Wednesday, November 5, 2008

When bad movies happen to good people

I recently supervised part of the second-channel commentary for a movie I thought was something of a disaster.

Listening to the director and one of the stars talk thoughtfully and in some detail about the various choices and decisions they made before, during and after shooting was a vivid reminder that not only do most people not set out to make bad movies, but they often invest an enormous amount of time, thought and emotional energy in projects that isn't necessarily reflected in the finished product.

Neither was slinging self-deluded, blowing-smoke puff and prattle. They're both talented, serious individuals and their reasons for doing particular things -- from the way certain lines were delivered to details of set design -- were all intelligent, interesting and made perfect sense. Make no mistake, I still have the same problems with the finished film, but I was reminded how hard it is to make movies, how many ways things can go wrong and how lazy and pandering lot of current movie reviewing has become.

There are plenty of movies out there that are made by committee and driven by market research. The people behind them aren't out to make bad movies per se, but they're also not trying to make good movies either, unless you define "good" purely as "could make a lot of money." I don't have much sympathy for them though, that said, I've been on sets where individual actors and crew members were doing their damnedest to make something they could be proud of, even though they knew the project they were working on was junk.

Ultimately what matters is what winds up on the screen, and no one likes feeling that the time and money they spent going to the movies was a total waste. That is, of course, one of the reasons there are movie critics.

But a lot of so-called movie criticism is flip and snippy and ignorant. There are all kinds of bad movies, and it's a critic's responsibility to differentiate -- an ambitious movie can turn out as badly as a formulaic cash-in on a popular star, timely theme or cynical cash in. That doesn't mean they should all be dismissed with the same snarky one-liners.

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