Yesterday, I took my two boys to see How to Train Your Dragon. I enjoyed it. It was a really good film, that works well for children and adults. "What does that have to do with hype?" you say. Well, a couple of days ago, I stumbled across an article titled The 15 Worst Opening Weekends in Box Office History. What initially caught my attention was that it started with How to Train Your Dragon.
Have we really gotten to the point that we're concerned with how much money a film makes on its opening weekend? Is this some kind of barometer for our ailing economy? Are we so desperate for good news that we'll hang onto any bit of it that comes our way? And when it doesn't come to lift our spirits, we lash out at it in disappointment? I'm glad to say that the author of that article, Marcus Leshock, wrote the article to put the whole hype surrounding box office receipts for a film's opening weekend into perspective.
I'm not interested in how much money a film makes. It is not one of the factors that determines whether or not I'll go see the movie on the big screen - and pay a hefty amount of money for that privilege. It's an industry insider kind of thing. And I don't work in the movie business.
I guess that's the point. It is a business. But I don't go to the movies thinking that I'm supporting such and such studio. I don't see them as brand names that draw me. Okay, well, except for Pixar; I'll see anything they make. I'm even less drawn by particular actors than I am by particular directors. Who is directing a movie is usually far more important to me than who's in the movie.
All of which takes me to movie number two: Avatar. This definitely counts as the most hyped movie in recent history. And, for me, it didn't live up to expectations. It exceeded my expectations when it came to visual special effects. There's no denying it. Visually, the movie is a stunner, and it's well worth the price to see it on the big screen.
But the story... Very disappointing. It didn't help that whoever put together the trailer told us the whole plot of the film. I hate it when they do that. Maybe they did it that way deliberately because the story is so much of a retread, that anybody with a reasonable amount of intelligence could see where things were going pretty early on.
I get all the historical references. For me, it's very much a retelling of the European exploration/exploitation of the New World. And that's a story worth retelling; we can't forget our own history. However, it needs to be done well. And Cameron is a bit heavy-handed when it comes to storytelling. It has Pocahontas written all over it. The daughter of the local chief saves the white man, and then romance. Well, that's the myth of Pocahontas. There was no romance between the real Pocahontas and John Smith. And Jake Sully is no John Smith. Did Cameron really give his character the same initials to draw that parallel? Jake Sully is a 21st century version of what we wish John Smith had been.
Sigourney Weaver, as usual, gives a delightful performance. Cameron is wise to continue to work with her. But, the character Giovanni Ribisi plays reminded me too much of Paul Reiser's character in Aliens, the corporate scumbag. Again, the storytelling was too heavy-handed.
The people who go to see films are smarter than Hollywood often gives them credit for being. We like good stories. Give us good stories to see and we'll go see them. And if you can blend story and spectacle, so much the better. But don't think we don't know spectacle without a story.