Friday, January 8, 2016

Speaking of drive-in movies, have you seen the latest Star Wars reboot?

The problems started with Jaws. Stars Wars cemented them. Hollywood had lost control to a bunch of snot-nosed boomers who showed the studios just how dark and cynical American audiences could get. These kids produced films like The French Connection and Taxi Driver. One of them came up with the perfect cinematic retelling of 1984--THX1138. Another couldn't quite get that originality thing down, but still produced a hell of a Bonnie & Clyde ripoff called Sugarland Express (hey, even Scorsese's name is on a B&C ripoff [Boxcar Bertha], so give Spielberg a break). 

Two of those youngsters went off the adult course and made a monster movie and a science fiction western that grossed so much money the hacks in the studios couldn't help but notice. And so the lights on adult cinema (not porn, you pervert!) slowly faded. By the mid-1980s, "comic book" movies (as William Goldman called them back in '82) had taken over. These were drive-in movies with big budgets. The early ones, like Blade Runner and John Carpenter's The Thing, are masterpieces compared to the processed bile Hollywood produces today. "Comic book" is no longer a figurative expression--every other film released today is based directly on a comic book. Thanks to Miller's Dark Knight Returns, Hollywood thinks producing a Howard the Duck "reboot" in which Howard broods over the existential angst of being an alien duck passes for "serious" entertainment. And so we've come to a point where Hollywood makes exactly three (or more, depending on how much you want to split hairs between sequel, "reboot" and remake) types of movies: Comic book movies--movies that insist on taking stories originally written for six year olds seriously; Sequels, reboots, and remakes--the most blatant proof there is that not one fucking scum sucker in Tinsel Town can produce an original idea; and closely-monitored "independent" films about middle-class liberals coping with the extraordinary pain of being affluent and somewhat concerned about lesser people (so long as those lesser people don't live in trailer parks). Independent films, in fact, are nothing more than the modern versions of Kramer vs. Kramer and On Golden Pond that used to be considered mainstream until Hollywood decided they couldn't market them to twelve year-olds. 

And so we are left with the current state of motion pictures in America: There are no original films being made. Thanks to studios monopolizing the "independent" scene, there are no independent films being made. Too bad, because a really, really good drive-in movie, traditionally, is both original and independent.

Which brings us to the new Star Wars movie.

I've waited long enough to have a thorough say on this topic. I saw the movie the night before it opened. I did so because I'm a sucker. I saw the original Star Wars movie opening day and have made it a habit since then to see all the sequels on opening day or as close to it as possible. I already knew in 1983, when I was in the fifth grade, that the series had run out of ideas. Return of the Jedi was about a bigger, badder death star. The characters spoke to each other in winks and nods to the fact that they were now part of a giant franchise that cared less about storytelling and more about toy marketing. Nothing like The Empire Strikes Back, which took the awe from the original film and knocked it out of the park with a logical extension of the story and great dialogue and character development to go with it (not that I understood all that in the second grade when it was released, but I knew I wasn't being cheated--this was a definite, linear progression from the first story). Lucas decided, appropriately, to stop making Star Wars movies after episode XI. Even as a child I understood this was a good thing. 

And then Lucas discovered CGI and eventually made the prequels that a lot of people seem to hate. I've never been a fan of the idea of a prequel since there can't possibly be any suspense, but I watched them and was mildly amused. I was almost moved by the nostalgia generated at the end of "Episode III," at that point having been in my 30s and on the way to a midlife crisis nostalgia merchants love to cater to; And then along came "The Force Awakens."

This movie was probably doomed, in my mind, from the get-go. There's no way Disney will ever do anything daring or original at this point and I've never been a fan of J.J. Abrams. The film had two strikes before the camera had even started rolling. But as the release approached and the hype reached its fever pitch with brainless jock football announcers getting in their required plugs on college and professional broadcasts, I decided to step back and let the film speak for itself. Right away, however, I knew I'd been duped again. Something important lodged in a robot, an adventurous young person on a sand-covered planet called into action for a bigger cause, and, of course, a bigger, badder death star. I tried like crazy to give in to the special effects spectacle, which I'd been promised, over and over, would be primarily optical effects, and then that giant evil guy with the big head showed up, worse than any CGI in the "prequels," and I slumped in my seat and waited patiently for the movie to be over. I made one comment on facebook, but mostly kept my opinion to myself. The country (and the world, it seems) is going along with the mirage; you've seen the comments yourself:

"There's just enough old stuff to balance the new stuff"

"It's nostalgic and ground-breaking at the same time!"

"I couldn't stop smiling and crying!"

And so on...

There are grinches out there worse than me--they've seen the film several times to make solid arguments about plot holes and other issues with the movie. I don't have the time or the money to make such a thorough investigation. As I walked to my van after the first and only time I'll watch it, I felt a kind of rage, that I live in a time when Hollywood can't do one fucking thing original, when, as a middle-aged man, all the shit that was new and exciting when I was young is being recycled and the stars of that shit are being asked to put aside their walkers and Depends for a moment to don their old costumes and make everyone feel good about the fact that 1977, or 1982, or 1992 once existed and was a hell of lot more fun and creative than 2015/16. We're getting X-Files and Twin Peaks reboots because, yes, those series were awesome when they were new, and Hollywood has no ideas, so now we see an aged Mulder and Cooper going through the motions so that old farts like me won't have to think about, well, how fucking old we are! 

You know what would be better? Something new. Something the young generation can call their own and something us old farts who ARE creative can help create.

I remember when Harry Potter books became popular. My baby sister was twelve or thirteen at the time. She read and loved those books. She named her first email account after a character from them. I was thrilled that her generation had something as meaningful to them as Star Wars was to my generation. I haven't seen anything since then for today's twelve and thirteen year olds (or younger). That's a fucking shame.

But I digress, as I'm apt to do when complaining about the senior citizens on my lawn...

Perhaps I would have liked The Force Awakens if I had seen it at a drive-in. My tendency over the last ten years has been to watch the "comic book" movies at the drive-in. It makes them so much more tolerable (and I can see two or three of them for less than the outrageous price they charge at the multiplexes). They're turds, which a lot of traditional drive-in movies were, but they're polished turds. And since they're essentially continuing the tradition started by Jaws and Star Wars of aping drive-in territory with bigger budgets, the drive-in is exactly where they belong.

And if ever there was polished turd, The Force Awakens is it.

Merry belated Christmas.


  1. At the risk of being branded a troll, I'm with you on this one, brother.

  2. "Troll" is newspeak for "person with independent opinion."

  3. I can't believe how reviewers sold out for this movie. Jesus, even Rolling Stone rated it obscenely high.

  4. Too many wallets at stake. Plus, all our entertainment is now owned by the same four or five companies. They all pat each other on the back and say good things about each others' products because they figure that's the best way for all of them to make profits. It's communism at the top of the food chain while us bastards on the bottom rungs still compete like animals.