The movies have a lot of power – social. Historical. Emotional.
That’s probably my favourite one. Not a lot beats the thrill of forging an emotional connection to characters and events, especially fictional ones; not a lot beats forging that emotional connection to a movie itself, the sum of all its parts.
And some much more than others. I know it’s been a good experience if it’s emotionally involved me somehow – if one of those characters has made me care in some way, if a sequence has given me tingles in my fingertips or down the back of my neck. It’s an identification and a catharsis – it’s what makes the experience important.
The nuts and bolts of a good movie are a tricksy thing – you can have every single element of an objectively “good” film but still come out with an emotionally uninvolving experience. I’m certainly not saying emotional engagement with a movie is some mystical lightning in a bottle; it’s many considerations of tone and character, story and themes working together in a certain kind of harmony and that has to be engineered. When a reviewer snarkily remarks on a confusion of tones “somehow” working, that is unlikely by accident – whether by pre-production design or post-production editorial engineering, that was not a happy accident…a movie is the sum of its parts, as I just mentioned.
The myth of the creative mysticism that gives movies life is a disingenuous thing to buy into for something that costs a lot of money and takes a helluva lot of skilled work to get right. Nevertheless, a technically superb movie, of worthy themes and Oscar-winning technical quality, as perfect as it possibly could manage, can still be cold and lifeless. Getting everything objectively right doesn’t always add up to that emotionally powerful result; it becomes technically powerful and a work of art to view, but it doesn’t always subjectively get you there.
I am talking subjectively, here. The importance that one person attaches to something can rarely be easily understood by someone who doesn’t attach the same importance to it; the cinema can be a deeply personal experience, one that can be shared but one that can be, just as easily, lonely. I never cease to be amazed how a film I find hilarious, some of my friends thought was awful; how characters I adored left others cold; how a story I found intricate and astounding, others found convoluted and nonsensical. Even when I can pull out the technical genius that formed those laughs or constructed those marvellous people and plot twists on screen…you won’t convince others of the importance you attached to that experience because they simply didn’t experience it themselves.
That’s just one of the reasons I have such an uncomfortable relationship with film criticism. You can’t help but be over the moon when a film you like gets a good critical rating but, as I’ve got older, I’ve found I have less and less patience with movie reviews; less and less interest in However Many Stars Out Of Five; less and less interest in straight out “evaluating” a film in an effort to influence the opinions of others.
I’m nevertheless happy when a movie I loved gets a good review, but I think that’s because I know that will help influence others who, for whatever reason, rely on such pieces to go see it. Conversely, I think I’m unspeakably infuriated by bad notices of movies I’ve loved because it will keep those same people away from the box office.
It doesn’t really matter on a personal level if a film you love gets good box office or not, because it’ll still come out on DVD, download or streaming; you can still experience it again, feel those same things again and it certainly doesn’t invalidate your experience. But it does provide a certain validation on a personal level, just like reading a good review—or just like reading a bad one makes you furious and personally affronted that whoever wrote it had the nerve to so epically Miss The Point. In larger terms it matters because the success of films you like will lead to more films you like – not necessarily sequels, but similarly themed movies.
It’s all part of the emotional investment. But away from the opinions of film criticism, how do you qualify What Gets You There?
This has all come from my reaction to Dean Israelite’s Power Rangers, a film I have been looking forward to so much that I think everyone I know has dreaded the word “Power” forming on my lips when I talk to them since about last April.
I’ve been a diehard fan of this franchise since it began – I grew up with it and never grew out of it. I could go on for page after page about what I see in it, about the stories and the characters and the imagination but, as I said before, if you don’t care already, I’m not going to make you care. I have one friend who feels the same; I’ve dated one guy who felt the same. But other than that, Power Rangers is a deeply personal experience because, by and large, it’s just me experiencing it and there is a lot of childhood memory and personal morality attached to it.
After watching 700+ episodes of the television series over 24 years, I was always going to like it. Having dreamt up my own “mature” take on it in comic book form that played around significantly with the mythology, I knew there was some amazing fun to be had with the material and I’d likely appreciate wherever they went with it.
But I didn’t expect it to so truly Get Me There. I didn’t expect it to so perfectly encapsulate everything I love about the show, all the important core values the show had when it began, but combined with everything I love in a well-written movie, everything I love now, as an adult. It matured and modernised the concept without losing the concept, and that was a huge deal – that was a huge feat to get right. Where the Mighty Morphin’ television series had a childlike black and white morality that allowed for pure and honest storytelling, the movie is plausibly grey through and through; where the television series had a broadly painted mythology that was deliberately vague to basically let the bought-in Japanese footage stretch out wherever it needed to, the movie tightens it in immensely and builds something beautifully simple and coherent to follow from it.
And it spends two acts constructing them and introducing them to one another, uniting them before they finally morph. It takes a brave narrative decision to have them alien to one another from the beginning, rather than jump in as a close-knit group of implausibly clique-spanning friends; to give them all tough intrinsic issues to overcome but without making the film about those issues. It’s a beautiful arc to watch unfold, it has character construction that should make any other superhero movie hang its head in shame.
It doesn’t get everything right and it isn’t perfect — there are some zord-sized plot holes that could have easily been soldered shut with a few lines of dialogue, occasionally a little too much left to inference — but it calmly melds several unexpected tones, yet still works…because it was designed that way, not because it met with a happy accident in the editing room. It changes a lot whilst maintaining the heart of the concept and building a strong character-driven shell around it, and that was a conscious narrative choice; it takes obvious elements from the show, such as Zordon’s apparent benevolence contrary to his actions, and makes that part of the story.
It plugs into whatever the show plugged into and cranks it up to eleven. My favourite movie of all time is The Breakfast Club and I can only really describe Power Rangers as The Breakfast Club with superheroes – what’s not for me to love? It ticks all my boxes, it gives me so much more than I expected to get, because I didn’t expect to have such a raw reaction to it, I didn’t expect to laugh and cry and be thrilled like I’m eight years old again.
Yet I understand why people don’t.
I can’t really see why The Wizard of Oz effects so many of my friends so much and their emotional connection to it is so strong – I wholeheartedly believe it when they say it, but I don’t get it myself. I never saw the film as a kid; I came across it on Bank Holiday afternoons on television occasionally but it never held my attention; it was cutesy, it was cliche, it was transparent and cheesy and over the top. I didn’t buy into it. And I didn’t see it properly until I studied it in my first year of Film Studies.
I don’t have the childhood fondness for it, the innocent adoration of it that others have, because it never struck me as a child and when I did finally see it properly, it was through a lens of film academia and the journey of Dorothy as one of lesbian sexual awakening. For my own part, The Wizard of Oz has no genuine depth to it, nothing to involve me – I like the bit in black and white, but once we get to Oz and the ungrounded garish Technicolor fantasy, my disinterest drops off the chart.
For reasons both different and the same. But that’s really the point – film criticism can only ever really be opinion and opinion should never solely influence success or failure, right or wrong, because it fundamentally isn’t relevant to either of those things. That’s why I like it when a movie “defies” critics at the box office.
You can quantify good and bad, but you can never quantify like and dislike, only justify. I won’t convert someone who doesn’t like Power Rangers to my way of thinking, despite what I see in it; they may see it too once I explain it, but if they don’t feel it, if they didn’t experience it, they won’t ever buy it. The same applies for my view of The Wizard of Oz – I can equate my experience with a film like Power Rangers to other people’s experience of Oz, but I won’t ever feel it, I won’t ever have that experience.
You really need to see a movie yourself to have the experience and you really need to be respectful of other people’s experience and realise a debate on merits is not a debate on right and wrong…because, subjectively, neither of you are one or the other.
That’s perhaps why I dislike the snark and sarcasm and vitriol that’s so prevalent in modern film criticism.