Guest Editorial: The Sorry, Cynical State of Movie Fandom Today
Editor's Note About This Editorial: This is a must read discussion by longtime friend of the site Patrick Campbell (@pj_campbell). It's time to discuss an issue that has been getting worse and worse. Everything mentioned in this editorial is something that I've observed as well, but I've had trouble figuring out how to voice my concerns without sounding too meddlesome. It's hard to speak out about a community when you're a part of that community, but thankfully others have started expressing their honest feelings. What began as a couple of paragraphs on Facebook has turned into a full-fledged editorial. It needed to be said.
Something's rotten in the state of movie fandom, and it's something that has become increasingly clear over the past few weeks. In the last three years that I've been blogging about film, writing movie reviews, and interacting with thousands of film buffs across the internet on various forums and websites, and with increasing frustration, the problem of cynicism, to the point of anger and downright bile and hate, has continued to rear its ugly head over the most trivial of things. It was a trend that I began to really notice around 2008, before I had begun blogging, when word about Disney acquiring Marvel began to surface, and fans on both sides began to tear the idea of the merger apart. When many started deeming Disney too kid friendly, and the death of Marvel and its characters so early on before the two had even come together, it was in that time that I began to realize that many were well past giving things a chance. Snark, cynicism, and hate flowed freely before we were able to see what the two could do once they came together. These aren't small critical analysis; these are fans that are bent on tearing down films before or during production, before they've seen anything from it.
We're in bad way, everyone, and it's only getting worse. This last week, two teaser trailers for two of the most highly anticipated films of 2015 dropped: Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. While many reveled and lit up at the sight of Isla Nublar and a galaxy far, far away, others were there to swiftly kick the feet out from under those excited for the film. This wasn't casual banter or small debates many times, but people flat out destroying the films, off two minutes of footage from one, and eighty eight seconds of footage from the other, calling many of the biggest moments in the trailer impractical, farfetched, stupid, and deeming the projects DOA. The stuff people complain about in these teaser trailers is crazy, especially when we should be excited about the idea of returning to worlds of movies we grew up on. There's something to be said about the feeling of fun and nostalgia returning to these franchises again, with such immense talent, after what many would deem fairly shoddy sequels and prequels in both respective series. Some are picking apart these films so heavily already that they're destined to hate them by the time they're even released.
It's sad that something as small as a badass looking new Lightsaber design with a hilt, out of context, or that the final shot of the Jurassic World trailer with raptors running next to Chris Pratt on a motorcycle can really piss people off. The fact is, we don't know the context of any of this, and context is key to everything. Director Colin Trevorrow, who is helming Jurassic World even had to come out and tell people to wait and see the movie, because the scene makes sense in the film. But the truth is, no director should have to come out and say any of this. We, as the audience, should be willing to give the director and the team behind the camera the benefit of the doubt to bring these films to life. But instead, many are ready to turn on these projects before they've entered production, which was the case of Star Wars: The Force Awakens when J.J. Abrams took the director's seat, and many gave him the dubious nickname Jar Jar Abrams. This is the kind of stuff that is becoming toxic to film going, and especially the film community at large, because instead of being excited about the idea of returning to these properties, or even getting our first look at existing properties that haven't been on film, many on the internet exert dominance over the conversations, trying to kill people's enthusiasm for the film before we've really gotten a chance to see it.
Marvel Studios has been dealing with this stuff first hand over the last year after what happened to their film Ant-Man, as Edgar Wright stepped away from the production after a disagreement on the direction of the film with the studio. As a die hard fan of Wright, and as sad as I am he's no longer part of the film, I'm still excited to see what Peyton Reed can do with the film, and Marvel's track record so far has proven to be very strong, so it's safe to give them the benefit of the doubt. But at the same time, there are many that have already written the film's obituary, and they're really not willing to give the film a chance. Yes, Wright is an incredible director and has crafted some brilliant films, and his departure is bittersweet but when did we decide to turn our nose up to a project altogether and write it off completely before we've seen anything?
I'm just as guilty as being angry about a project, most recently when the new Fantastic Four began to ramp up, and it seemed the project was being done not for the sake of bringing a great adaptation of the characters to the screen, but more by Fox to try and keep the rights away from Marvel. Yes, the way the actors have talked about the film over the last few months hasn't quite instilled confidence, but at the same time, this is project was written by Simon Kinberg, who recently wrote the fantastic X-Men: Days of Future Past, and is directed by Josh Trank, who surprised many with Chronicle. Whatever work he has done has also clearly made Lucasfilm feel safe enough to entrust him with one of the Star Wars spin-off films they have in production, so while I may not be over moon for the production and what we've heard, I'm going to stay optimistic and keep an open mind for what's to come, and hope that the studio really manages to surprise us with this one.
So how did we end up in this snarky, sad, and frustrating state of film fandom that we're in now? I believe there are a few explanations, to this problem, and it's ones we really need to look into ourselves to try and fix. The first part may be the simplest, and many may deem ridiculous, but I believe many have lost the wide-eyed wonderment that it takes to love movies. The cynical nature seems to be coming from a loss of an inner child for many, and you can see it in many of these posts. Deeming things stupid, or even impractical or farfetched is something that shows that we're not willing to let our imagination run with what's happening. There seems to be an obsession with making things realistic in film, especially post Christopher Nolan's Batman series, but not all films need to play by that. Every movie has its own set of rules, and what may work in the film may not happen in real life, but that's the point. It's good to retain your childlike nature sometimes, and take films in that way.
Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park is one of the greatest movies of all time, and the sense of awe and wonder it presented us is hard to match. However, most of what happens in that film can't happen, but we accepted it at face value, something many seem unwilling to do with Jurassic World. The idea that opening the park and having attractions that show off these massive creatures, like the continually balked about aquatic dinosaur scene, is a commentary on ourselves and how we control wild animals, especially dangerous ones, and try to use them for our own entertainment. Add in the creation of a dinosaur to boost the park's attendance in a slump, we're now playing with themes of being god, keeping inline with the original. The kid in me jumped for joy at these ideas and seeing them on screen, but many seemed to have lost that sense of wonder and have grown cold and cynical, writing the film off as "just another blockbuster" being made purely to cash in on the Jurassic Park name, which is just sad.
Another part of this really comes from what happened to many with the prequels, and that anger is still lingering. They felt betrayed by what Lucas created with those films, and it seems that those wounds never healed for them. It's really disheartening to see the Star Wars fans who are already calling the film a failure because of a Lightsaber that looks like a broadsword, deeming it impractical, even though we don't know exactly how it fits into the film. Armchair directors and screenwriters are quick to attack it, but in the context of the film, it certainly will have its place and reason. If it doesn't work for you at that point, that's fine, but to complain about it upfront is crazy. It would be better to let J.J. and his crew try and show you what he has for us next December before we decide how stupid and impractical the new design is, just as we have to give Trevorrow's version of the now operational version of Isla Nublar a chance.
The ongoing idea that many of those on the internet know better than the filmmakers is troubling, and is really not healthy. It's hard to get upset about the fact that a filmmaker and his team didn't make the movie you wanted, even though that was never their intent, and yet it's a complaint that is used actively all the time. We have to take things at the fact value, and once the film is complete, if you still have issues, then by all means talk about it. Deeming things dead so early on is just an unhealthy act and one that is poisoning the film going community at large.
It has become near impossible to have a real conversation about a movie without being ripped into by those who passionately believe they're right about film, and that they know best. Whether you only decently liked a film, absolutely loved it, or hate it, there's a great discussion to be had. But we have to let these films speak for themselves in their entirety, instead of ripping things apart so early on, because it kills your enjoyment for any film if you spend that much time hating it early on. We also have to let both sides have a part in this conversation, not condemning each other instantly, but embracing opinions of those you may not agree with, as hard as it may be for you.
Movie watching for many of us is a sacred thing, and you can probably remember the film that really made you a cinephile. You can remember where you watched it, who with, and how it made you feel. Go back to that time, and embrace that sense of wonder and awe, because that's what we should be doing. We need to take each film on its own, talk about it, dissect it, and debate it. But lets not rip them apart, because we're taking away from the magic of what makes watching films so special. Instead of trying to let them speak, we condemn, spew vile, insult the filmmakers and those involved, and make decisions about these films before we've even seen them and it needs to stop.
Movies are about being taken to new worlds and places, away from reality, especially ones with gigantic dinosaurs, evil Sith lords, time traveling robots, and many of the other nostalgia based films that are on the way. Don't take things so seriously, and honestly, maybe remember what it was like to be a kid again and take it in on a purely nostalgic and childlike level. You might be surprised just how much you begin to enjoy yourself again. Follow Patrick Campbell on Twitter @pj_campbell.