I have been fairly easy to entertain all my life.
These days, however, it isn’t so simple. Books still do a pretty good job of earning my thumbs-up, but movies aren’t faring as well. Television, while it has the potential to take the viewer far deeper than a movie can, isn’t doing as well as it should. Is this because quality has dropped, or just that I’m pickier than I used to be?
I’m sure there are plenty of reasons, but today I’m blaming it on age. As we get older, we’ve heard and seen more things, in real life and in fiction, that make it hard to find material that is both original and compelling.
Books do better because they allow so much more time to develop the characters rather than focusing so heavily on the plot. Even if we’ve seen the basic story before, the author has room to create characters that make us want to keep reading.
Movies, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of nearly unlimited time and space to develop the characters. Films based on books suffer the most because they must cut important chunks from the story and/or the character development just to maintain a reasonable running time. That leaves them with little more than the story, hampering their ability to be original.
While Disturbia was entertaining, it failed to blow me away because it was essentially a re-hash of Rear Window. I can understand how viewers who haven’t seen the Hitchock classic could find Disturbia to be a refreshing piece of filmmaking. For me, unfortunately, a few suspenseful scenes aren’t enough to keep the whole thing from smacking of copy rather than homage.
Why does Hollywood get away with using the same ideas over and over? Sometimes it’s a case of the masses not being smart enough to realize they’ve seen a movie before, if under a different name. Another possibility, however, is that new generations of movie-goers haven’t seen the originals, or the re-makes that followed, so they can’t be blamed for enjoying something that’s new to them.
For me and my generation, there will never be another Pulp Fiction. Although it’s hard to imagine, there will be future generations who never see it, and so when a copy comes along they will be amazed. (I’m sure someone older than I can explain why Pulp Fiction wasn’t original, either. For some reason, Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch comes to mind here.)
Guess this film: a young man returns to his hometown for a major event, has a career most of the townspeople only dream exists, joins back up with his old buddies and engages in shenanigans, meets a girl, and falls in love. Sound familiar? If you said, Beautiful Girls (1996), then you’re right. The judges also would have accepted Garden State (2004). Bonus points if you can name which one introduced us to the inventor of silent Velcro.
Although television has more time to flesh out personalities than do movies, it sometimes fails to cover for its re-hashing.
Even though I watched several seasons of “ER” (but only one or two beyond when Dr. Mark Green left the show), I sit down and watch “Grey’s Anatomy” with my wife, and I laugh at the funny parts and even find myself slightly touched at some of the more moving parts. On the other hand, the worn-out method of teaching the characters a lesson has grown tiresome. Numerous doctor shows before it have done this, and I wish it would stop. A young doctor has a fight with a sibling. Then a patient comes in and when it’s time to call the family, nobody wants to come. Young doctor thinks, “Oh, no, that could be me when I’m old if I don’t mend my ways,” and makes some clumsy effort to kiss and makeup. Please. This manipulative use of coincidences gets old, especially to those of us who have seen it many times before.
Sidenote relevant to Grey’s: Is anyone else repulsed by Hollywood’s tendency to glorify adultery?
Admittedly, part of my problem is that most of the time I prefer entertainment with strong dialog and thought-provoking themes to that with lots of explosions and cheesy romance. If it has a heart, too, then all the better. Still, I think that age and experience whittle down the number of things we find entertaining, because eventually we end up saying, “Sure, but I’ve seen this before.”