Wednesday, May 12, 2010

RedLetterMedia Reviews Episode I: the Phantom Menace

The entire internet has probably seen these by now, but have a look at this absolutely spot-on, go for the jugular review of the godforsaken Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The high points are all at the beginning where he asks others to find words to describe the personality of characters from the prequels and nobody can come up with anything.

The guy that created these trailers did something that I say, with sincere envy, that I wish I had thought of first. When you do a 70-minute review of a movie that's been out for more than ten years that calls it the worst thing ever, people are going to finger you, rightly or wrongly, as a total dweeb...and that's something that is prone to happen to anybody that gets into and reviews popular culture with enough fervor and energy. The way the guy that did the review headed these critiques off was absolutely ingenious: he created an alternate persona of a creepy, aging blue collar gambling addict and former stroke victim that dabbles in serial killing.

Yeah, I get passionate about very silly things about movies, books and comics. Frankly, I'm glad I have the human capacity to experience that kind of emotion. If you like anything enough, and get passionate enough about something to write about it, you're an unusual minority. The overwhelming majority of people on an evening out to the cinema don't talk about the movie they just saw; for most, as they leave the theater they've already forgotten it. The overwhelming majority of people approach things like they do junk TV: they don't think about it when it's not "on."

This is something I realize every time I'm called to do jury duty. The overwhelming majority of people in this world are soulless bores without any hobbies, interests, or books in their homes, that are just sort of...there. And people wonder why I'm an antisocial guy!

Here's a real-life story: when I was an undergraduate and wrote news articles for the FIU Library website, the Mets suffered a catatrophic choke right at the cusp of the finals, when it looked like they had what it took for the first Mets World Series since 2000. I still remember it, October of 2007: all of Shea Stadium had a morguelike atmosphere as people stared blank at the field. The worst part is that the Mets started off in first place.

I was so disappointed and heartbroken that I called in sick to work the next day. When I showed up the day after, my boss...a sweet lady that knew me very well...put her hand on my shoulder and though she was trying to be kind, she said the single worst thing anyone could possibly have ever said in that situation:

"Relax, it's just a game."

You see? You see what I'm talking about? Who are these people that don't understand what it is to be a fan, to really get passionate about something? I don't understand it either when people don't get what the big deal is about whether Kate gets together with Jack or Sawyer on Lost. That's a matter of frickin' life and death, people!

In a lot of worlds that I move in, there's often this false dichotomy, a false either-or between a work that is either for "newbies" or "fans." Something either appeals to new people, or to hard core, old-school fans. This was seen at work in the promotion for the most recent Star Trek movie: the fact that Trek came with a built-in world that fans love and indeed, one of the most energetic and enthusiastic fanbases in history...was seen as a minus and not a plus. Fans whining was something that was holding Star Trek back from being reinvented as a hip blockbuster action movie franchise like everything else.

This is why in (not all, but almost all) cases I tend to support the fans over the desire to reinvent something for general audiences. To care about something enough to passionately defend it is rare because the treatment of entertainment as cheap, forgettable and disposable is the norm. Sure, it's all just fiction, but fiction is unique among all fields of human endeavor in that it allows us to discover and connect to other people. Understanding fiction helps us understand ourselves.


David said...

Well stated. I would add, though, that people probably forget most modern movies immediately because they are in fact immediately forgettable. This is why I no longer get my knickers too much in a twist whenever Hollywood decides to "re-invent" a classic film or TV show I care about. Experience has shown me that in 99% of cases, whatever Hollywood does this summer will be forgotten by this Fall, whereas the source material will still be popular for years to come. Who likes the recent films of I Spy, Wild Wild West, Get Smart, Bewitched or Lost in Space better than the shows that inspired them? My reaction now when they announce a "re-do" is "good, then they'll release DVD sets of the real thing as a tie-in."

It's always amusing when Hollywood types say, "We're re-doing this show with a built-in fan base...We can't lose!" and later in the same press release say they're going to "modernize," "re-vamp" and in every way possible change the original (which after all, is dated, corny and kind of embarrassing). What kind of strategy is that? The hard core fans will boycott the film out of resentment, and the non-fans won't make it past the title, thinking, "That old show? Seen it...wasn't impressed." (Or alternatively, "What? Was that on the 60s? Who cares about THAT old stuff?") It's the perfect recipe for failure. If you're going to change everything anyway, just give it a new name and claim it's an original creation.

Anyway, one of the most satisfying assignments I had back when I wrote ad copy was a direct mail piece for some crappy collectible Elvis gee-gaw or other, and on reading it, the client said it was obvious I was an Elvis fan. I wasn't -- far from it -- but I did know what it was to be a fan of something, and I just kept thinking, "how would I want something I cared about to be treated by a writer?"

Julian Perez said...

Well, let me be a little clearer because I think something was scrambled in my message. I'm not just defending the right of fans to like something. I'm defending the right of fans to totally hate something too. The ability to get passionate about something goes both ways.

The trouble is that people don't really connect to entertainment (because, as I said before, most people are soulless robots with no interests or hobbies or books) they don't understand getting either elated or bitterly disappointed. You go on for seventy minutes about why Episode I was such a goddamn abortion like this guy did, and lots of people just won't get why anything is worth being passionate about like that.

The ability to make us get passionate is a rare and extraordinary ability. Most shows are just "on." Of the series you brought out, I'd only say one or two are still really worth caring about: it sure as heck isn't a show as generic and unimaginative as "Lost in Space," or IRWIN ALLEN FANTASY/SCI-FI SERIES NO. 45710.

To be as clear as I can: I am not saying that all modern updates and revamps are necessarily wrong. I am, however, saying that sticking with the fans and listening to them is sometimes right.

Galactica is a great example of a situation where the fans were wrong to stick by something, because it was crappy and it only seems interesting because of nostalgia.