A.O. Scott Testifies!
Future “At the Movies” co-host A.O. Scott's piece on the increasingly infantilization of the American movie-going public isn't bad but he really hits his stride in the second half. Everything below is just dead-on:
Wolverine, Captain Kirk, Harry Potter, Hasbro — those trademarks and secondary merchandising opportunities will reliably get kids into the theaters. But the examples of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” “Public Enemies” and, perhaps, “Funny People” are widely taken to mean that artists like Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Michael Mann, Johnny Depp and Judd Apatow may not have the same guaranteed pull. Never mind that “Public Enemies” has actually done pretty well after a slow start, and that the running time, subject matter and tone of “Funny People” make it hard to compare with “Knocked Up” or “Happy Gilmore.” Conventional wisdom is always happy to ignore such nuances.
This may be because any reduction in the clout of stars or the autonomy of directors redounds to the benefit of the companies that own the copyrights and distribute the goods. ... Middle-aged actors and critically lauded directors look like extravagances rather than sound investments. Forty is the new dead. Auteur is French for unemployed. “The Hurt Locker” — the kind of fierce and fiery action movie that might have been a blockbuster once upon a time — is treated like a delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses and sold on its prestige rather than on its visceral power.
The box office numbers don’t lie, but they don’t tell the whole story either. The weekend grosses, widely guessed at on Thursday night and breathlessly reported by the middle of Sunday afternoon, record the quantity of tickets purchased, but they cannot register the quality of the experience. The aggregate of receipts shows that a lot of people like going to the movies, but not necessarily that they like what they see.
Commercial success may represent the public’s embrace of a piece of creative work, or it may just represent the vindication of a marketing strategy. In bottom-line terms, this is a distinction without a difference. A movie that people will go and see, almost as if they had no choice, is a safer business proposition than one they may have to bother thinking about. In this respect “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is exemplary. It brilliantly stymies reflection, thwarts argument, arrests intelligent response. The most interesting thing about the movie — apart from Megan Fox’s outfits, I suppose — is that it has made nearly $400 million domestically.
There is nothing else to say. Any further discussion — say about whether it’s a good movie or not — sounds quaint, old-fashioned, passé. Get a clue, grandpa.
Or go see “Up,” the only hugely successful movie of the summer that engages genuinely adult themes. It’s about loss, frustration, disappointment. And it offers one of the season’s most pointed and paradoxical lessons. If you want to make a mature film for mature audiences, make sure it’s a cartoon.