Rant of the Day: I Refuse to See The Hobbit

Bilbo

I will never willingly see Peter Jackson’s new Hobbit films. Just the mere mention of them is enough to stir my anger and finding out that not only was the first film number one at the box office in its first weekend, but also made $86 million, is plain infuriating.

When the first announcement was made that The Hobbit was going to be split into two, it seemed about par for the course for Hollywood these days – even if it is a practice I widely detest. Then when it was going to be split into three films, that’s where they lost me. One story, split across three films (and judging by the 169 minute length of the first, this will be an almost 9-hour epic). It’s ridiculous.

The actual book this “trilogy” is based on is 320 pages. That’s the meat of the story – though from my understanding, information from appendices, dropped subplots, and Tolkien’s notes have been added and adapted into the storyline to pad out the running time to make this story worthy of three films. But consider the length of the actual book. If the average length of time a person spends reading a page is a minute, you would be able to read the entire novel once, and then get half-way through it again during the time it would take to watch all three movies. Even if you argue that a person takes two minutes to read a page and point out that reading the entire novel at this speed would be the same as watching the trilogy, I would point out two things: 1) film is a different medium than books and 2) a picture is worth a thousand words – so it shouldn’t take as long to watch a movie as read a book. Hell, the entire story has been told before – in ninety minutes.

What’s the worst thing about The Hobbit being told as a trilogy? The final film is rumoured to be made up of unused footage from the first two films:

“[T]he third film will reportedly cost less since it will use some of the remaining footage that was left out of An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again.” [Source: Geeks of Doom]

Making a person pay money to see a blatant cash grab? Shame on you. Paying money to see multiple blatant cash grabs? Then look forward to future film-splitting, and watch as the next Die Hard is told over nine movies.

Rant of the Day: Texting in Theatres

GTFO.

I guess we can consider this a continuation of another Rant of the Day about people speaking in movie theatres (still my #1 complaint) but it’s relevant if only for an anecdote I had the pleasure of experiencing a few days ago.

I saw a screening of Friends with Benefits on Wednesday and was shocked to see two people get thrown out of the theatre before the film began. Seeing a film two days before its release date tends to mean that security is a little tighter in the theatres. Everyone attending was subject to a search by security guards outside the auditorium and anyone with a cellphone was told to either leave it in their cars or security staff would hold them for the duration of the screening. Yes, even my cellphone from 1998 (it gets internet!) was taken by security staff…in case I took any ultra low-res spoiler photos of Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. I didn’t mind, but apparently someone else did.

A guy and presumably his girlfriend in the front row had somehow managed to sneak their iPhones in before the screening. They were busy playing Angry Birds or texting their friends (“I’m in movie theatre lol”) when one of the security staff noticed them and asked them to either leave their cellphones in their car or outside the auditorium. Like everyone else. They refused. So the manager was brought in to convince them that they couldn’t like, see the movie if they had their cellphones. Serial. They still refused. And then they left and never came back. I like to imagine the conversation went along the lines of:

Guy with cellphone: Dude, I’m not going to give you my cellphone. It’s expensive and I don’t want it to get stolen.

Manager: Your phone will be safe and our security staff will watch it the entire time.

Guy with cellphone: But I’m like waiting for an important call and I want to text my friends and stuff.

Manager: Dude, gtfo.

Folks – put your cellphones away. Yes, thank you for not talking. I much prefer to see four or five glowing blue screens popping up every five minutes so you can have an inane conversation with your buds (also – are people incapable of texting below their knees? Anytime I’ve seen someone texting in a theatre they hold their phone up to the sky as if they are getting signals from the mothership).

Thank god we have the Alamo Drafthouse, a theatre which makes no qualms about humiliating the idiocy of cellphone-wielding patrons.

This has been another edition of Film Viewing Etiquette* 101.

*Etiquette means “How not to be a douchebag.”

Rant of the Day: “It was all a dream” (or Outlandish Film Interpretations)

Isaac Asimov is a master storyteller. One of the first books I ever read by him was a collection of short stories called Robot Visions. What I love about Asimov is that he makes rules for the universes that he is writing for and then slavishly sticks to them. For his robot stories, he created the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

One of my favorite stories from the collection is called “Runaround” (which is also the first story where Asimov’s three laws were explicitly laid out). The story deals with a robot that needs to get a rare element on Mercury’s surface in order to repair the life support system for a mining base where two scientists are. However, rather than harvesting the element as it was asked, the robot is found to be running around the pool in a massive circle. The scientists realize that the rare element is dangerous to the robot, which conflicts with the Third Law (self-preservation). Generally, this would be trumped by the Second Law (obey human orders), but in this case, one of the scientists casually issued the order without a sense of urgency. The whole story thus revolves around a dilemma within Asimov’s rules: if the robot harvests the element, it conflicts with the Third Law, but if it doesn’t harvest the element, that conflicts with the Second Law. The ambiguity within the rules Asimov has laid out becomes the basis for the entire story, rather than the story being haphazardly adapted to arbitrary rules.

What does this have to do with movies? IMDb message boards, or more specifically, Outlandish Film Interpretations.

A lot of films have ambiguous elements within them. These elements are then discussed on message boards across the world with various voices explaining what they mean. Sometimes the interpretations are credible, and help reveal a subtle theme from the film that you didn’t realize. Other times (well, most of the time) these interpretations are outlandish and ridiculous. I remember reading an interpretation about Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige where someone argued that Christian Bale’s character was just a figment of Hugh Jackman’s character’s imagination. What?

The problem with these Outlandish Film Interpretations is that they don’t follow the rules that the film has set out for them. In The Prestige, the two characters compete with one another to become the greatest magician in the world. They both have romantic love interests, and the characters put on magic shows that generate large audiences. Where can you explain that Christian Bale’s character is imaginary within the confines of the film? The short answer is: you can’t. You have to go outside the boundaries (and rules) of the film to make this argument credible – i.e. the “It was all a dream” explanation and therefore the rules of the film are not legitimate. This explanation can work in some cases (David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive…still one of my least favorite film experiences). But why not interpret a film based on the rules within it?

Asimov’s short stories outline the numerous ways a few simple rules can be interpreted and creatively reworked for an almost limitless supply of explanations (or discussions). So why throw out the rule book when you can work with it? Here’s the rule to avoid an Outlandish Film Interpretation: Everything you see onscreen is not a lie, unless explicitly indicated otherwise. This avoids the confusion of labeling the Lord of the Rings character Gimli a metaphor for labour rising up against the technological aggression of the industrial revolution (Sauron’s forces). He’s not. Gimli is a dwarf, Sauron’s forces are evil gremlins, goblins, and other creatures that go bump in the night. This first rule also helps with a film like The Usual Suspects, which does explicitly indicate that some of what we see onscreen is a lie – this can be interpreted within the world of the film (i.e. how much is bullshit and how much of the story has truth to it). Follow this, and the discussions based around the film seem much more interesting, rather than outlandish.

This rant was written because I’m tired of seeing people arguing that characters only exist as figments of other characters imaginations. The damning legacy of Fight Club continues to haunt our viewings of films (though it did explicitly state that a character was imaginary, and therefore adheres to the rule of a Decent Film Interpretation).

Rant of the Day: Two-Part Movies

It all ends. If there isn't a Part 3.

Harry Potter and The Deathy Hallows comes out in July, finishing the Hogwarts saga. Excuse me, Part II of the final Harry Potter movie comes out in July.

Sequels and prequels I can tolerate. Reboots and remakes I can understand (and most I like – i.e. Nolan’s Batman). But two-part movies? No. Just no.

Where’s the logic in paying full price for half a story? I can’t imagine going into restaurant and being given half a meal. Or going into a bookstore and buying a book with two-hundred pages ripped out. But somehow this is appropriate if you’re going to a movie. It also pretty much negates the usefulness of any form of criticism:

Critic: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was awful – slow, plodding, and too much uninteresting dialogue between boring, broadly-drawn characters.

Joe Public and Studio Exec: Um excuse me, but that’s Part 1. It’s only half the story. You have to see the full thing before you can accurately criticize the film. Therefore, your criticism is valueless. Thanks for coming out.

It’s a great strategy. Part 1 of a film is critic-proof because it’s not a full movie. It’s not a movie at all actually. Just a senseless and insulting cash grab for moviegoers. And totally unnecessary to boot. Remember Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King? That movie was 201 minutes long. Sure, it was a lengthy haul to get through, but at least it was an entire film. Unfortunately, it’s been decided that even though that film was a raging mainstream success and critical darling (it did win Best Picture), the studios could have squeezed some more pennies out of the franchise by making the final film a two-parter. They messed up with the Lord of the Rings, but don’t worry – it’s prequel, The Hobbit, is going to be done right. It’s a two-parter.

This was part 1 of a two-part criticism.

 

Trailer Rant of the Day: The Hangover Part II

I was excited for this movie until I saw the latest trailer. Now I’m geared up for a disappointment (yes, I’m fairly certain I’ll be seeing this in theatres either way).

Maybe it’s just me, but this trailer makes the film look godawful. It’s not a sequel to The Hangover – it’s a remake set in Thailand. It follows the exact same story beats as the first one.

For example:

Bride’s brother tags along with the gang (in the original, this was Zack Galifianakis, now it’s Unnamed Lost Thai Brother).

It’s set during the bachelor party of another wedding (and why isn’t Heather Graham the wife in this one – that seemed like it would’ve been a logical extension of the first film).

They have a crazy party and when they wake up they can’t remember their crazy antics. Also, they lose someone – this time it’s Unnamed Lost Thai Brother (okay, he has a name – Teddy) who they have to find before going back to the wedding (not quite as funny as losing the groom).

For some reason, the anxious wife from the first movie calls the gang to ask where they are and gets the now familiar answer that things have gone awry and they’ll be there when they’ll be there.

Justin Bartha (the original lost groom) isn’t with his friends again. Alright, maybe he decided not to drink with them after being left on a Vegas roof for two days – understandable.

Chow is back – but this time he seems less threatening because he’s friends with the guys now (rather than being locked in the back of their trunk) and without his macho mob boss posturing his nasally voice could be more grating than funny in this movie.

I just don’t understand why this has to have the exact same story as the previous one.

Friends do drink outside of crazy bachelor parties right? And they don’t have to lose a person again – what if Stu lost the wedding rings instead? It’s effect would be the same: they can’t return until they’ve found the object (or Unnamed Lost Thai Brother).

To me, it just feels like this is a copy-and-paste sequel.

Copy “Vegas” change to: “Thailand”

Copy “Lost Groom” change to: “Unnamed Lost Thai Brother”

Copy “The Hangover” change to: “The Hangover Part II”

A sequel can add something more to, and stray from, the original story. Changing locations a sequel does not make, as Yoda would say. And he would know.

Rant of the Day: Green is the new asshole

Love the environment, hate the environmentalists. Is there anything more partisan than the environmental movement?

I was browsing through Facebook when I saw multiple status updates from a friend who has become an environmental activist and advocate. Every day, he has a new update about sustainability in the home, starving children in Africa, and Conservative-bashing (one of my favorites to see was one bashing Conservatives for criticizing the late Pierre Trudeau with the title something like “Conservatives stoop to criticizing a dead Liberal.” Thankfully, three friends called him out on the situation saying 1) The “Conservative” he talked about has nothing to do with Canada nor the Conservative party of Canada 2) Just because someone is dead doesn’t mean they are exempt from criticism and 3) Just stop blindly bashing a party you disagree with – that’s so Conservative). But that’s not the post that led me on this rant.

It was the one about coffee. Another friend posted something about some guy trying to go to every Starbucks in New York City, of which there are about 150 of or so. Rather than just commenting “Oh, that’s slightly interesting,” Greenie posted something about how much money this New Yorker was going to spend on coffee and how that money could be put towards more meaningful activities – like buying a well in Africa, or paying homeless people to pick up litter. Greenie then ended the post with an insult – “But maybe you just couldn’t comprehend all that over your overpriced cup of coffee.” I’ve had enough of this, so I’m just going to put it right out there: green is the new asshole.

Now this may be a strange rant for a movie blog, but it actually has a direct association with movies, namely, they need asshole characters. Think about the stock character types of most popular Hollywood films: the generic and balanced hero protagonist, the wimpy but hyper-intelligent sidekick, the love interest, the douchey asshole type, and the villain (which can sometimes also be a douchey asshole type). Each stock character plays a clearly defined role in the film world. The douchey asshole type is the character we enjoy rooting against (in Hollywood blockbusters this is often an FBI, CIA, or an other agent somehow associated with the government). We love scenes of the hero exposing them as a) ineffectual b) a coward c) an idiot or d) hypocritical. And we also love seeing them die.

Take the horror film, for instance. There’s almost always this character: stocky, well-built athlete-guy who thinks he’s hot shit and has a lot of dialogue with words like “bro” and “that hot babe digs me.” What a douche. And then roughly about 2/3rds of the way through the movie this character is killed in the most brutal way imaginable and the audience erupts into cheers. Later, bro.

So here’s my suggestion: change stocky, well-built athlete-guy into stocky, well-built environmentalist guy. It’s pretty much the same character, just environmentalist guy really gets into the hero’s face. Typical scenes:

#1

Hero is drinking from a Coke Can.

Stocky Environmentalist: You gonna recycle that bro?

Hero: Well, yeah, but I’m still drink-

Stocky Environmentalist guy grabs Hero by the collar and lifts him up against a locker.

Stocky Environmentalist: You BETTER recycle that can bro or I’mma introduce you to a world of hurt. (At this point, the stocky environmentalist can do a monologue comparing the hero’s threatened “world of hurt” to the inhumane treatment of cows in slaughterhouses – at the screenwriter’s discretion).

#2

Hero and Stocky Environmentalist are walking home.

Stocky Environmentalist: What are you doing this weekend man?

Hero: Uh, going to go to a party, hang out with friends, watch a movie…you?

Stocky Environmentalist: Nothing. Because the more I do, the more I affect the planet. [Stops to look at Hero] You should really consider Mother Nature’s plans before making your own, bro.

#3

Hero gives $10 to a homeless man so he can buy a meal.

Stocky Environmentalist: Dude, you just gave that guy $10? For that amount of money you could sponsor a child for ten months, buy 2,500 pounds of fertilizer for impoverished farmers’ crops, and provide a month’s worth of access to clean water to an indigenous society. [Shaking head] You’re so goddamn near-sighted man.

(Okay, I guess this last one is environmentalist/activist guy – I just lump ’em together.)

Look, I do think it’s important that we look after the environment. I participated in Earth Hour, I recycle, I refuse to take plastic bags from grocery stores as often as possible, I always turn off my lights if I’m not in the room, and I never leave the tap running while brushing my teeth. I also walk everywhere or take public transit. I’m not exactly the gas-guzzling, SUV-driving, destroyer-of-the-environment type. This isn’t a rant about looking after the environment, it’s a rant about the morally superior persona developed by some of those people who look after the environment (and others – sorry lumping activists and environmentalists together again).

Take for instance, the reaction to TOMS shoes. For every pair of shoes a person buys the company donates a pair of shoes to a needy individual in another country. This seems like it would be a universally praised business practice no? I mean, isn’t giving to the needy part of the whole environmentalist/activist persona anyway? Apparently not. Google “TOMS Shoes Negative” and you’ll find about forty blogs talking about what TOMS could be doing instead. Like building latrines or investing in nutrient-rich soil. They’re criticizing a company not for doing good, but for not doing enough good. Activists and environmentalists are the most partisan bunch you’ll ever meet – which is especially peculiar when everyone is just trying to do the right thing.

It’s strange enough living in a time when my biggest contribution to the world is to not have any impact at all (ecological footprint-wise). I won’t be surprised if in twenty years the green movement is seen in the same light as Fundamentalist religious groups are today: close-minded and crazy. Maybe if we change Stocky Athlete into Stocky Environmentalist/Activist we can prevent that from happening. At least we’ll get some great death scenes out of it.

Rant of the Day: Tell your Children to Shut Up.

The movie industry is hurting. Piracy is still running rampant, the old brick-and-mortar video store system is collapsing and being replaced with ultra low-cost streaming subscriptions, and a lot of current releases just flat-out suck. And to top it all off, people in the theatre can’t even keep their mouths shut.

If you are going to see a movie in the theatre, please for the love of God, SHUT UP.

Of the past three movies I’ve seen in theatre, every single one of them had either a) a couple on a date who decide a darkened cinema was a great place to have a conversation, b) teenagers that continually ask their friends what’s happening onscreen because they’ve been talking instead of watching, or c) a man who possibly escaped from a mental asylum and screamed at the screen three times. And people wonder why box office returns are dropping.

It seems like a pretty simple social script: if you want to see a movie in a theatre, you need to be quiet for two hours. If you can’t do this, then DON’T go to the theatre. It’s as simple as that.

This isn’t just a rant either; it’s a public service announcement. I don’t know the exact figures offhand, but studies show that talking during a movie is worse for society than doing drugs, playing violent video games, and drinking excessively, combined. It also has the effect of turning otherwise rational human beings into bloodthirsty irrational monsters. This is an epidemic, folks. And it needs to be squelched immediately.

Please don’t send these people to a movie theatre. It’s in everyone’s best interest.