed home.  I'll bide my time and save my money until something more my taste arrives.

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