We, the American public, are in an unhealthy relationship with the Hollywood Blockbuster. As a crazed songstress who enjoys getting drunk and thrown out of baseball games in her spare time might put it…actually no. I’m not going there.
A great blockbuster has the ability to entertain us again and again like no other genre of film. The best ones are mainstays of our movie collections – the ones that we upgrade from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to Digital. The worst ones, well that’s another story. They often make lame excuses for their transgressions, but we keep coming back. Here are some of them…
But baby, I give you what you need
e.g. Transformers (2007), Armageddon (1998), Independence Day (1996)
Sometimes we just want to turn our brains off and watch things explode. The more explosions the better. If recognizable buildings are destroyed (Independence Day), fantastic. Or if the explosions are caused by giant robots trying to kill each other (Transformers), that’s pretty great. Also if the explosions are caused by asteroids (Armageddon), asteroids are fun right? Boom!!!!!!!
Is there anything wrong with our insatiable desire for explosions? I don’t know. Even if we secretly wish the human protagonist would get stomped by Megatron, we keep coming back for more.
But baby it was so great the first time
e.g. Star Wars Episode I (1999), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Godfather Part III (1990)
Remember those blockbusters I mentioned in the intro? The ones you absolutely love and can’t get enough of? Well sometimes the sequels don’t pan out so well.
Whether it is caused by misguided megalomania (Episode I), a director who’s just trying to make a quick buck (The Lost World), or failure to understand what made the original movie so popular (Matrix Reloaded), sequels often fall short of the glory of the first film. This seems to be especially the case when a lot of time has passed between films (Crystal Skull and Godfather 3). But that’s okay, if they make a third one it’ll be better, right?
But baby you love this, don’t you remember?
e.g. Transformers 2 (2009), The Matrix Revolutions (2003),Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (2007)
Wrong! We know it’s going to be bad because the first movie was bad (Transformers), the second movie was bad (Matrix Revolutions), or the second movie was lackluster (Pirates of the Caribbean 3). But we really hope it’s better. It’s gotta be better, right?
It won’t be, but we want to see what happens next, and, when we are inevitably disappointed we want to commiserate with everyone and complain about how bad that third movie was. In a perverse way, I think we like these movies more – we can endlessly pick apart how we could have done a better job. After all, movie lovers probably spend more hours picking apart disappointing films than praising great ones.
But baby, I’ve changed
e.g. Transformers 3 (2011), The Incredible Hulk (2003), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Sometimes the sequels will have a cast change (Hulk), a promise from the director that this time it’ll be better (Transformers 3), or a more promising storyline (Fantastic Four 2). But alas, we’re fooled again. We’re pretty sad at this point but…
e.g. Speed 2 (1997), Godzilla (1998), Batman and Robin (1997), Gigli (2003)
Oh you may entice us with basically the same storyline, but on a boat! (Speed 2) You may woo us with promises of iconic monsters! (Godzilla) You may even try to slake our endless lust for celebrity couples (Gigli) or the promise of endless snow and ice puns (Batman and Robin)! But this ends now! I’m not paying $8 to see that and I don’t care what you say!
At the end of the day, the blockbuster is an easy genre to churn out summer after summer, but a difficult one to master. I really don’t regret a couple hours away from air conditioning in the summer to enjoy some popcorn though. I like being in on the conversation when those movies misfire. And I like to make fun of these movies on DVD later. Not every blockbuster is going to be Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), or The Dark Knight (2008). And I’m actually okay with that.
Next Time: Part 3: Genre Cliches
(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe