April 05, 2004

More on Movies

Posted by Ed

Here are two recent articles on movies that are worth checking out:

  • In Crisis, Terry Teachout sings the praises of The Triplets of Belleville.
  • In the Los Angeles Times, Denis Dutton (of Arts and Letters Daily) declares that Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings "is, as a work of cinematic art, ham-fisted, shallow, bombastic and laughably overrated," a clear sign of "the degraded state of big-budget movies."

Here's how Dutton concludes his article:

Frankly, I have never looked at my watch as often during a movie as I did in "The Return of the King." Toward the end, I found myself desperately cheering on the giant spider in hope of getting home early. Eat Frodo! Eat him!

If the obsession with expensive technology and shallow effects is to ruin Hollywood film as an art form, by all means let the deed be carried out with the help of talented New Zealanders. The visual effects, costumes and makeup Oscars for "Lord of the Rings" are richly deserved. But beyond that, are these movies, or any of the over-technologized films of our epoch, of lasting value? Let's get a grip.

Given how little time I have, I'm not going to respond to Dutton in detail right now, except to say that I have a much higher opinion of The Lord of the Rings than he does, and that if he wanted to criticize recent movies that put special effects ahead of creativity and charm, he could have picked a more appropriate target. (I also think he falls into the trap of romanticizing the movies of Hollywood's early days, without acknowledging that changes in film audiences and the movie market make it unlikely that any contemporary movie--however good it is--will achieve the sort of universal appeal of Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz.)

Even so, I enjoyed Dutton's article--and I think it's especially interesting alongside Teachout's commentary on digital animation in Finding Nemo (part of the Triplets review above.) I wish that there were more blogs willing to take a contrarian stance on popular movies, instead of just asserting that a movie is great and urging readers to go see it.

Tangential update: Michael Medved has published a Wall Street Journal article on Jack Valenti that touches on an interesting theme: the decline in movie audiences. I don't think you can understand movies as a cultural phenomenon without understanding their viewership, though I'm too lazy to discuss this question today. (See the brief comment on Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz above--and remember that movie audiences were much larger in 1939 than in 1965, when--Medved writes--they were far larger than they are today.)

Posted by Ed at April 5, 2004 01:59 PM

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