Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Four Film Genres I Like the Least

I don't like action movies. I don't like superhero movies. I'm not really into sci-fi or fantasy, either. I have never seen a single Die Hard or Star Wars film. I didn't feel the slightest inclination to see The Avengers this year. My friend forced me to watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and I just didn't enjoy them at all. Thank goodness he didn't force me to watch The Dark Knight Rises. First of all, let me just clarify that I'm not writing this to bash any particular genre, or the fans of those genres. I'm not arguing that action, superhero, sci-fi and fantasy movies are devoid of merit. In fact, I know there are some excellent films belonging to those genres that I just refuse to see because I wouldn't appreciate them. My purpose in writing this is to inform. I want people to know about my aversion to particular genres, just so I don't have to explain it each time someone assumes I've seen the latest blockbuster.

In trying to pinpoint a similarity between these four genres (action, superhero, sci-fi and fantasy), I arrived at the conclusion that they all value extravagance. Films of these genres usually have big budgets, plenty of special effects, CGI and grand sets. What's wrong with these things? Well, nothing. Remember, I'm writing this post to explain why I don't like these films, not why these films are bad (although, some really are bad). To me, the most important elements of a film are the screenplay and the characters. Most blockbuster films are driven by plot, not by dialogue. People go to see action films for the car chases, the explosions and the shootouts. Am I generalising? Perhaps, but let's not kid ourselves that these elements aren't standard fare in action blockbusters. The thing about action sequences is that they negate the need for interplay between characters. Instead of words, characters exchange bullets. If all this violence and noise is balanced with an engaging story, and if it is motivated, then I might be more interested. Taken is one of a handful of action movies I have seen in my life. I'm not kidding. I've probably seen less than ten action movies in my life. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Taken, and I enjoyed it because it had a good setup. We were acquainted with the characters before the action began, and the action was not gratuitous. We only saw as much of it as was needed to restore order. Most importantly, the film worked because it had a human predicament at its core—a father in search of his kidnapped daughter.

So far I've mainly addressed my dislike of action films. Time to explain my apathy towards superhero films. Many would argue that there is no such genre as 'superhero', and that it is just a subgenre of action. They're not wrong, but the popularity of films in the Spider-Man, Iron Man and Batman series has birthed the term 'superhero movie', so I will use it throughout this post. I know some of you will be thinking, "The Dark Knight isn't a superhero film. It's a crime and drama film." Well, it may not be a superhero film in the vein of Tim Burton's Batman, but it is definitely a superhero film nonetheless. By extension, it is also an action film, which automatically makes me lose interest. As mentioned in the intro, I have seen The Dark Knight, and not by choice. Heath Ledger's performance was the only thing I cared for. Everything else was steeped in Batman vernacular. I could tell it was well-made, but that didn't make a difference because I couldn't emotionally invest in anyone or anything. I didn't know who these characters were, or what their backstories were. Sure, I had previously seen Batman Begins, but I didn't care for that either. I have heard several people say they aren't fans of Batman but still enjoyed Nolan's trilogy. Good for them. They are less scrutinising with their taste. For me, if the protagonist wears a cape and fights evil, the film can never divorce itself from the 'superhero' label. I can't treat it as a drama or a crime film. It is a superhero film with dramatic moments, or a superhero film with a crime at its centre. Earlier this year, director David Cronenberg slammed Nolan's Batman trilogy, saying "A superhero movie, by definition, you know, it's comic book. It's for kids. It's adolescent in its core." I agree with him to a degree. My theory is that, in order to truly enjoy superhero movies, you must have had an interest in superheroes as a child. Other than watching Captain Planet on Cartoon Network, I was not exposed to any other media associated with superheroes (I owned a Batman costume, though). Kids who grow up reading Marvel and DC comics become enraptured in the ethos of good vs. evil. The notion of heroism becomes enticing, and they look up to the superheroes in the comics they read, the movies and TV shows they watch, and the video games they play. I had none of that. I never wanted any of that. Prove me wrong if you wish, but I cannot see how someone could enjoy The Avengers if they have no prior knowledge of the characters or storylines involved. My point is: more often than not, superhero films are for fans only. Yeah, you can watch as an unacquainted viewer and get a cheap thrill from seeing a building explode, but for a deeply immersive film experience, you've got to know the characters' histories. 

My grievances with sci-fi films aren't all too personal, and I'm more likely to enjoy a sci-fi movie than I am to like an action, superhero or fantasy movie. The main reason I usually don't enjoy or even watch them is because they are too mathematical. When I think sci-fi, I think machines, spaceships and robots. I am literary minded (hence my prioritisation of screenplay and characters), so scientific jargon is just very heavy for me. Stanley Kubrick is one of my favourite directors, and yet 2001: A Space Odyssey bores me to tears. I can appreciate it, but there's no way in hell I can watch it and have a good time. I think it comes down to the fact that the problems faced in space and on other planets are different to the ones we face in everyday life. Also, I am a fan of simple plots. Sci-fi movies are noted for containing many small details and plot complications. This is not a criticism of the genre, but just a personal admission that I generally don't like having to remember that much when I sit down to watch a movie. I had to study Blade Runner for HSC English. I remember hating it after my first viewing. After watching it another one or two times, I looked beyond all the futuristic spacecraft and dystopian imagery and found an emotional entry point in the character of Roy Batty. His final monologue is haunting and has stayed with me ever since.

I'm going to open this paragraph on fantasy films with the admission that I have never seen a single Harry Potter film, or read any of the books. I realise half the Internet hates me right now, but I thought I'd put that out there to demonstrate my apathy for the genre. While I'm at it, I've never seen or read anything to do with The Lord of the Rings. My problem with the fantasy genre is similar to the one I have with the superhero subgenre. Films of the genre are made primarily for fans. Of course, I could probably watch all the Harry Potter movies in order and make sense of them, even without reading the books first. I won't, though. Why should I care about fantasy movies if nothing that happens in them relates to the world I live in? This notion of escapism is one I'll explore further down. While I do not like fantasy movies, I do like movies that deal with the theme of fantasy. David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. does this perfectly, blurring the lines between dreams and reality. You could call Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life a fantasy film, but its aims are deeply humanistic. A good fantasy film should always maintain some semblance of reality. If I watch a fantasy film and it's all magic and mythology, it just won't interest me.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to watching films. One school watches films to escape the drudgery of life. They want to enter another dimension where everything is idealistic, because it's comforting. These people, more than anything, go to the movies to be entertained. The other school uses cinema to evaluate their own lives. This is the school I belong to. I want human stories. I want to be moved. I want stories of hardship and triumph. I want poignancy and pathos. I want Woody Allen. I want Ingmar Bergman. I want a story that is about people. I want movies that depict the way real people talk and behave. To get an idea of the type of movies I like, American Beauty is my favourite film of all time. I would rather walk away from an absorbing drama feeling depressed than leave The Dark Knight Rises and say "Wow, that was impressive, now let's go grab some pizza!" Essentially, I want films that have an emotional impact on me. Action, superhero, sci-fi and fantasy are genres that offer an escape to other worlds. I don't care what's on Pandora. I care about what happens on Earth. I don't care about Harry's quest to destroy the Horcruxes, because I don't know what a Horcrux is. There are no Horcruxes in this world; the world I live in.

My three favourite genres: drama, comedy and horror. "BUT YOU CAN'T LIKE HORROR! VILLAINS LIKE FREDDY KRUEGER DO NOT EXIST IN THE REAL WORLD!" A large misunderstanding is that people watch horror movies to see a bunch of people get killed. I watch horror movies to identify with the victims' struggles, and because I enjoy the thrill of being scared. I know Freddy Krueger is a fictitious character, but the world he inhabits in the film is not. The people he kills are not unlike you and me. I am interested in the notion of trying to stop a supernatural being in a world where the laws of physics apply. On the topic of horror, Jaws is generally regarded as the first true 'blockbuster' film. The shark may have been mechanical, but the fear it played on is very much real. Ask around and see how many people developed a fear of open water after seeing that film. My second favourite film of all time is The Shining. Like the Elm Street films, here we have supernatural events occurring in a place that is by no means supernatural or other-worldly: a hotel. Jack Torrance's descent into insanity is frightening to watch. The film is never about the spirits. The spirits are there to reveal things about Jack. 

I would like to see Hollywood produce blockbusters that have some emotional foundation. It seems the four genres that interest me the least have a monopoly on the blockbuster, and too often, these movies prioritise extravagance over character development and feeling. For all its cheesiness, Love Actually is a feel-good movie, and it was seen as a blockbuster of the romance genre. Directors such as David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson make big movies that could be considered blockbusters by nature, despite not dealing with explosions and fantasy worlds. Still, they don't take the world by storm in the same way action, superhero, sci-fi and fantasy films do. I am curious as to why that is, and I think it's as simple as this: it's just EASIER to watch a movie for entertainment than to watch one and engage with it intellectually. I remember when The Avengers was released. A man boarded the train I was on and began asking strangers if they had seen the movie. No one would get on a train and ask a random commuter, "Have you seen the latest Todd Solondz movie?" No one would have the confidence to assume the majority of people know who Todd Solondz is. We need to make drama films more marketable to the young adult demographic. It's not just middle-aged, middle-class people who watch and enjoy arthouse cinema.

So, now you know why I have no interest in action, superhero, sci-fi or fantasy movies. Of course, I am not militantly opposed to these genres. I will always look at the IMDb plot outline of a movie before deciding whether to watch it. If it seems like a good premise, I'll give it a go even if it belongs to one of those four genres. A lot of you must be thinking: "But call yourself a film enthusiast and hope to write about film for a living one day. Shouldn't you expose yourself to ALL genres?" That's a fair question, and it's likely I will expand my taste as I get more serious about film writing. Still, if I can produce quality analysis of the films I enjoy, it shouldn't matter what I don't watch. I'll leave you with a list of popular movies I have never seen because of my stubbornness:

* All Star Wars films
* All Lord of the Rings films
* All Harry Potter films
* The Dark Knight Rises
* All Spider-Man films
* All Iron Man films
* The Avengers
* All Alien films (I plan to watch the first one because it also serves as a horror film)
* Avatar
* Prometheus
* All X-Men films
* All Die Hard films
* 300
* ALL James Bond films
* All Pirates of the Caribbean films
* All Transformers films (I don't regret this one at all)
* All Terminator films

I'll stop there before I disgust you even more.

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