Keep repeating, 'It's only a movie'

Keep repeating, 'It's only a movie'

WHEN MOVIES WERE FUN: Bruce Campbell as "Ash" in Evil Dead in 1981, a low-budget horror film with a lot of humor and heart.

Remember when movies were fun?

Actually, let me clarify. Remember when experiencing movies was fun?

Once upon a time, in a magical, now largely mythologized era known as the 1980s, this author — who has served as a film critic since around 2001 or 2002 — was just an awkward, alienated, nerdish kid trapped in childhood in a tiny Kansas town.

Many commentators far more talented and knowledgeable than myself have waxed nostalgic on the period in terms of the boom in low budget genre and exploitation film that proliferated through pre-Blockbuster video rental stores and late night cable TV, both pay (Home Box Office) and package (USA's Up All Night).

There were good movies. There were bad movies. There were movies with bad elements that transcended them to be good (The Evil Dead). There were movies that, despite fantastic talent and resources, turned out to be bad (The Exorcist II: The Heretic).

The world has, of course, moved on since those days of coaxial cable and cathode ray tubes when the viewer had to constantly adjust the tracking on well-worn, home-recorded copies of The Howling or Lifeforce. Computer-generated imagery that had been tinkered about with in films like Tron and The Last Starfighter became an industry standard in lieu of a lot of practical effects work. VHS found itself almost facing digital competition from laserdisc, then both were swallowed alive by the emergence of DVD. Then the internet came. Newsgroups. Message boards. MySpace. Facebook. Twitter.

People realized that, via social media, not only did they have a voice, they could have a louder voice than ever before. They could organize like never before. They could be opinionated and confrontational in a way they would never dream to be in day to day life, with no compunction as to manners or civility.

And so, one day it came to be that the movies became less fun.

Along came the people for whom any amount of CGI in a film is a travesty against the art. And make no mistake, the loss of homespun effects work — the sort of thing artisans like Rick Baker, Tom Savini, Rob Bottin, Dick Smith and Stan Winston worked so hard to accomplish film after film after film — is one of the great tragedies of the modern medium.

But let's keep perspective on these things. Plenty of low- to medium-budget films had practical effects that were questionable at best and piss poor at worst. The grey/blue facepaint on the zombies in Dawn of the Dead. The moment in Carpenter's The Thing where the chomping chest jaws are meant to look as if they bite off a character's arms when it's obvious the stumps are pulled out of the appliances instead, the "severing point" being a noticable several inches outside of the monster's mouth.

Am I putting down Savini or Bottin with these observations? No — I adore, and marvel, their work in both films. But, while it's sad that CGI has supplanted physical effects on such a scale, it's important to remember that it's a tool and, as a tool, it is neutral. Are the crappy effects in an ancient dud like The Killer Shrews superior to the crappy digital effects in the steady stream of Asylum Studios crap just because it's a physical application rather than a virtual one?

Along came the elitists, the people who know everything, know it better than anyone else, and aren't afraid to shove that in the faces of everyone they might encounter online. Oh, that movie? That's a terrible movie, and you're a terrible person for enjoying it.

A widespread cynicism has spread across the scene and, given the proliferation of, yes, terrible CGI, and an endless stream of unnecessary, halfhearted remakes and marketing campaigns both active and viral (have you counted the number of Star Wars or Marvel related posts on your Facebook feed today?), it's probably only natural that the pressures of audience frustrations would reach boiling point and begin exploding online. It's a remake/sequel to a relatively ancient franchise, therefore it must be bad.

It is this part of me as a film enthusiast that is perplexed when, upon asking a fellow film critic whether he or she is going to see Jurassic World, the response is that, basically, they're not because they've seen Westworld — an old science fiction thriller with a similar theme of a theme park becoming dangerous to inhabitants, with malfunctioning robots rather than dinosaurs run amok — so they have no desire to see it.

Under that logic, how many great films would I never experience again? Is the original Fright Night on the chopping block since it's essentially a suburban modernization of Dracula with homages to old Hammer films? Are the Lugosi and Lee Dracula films on the chopping block since Nosferatu exists? How much of John Wayne's catalog would be instantly deleted under that logic due to his early work alone? Would we lose The Magnificent Seven because Kurosawa's Seven Samurai already exists? Would the youngsters lose their Hunger Games because it treads on the territory of Battle Royale?

We want Star Wars back. We want to feel that connection to a Halloween or Road Warrior or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan again. We have our own mental picture of what it should be like when The Avengers go into battle after decades worth of comics in which it continually happened.

And all the while we wonder why Hollywood can never turn out anything new.

And what advice can a little movie critic in Wichita, Kansas offer? The best he can think to do is remind his readers of a line that was repeated over and over in a gritty, low budget horror film trailer from a time that's now long ago…

"Keep repeating, 'it's only a movie… Only a movie… Only a movie…"