And so it begins, like many other films. The lights fade and the screen flickers to life. My eyes are met by vast vistas and extraordinary looking characters, each capable of changing the tale in a heartbeat. I spend a precious moment taking it all in, such creations only capable with the use of the industry’s most advanced technology. But as the film unfolds, I am not at all surprised by my reaction.
I yawn. Yes, I’m afraid to say it but I yawn. I yawn like I have never yawned before. What is it about the film that fails to satisfy me? The plot? The characterisation? The production? Well, it’s a bit of everything really. The plot is flimsy and unbelievable, the characters are shallow stereotypes and the production, well, it’s nothing short of a joke. I can’t really criticise things such as set design or make up because they don’t appear to exist. Instead they are provided by the industry’s “most advanced technology”. It is a mess. It is then I realise that this is not an isolated incident, but rather a link in a chain far, far too long. I ask myself why are most films made today so bad? The answer is clear: because the year is 2009, not 1989. Much like civilizations that have passed before us, cinema has reached its peak and is now set for decline.
As a man in his early twenties, I grew up with such gems as Aliens, The Terminator, Die Hard, Big, Predator and, of course, the undisputed film to end all films, Ghostbusters. These films had it all. They had great characters, gripping stories and special effects to die for. I believe that the Queen Alien in James Cameron’s masterpiece is the greatest visual effect to ever grace the screen, one that was butchered by the pitiful CG abomination in Alien Vs. Predator.
There is a certain magic to 80s cinema, something that no amount of analysis can ever understand (believe me, I’ve tried). But one element that is consistent throughout these films is the themes. If you deconstruct each film you will find that the themes are very human. The juxtaposition between this and the often eccentric nature of the film works beautifully. For example, the premise of Big is a far-fetched one: a boy who wants to be a man and gets his wish. But this is a coming of age story that shows us that we must grow to survive in this world but also that, no matter our age, we never truly grow up. There is always a kid within us. John Heard’s childish outbursts and Elizabeth Perkin’s mischievous episode with the car radio remind us of this. And if Robert Loggia’s duet with Tom Hanks didn’t bring a smile to your face then you need to give work a rest and have some fun.
Let’s take a look at an equally bizarre, but very different, film. The pride and glory that is Ghostbusters will be remembered for many years to come. Again, it dealt with very human themes (being unemployed and going into business) in spectacular fashion (doing battle with a hundred foot marshmallow man). But the true victory of this film is the three main characters: Bill Murray’s sleazy opportunist with heart, Dan Aykroyd’s eager, yet bumbling, paranormal investigator and Harold Ramis’ science geek who manages to steal the Crown of Cool from all the other characters. I have never heard anyone say “Print is dead” quite like Egon Spengler. He knows it may sound arrogant, he just doesn’t give a damn.
This film was made when comedy was at it’s prime in the 80s, a subtle blend of clever and toilet humour that made for excellent viewing. Unfortunately a lot of comedy these days is nothing but toilet humour. I blame American Pie. The relationship between our three heroes and their adventures was a result of great 80s comedy. When they inadvertently attack a maid in the hotel during their first real job, all they offer are awkward apologies and the truly great line from Venkman “Sorry, we thought you were someone else”. The American Pie generation would probably handle a scene like this tragically by casting Sean William Scott and having him scream surprised profanities before Ashton Kutcher opens a hotel door and offers his pearls of “wisdom”. Ghostbusters is a flagship for 80s comedy and if the likes of American Pie and the horrible Scary Movie films are all modern cinema can muster, then they should prepare to be blown out of the water.
A friend of mine once said “I don’t consider CGI to be special effects because there’s nothing special about it”. Truer words have never been spoken. CGI is nothing but bells and whistles, it offers nothing to us as viewers. Most of the time, we can see that it is fake. In fact, it is a distraction for both the audience and those involved with the film. Ewan McGregor, for instance, is a fine actor and one of the great British exports of our time. Yet, his performances suffered in the recent Star Wars trilogy because he had absolutely nothing physical to work with. Now, I understand that there are certain situations where bluescreen technology must be used. I don’t think Warner Brothers would have been too thrilled if Christopher Nolan had decided to hang Heath Ledger upside down outside a real building for The Dark Knight. But to use it just to fill in the blanks in a corridor scene? Come on.
Last year the film industry suffered the loss of many of its talented artists. Amongst these was Stan Winston. He was a man that fashioned incredible creations. A lot of the ideas in 80s films would not have been possible without him. But he was able to do this physically, he did not need the use of computers to create. I remember watching the making of Terminator 3. In it, he said they had actually created working robots and that they had faked it for the first two films. But there lies his greatest success. He was able to fool audiences with what he had at the time. Okay, there are certain points in The Terminator that don’t quite work, but for the most part his work is second to none. When Stan Winston passed away he left behind a vast and enduring legacy. The type of legacy that CGI will never have.
So there we have it, my little crusade against modern cinema. These are just a few of the reasons why I think films from the 80s are vastly superior to their modern day counterparts. However, to say that there are no good films released these days would be extremely unfair. Of course there are. The problem is, for every great film made another three terrible films are as well. This is an issue that needs to be addressed because it is slowly crippling the industry and with computer games coming ever closer to achieving the status that cinema once had, it is close to becoming second best. So, budding directors, pick up your cameras, gather a crew, and start making some entertainingly eccentric films that were all the rage twenty years ago.
© BRWC 2010.
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