Keep it Simple
May 27, 2011
I’m not a sophisticate: I’ll gorge on Taco Bell and unironically enjoy PCU or Lake Placid. I love a big, loud, stupid movie done right and celebrate when they’re done so right I’m not even embarrassed if spotted coming out of a multiplex or buying it on DVD (because I’m also not embarrassed to still be buying DVDs). The X-Men, Pirates of the Caribbean and Iron Man movies — including some of the sequels — were fun flicks I was unabashedly excited to watch.
But this summer’s movies haven’t really sold me.
The latest Pirates sinned first in encouraging the badmouthing of its predecessors’ complexity, when that’s exactly what made the series so much fun in the first place. Audiences paid for action and got pirate noir as well. Can there really be so many critics out there, as well as star Johnny Depp himself, complaining that the previous sequels were too thinky? Aren’t these the same people usually complaining about the inane and unchallenging movies foisted on the public these days? Isn’t it Depp who once called America “dumb … like a dumb puppy” and talked about “a drive in me that won’t allow me to do certain things that are easy. I can weigh all the options, but there’s always one thing that goes: ‘Johnny, this is the one.’ And it’s always the most difficult — it’s always the one that will cause the most trouble”? (Yes, it was.)
This Pirates sequel also succumbs to that weird 3-D mania gripping and boring America, like a really colorful-looking character you want to meet at a party who turns out to be a manic close-talker desperate to tell a three-hour story with lots of yelling and arm-waving. And later, once you think about it, there wasn’t really much to the tale. Like: Trip to the dentist. Cavity.
This is what Hollywood’s banking on, though, despite warning signs audiences are already tiring of 3-D, including a BTIG Research report released May 23 noting 38% of the $90 million in box office revenue for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides on its opening weekend came from non-Imax 3-D screens, while last year the same kind of showings amounted to 54% of revenue for Shrek Forever After and 57% for How To Train Your Dragon. Tickets to 3-D movies cost more than regular tickets, Imax 3-D tickets cost even more and once you’re inside the velveteen ropes the popcorn is marked up 900%.
Here’s one way to spot a pointless gimmick: The last Harry Potter film, coming out July 15, is on 3-D, and it’s the first film made that way in the eight-part series, which started a decade ago and has brought in more than $2 billion just in U.S. box office receipts, never mind internationally or in DVD sales, rentals, streaming and merchandising. Did the filmmakers think audiences would tune out on Part II of the last Harry Potter movie ever, after a decade of buildup and a lead-in that ended on a cliffhanger?
In theory, I’ll see almost any kind of movie. I just need someone willing to go with me. But it’s kind of a turnoff when the Hollywood-endorsed buzz about the movie is that it’s literally, purposely dumber than the extraordinarily popular chapters that came before; spent less on special effects but will cost more to see because, thanks to a totally unnecessary gimmick, more things come flying at your face; and once you’re trapped inside the theater, any available food or drink is marked up like gold in Glenn Beck’s most fervid nighttime fantasies.
Oh, Hollywood, you had me at hello. And you lost me when Michael Bay rebooted Jerry Maguire as a 3-D franchise with Ashton Kutcher, Tara Reid and a script by the guys who did Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.
— Marc Levy has been working as a journalist in New England for 15 years, and as a Cambridge journalist whenever possible – he even returned to Cambridge on weekends during editing stints in Connecticut. His writing on Cambridge, a 105,162-population city that hosts a thriving cultural scene and three major universities, can be found at cambridgeday.com.