In Search of a Quiet Summer

By  · Published on July 15th, 2013

It’s not that I wanted Pacific Rim to fail. It really isn’t. I definitely don’t have any stake in how well the movie does or doesn’t do, and as a fan, it’s natural to want to see one of my favorite filmmakers succeed in such a way that increases his ability to make the movies he wants to make.

Yet at the same time, I can also see the silver lining to its semi-lackluster financial performance: the freedom afforded a director who didn’t just have a smash hit. Del Toro making a ghost story with Crimson Peak was always promising, but you never know what can happen when success traps you in a sequel prison; all the sudden your schedule has a lot of 2s in it.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s exceedingly cool that geeky directors are getting house-sized checks to work with, but after revisiting Devil’s Backbone and Cronos, it’s clear that getting a $200M budget shouldn’t always be seen as graduating. And there’s the problematic irony of what summer movies have become. The slate has become a predictable celebration of repetitive stress injuries delivered by computer graphics strapped to a stick of dynamite. By trying to be huge, everything looks the same, so you get a situation where a movie is greenlit because it looks like Transformers but then fails (largely) because it’s marketed like Transformers. Go figure.

Somewhere along the way, “loud” became the vanilla ice cream of the summer.

That’s not a quality statement for Pacific Rim. I haven’t even seen it yet, but it doesn’t seem unfair to say that it was injured at the box office by:

  1. Looking a lot like everything else coming out; and
  2. Hitting the scene after we’d had our blocks repeatedly busted

I can’t imagine that audience fatigue is absent from the decision to go to the fourth event-style movie in as many weeks. Because I feel it, too. Fireworks are fantastic, but even they would get boring after a while. Sorry, Ponyboy. The drone of the pattern that studios have sunk into (and audiences as a result) makes for a bunch of big swings, too few homeruns and a lot of stale popcorn.

Plus, in an effort to piss further, studios are trying to be bigger and shinier, creating longer movies with bigger action set-pieces that oftentimes amount to throwing pixels at the screen so fast that we won’t notice that scenes don’t look very good. Bloated has become a natural state, and for every Avengers, there’s at least one Battleship in the bunch. Floating around them in the punch bowl are all the average flicks that suffer from studios going blue in the face trying to hype them up by building incredibly shaky pedestals. Increased competition hasn’t exactly increased quality so much as it’s crowded the playing field.

And that doesn’t even consider the deluge of press announcements reminding us on an hourly basis about movies coming out next year and the year after that and the year after that. I found the above image from IGN via Reddit, and it is terrifying to look upon. Exciting, conflicting and terrible. Just in case we needed a visible representation of how deep our current rehashed hell is. Tell me that we’re getting a new Bond movie, and a smile slaps me across the face, but tell me that it’s in the middle of that pile, and I start to get queasy.

There has to be a saturation point, and I may be alone on this one (or prematurely old), but I’m pretty sure I’ve reached mine. I’m still looking forward to seeing Pacific Rim this weekend, but I’m also unbelievably thankful that independent outfits have stocked theaters (and more specifically online portals) with such quality this summer. I’m afraid, though, that we’ll start to see those kinds of movies as the cotton we have to stuff in our ears instead of as they really are.

Ultimately there are a lot of two-sided issues here. There’s the thrill of some of the titles we have to look forward to matched with disappointments and the sheer absurdity of how many are being flung in our faces. There’s also the appreciation of seeing moves beyond our wildest dreams being made blended with a creeping need for more variety. Plus, going back to my original thought about smaller movies from seasoned voices, if the summer is going to be fattened, we’ll need the best directors possible working on those stories – a move that also chains them to one kind of filmmaking despite how refreshing it would be to see top talent continue to excel at making quieter movies.

Geek properties have truly inherited the earth, but sometimes I can’t help feeling like King Midas the first time he tried to go to the bathroom. And, for some reason, white noise is being blasted in there.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.