Friday, May 7, 2010

Time to get back to Basics

If you've seen any American movies lately, you know that they are in dire shape. The industry has fallen for the newest craze--3 Dimensions. Though AVATAR uses stunning three-dimensional technology, the story is trivial and threadbare. How many big budget action films condemn American industrial and the military complex while taking full advantage of both? The first IRON MAN, GI-JOE, the X-MEN franchise, the list goes on and on. So what's missing from these films?

Try plot, character development, meaningful and often witty dialogue. A few recent main stream movies have attempted to adapt the process after filming and they have been limited in their success. Tim Burton's beautiful but meandering ALICE IN WONDERLAND lost itself in special effects and make-up and forgot Lewis Carroll's inventive wordplay. Perhaps Burton thought audiences couldn't handle verbal cleverness, which is surprising when one considers some of his better films. A much lesser success was the joyless CLASH OF THE TITANS, which managed to make us long for the original production (1981) with Lawrence Olivier as Zeus and Harry Hamlin as a pretty boy Perseus and Ray Harryhausen's famous stop-motion special effects. Remember Medusa and those creepy scorpions?

Did summer movies once have plot, character development, and witty dialogue? You have to head for Netflix, but they still entertain far more than the current crop. Think of Robert Shaw as the salty and slightly daffy boat captain or Richard Dreyfuss as the marine biologist in JAWS. What about Karen Allen and Harrison Ford exchanging both verbal and physical blows in perhaps the greatest of all adventure films, RAIDERS OF THE LAST ARK? And then there are classic series such as STAR WARS and THE LORD OF THE RINGS, whose unique appeals captured viewers of all ages and intellectual backgrounds. Time and time again American audiences have shown they can enjoy intelligent, story-based, character-driven action films. But Hollywood just doesn't seem to get it.

We can hope the business, and it is a business, will improve, but demanding more is our job, not theirs.

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