Thursday, October 07, 2010

Slow movie rant

I want to rant about great movies for a moment. I know of several people who will take offense at these comments. Hopefully I can make clear what I really mean so that doesn't happen.

Why are so many great movies absolute crap? At the moment I'm thinking of three great works of cinematography: Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Solaris. I can see the value in all three of these movies. From a film making standpoint they're great. From a sitting in the audience standpoint they're kinda crap.

I take the greatest offense at "2001: A Space Odyssey". Having seen and been bored silly by that movie I avoided anything written by Arthur C Clarke for at least a decade longer than I should have1. I blamed him for the quiet, slow moving, dullness of the movie instead of crediting him for the quality science in the movie. In college I watched it on fast forward once because my roommate had to return it to the rental place. It was still slow and dull. Particularly the action packed rescue scene out in the vast empty darkness of space.

I would recommend the book very highly, however. Especially if you've seen the movie. They make things so much clearer. The five minutes of sunrises at the beginning of the movie were supposed to represent the dawn of mankind. It's symbolism. Actually, the first 3 or 4 were symbolism. The next 35 were a tragic waste of film. And the special effects spectacular at the end? The one that I fell asleep during 3 times when we showed the movie in the college theater? The one that appears to be a depiction of an acid trip at several times the speed of sound? That was supposed to be Dave being given an automated tour of the civilization of the people who made the monolith. Only, by then their own society had moved on to a higher plane. You didn't see the junkyards filled with decaying ships left over from when they had uploaded their minds into computers so they could wander the universe at will? No? That must have been because you thought you were being beaten to death with Christmas lights.

"Blade Runner" falls into the same category. I liked that video a week or two back showing how they made the opening sequence. The story really is good. It's well written. Rutger Hauer just doesn't get many great lines like that. But... well... I used to use it to help me fall asleep. Those nights when I just couldn't nod off I'd drag a blanket out to the couch, pop in "Blade Runner" and be out in mere minutes.

OOH!! Remember that feature on TVs that would keep the sound level? It's mostly to keep car commercials from blasting you when you were just watching a nice quiet black and white film. They used to be huge. My TV does still have that feature, but you have to dig for it. I watched a movie like that and it reminded me of "Blade Runner" in that, quiet or loud, everything was the same volume. No excitement. It's like listening to your favorite Beatles album with only one speaker playing.

And "Solaris". Wow. That was... yeah.
I caught a showing of the original Soviet version at an art museum several years back. It ran something like three hours, but could have fit in a one hour slot with room left for commercials. The story had promise. This research base turns out to be on a planet that is actually a giant intelligent brain reaching out to make contact but causing hallucinations and driving people mad instead. How can that be dull?

A few years back George Clooney was in an American remake of "Solaris". I hoped that the Americans would flash it up a bit. I hoped that the involvement of George Clooney was a sign that they were going for more of a Hollywood blockbuster thing. No dice. They weren't making an American adaptation of the book. They were making an English language version of the Soviet movie.

I'm not denying that these movies were great works of cinema. I encourage people to see them. Especially those who might want to work a video camera some day. And I'm not saying all films need to be action packed thrill fests. I watch a lot of movie that others would dislike for being slow. These three just get under my skin for being highly acclaimed snooze fests.

1 I think it was "The Nine Billion Names of God" that convinced me to give Clarke another shot.


wstachour said...

Our culture has fallen completely under the spell of a media industry which sells spectacle and titillation and flash above all things. Baseball used to be considered fast-paced and exciting, and now many people think of it as slow and plodding and too full of dead air.

I must protest (and as for baseball, Ken Burns makes his case very well in his documentary).

Part of what makes 2001: A Space Odyssey so brilliant is that we are immersed in strange settings where earth-shaking things are not explained to us, and we are left to wonder and reflect and feel generally confused. Frustrating, at times, sure; but valid and true life's emotions just the same. And that's the experience! We may not like it, but life is like this.

I'm in the opposite camp: I HATE movies which are all action, all the time, like every Fourth Of July blockbuster out of Hollywood.

Ibid said...

I'm not a fan of the Michael Bay-type movies. Transformers, Armageddon, Independence Day... you won't find these on my movie shelf. Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers make for weak horror.

2001 is a good book and good movie making. It gets a lot of points for getting it's science right. It isn't, however, good movie watching. Like I said, the beginning and end are a big WTF. The actors have less emotion and depth of character than the central computer. Half the reason to see the sequel is so someone will explain HAL's motivations.

Other movies have done the space rescue without doubling as an intermission. "Moon" in particular pulled off quiet and slow moving without making me tune out.

The sunrise scene, the space rescue scene, and the special effects spectacular remind me of Saturday Night Live sketches. Good ideas drug out until they've not only lost the audience's interest but made them hostile to the feature.

I want to see "2001" reshot just so the special effects acid trip spectacular can be made to make sense. Honor the movie, but end it like the book.

And don't give me another film that helps put me to sleep.

Jon Q. Citizen said...

I agree with You and Wunelle. I was pissed off for wasting money to see Clash of the Titans, Transformers, etc. when I'd much rather see some "crappy" film like Bladerunner, Edenlog, the Fountain, etc.

I do have to say that 2001 is probably one of the best boring movies ever made....and through osmosis & repetitive hearing while asleep you can really begin to see some of the "subtle" messages & themes Clarke was trying to get across.

2010 S.O. was slightly better, and the book 2050 (I think that was the year) is actually pretty good but you have to have read 2001 & 2010.