News Column

The Dickinson Press, N.D., Dustin Monke column

July 21, 2013

YellowBrix

July 21--Remember when going to the movies was supposed to be a magical experience?

Once upon a time, movies seemed entirely magical to a world that was still enthralled by the technology of photographs that moved and eventually had sound to go with them, hence the term "movies."

Back then, there were no computer-generated images or films that cost more to make than the annual gross-domestic product of a small Pacific island nation. Just actors and actresses acting and interacting.

They weren't flying on a computer-generated machine in front of a green or blue screen, nor were they fighting tennis balls held in the air by sticks meant to represent some alien projectile or bad guy that can only exist via computers or cheesy costumes.

The first time I remember feeling a sense of wonder in a movie theater was 20 years ago as a 9-year-old watching "Jurassic Park" on its premiere weekend with my friends at Cine 3 in Dickinson. I still rank it among the best summer movies I've ever seen, if not at the top. Steven Spielberg found a way to balance wonder and great characters with action and cutting-edge CGI that wasn't over the top.

Since "Jurassic Park" came out in the summer of 1993, many big-budget action movies have tried to replicate it -- including two sequels -- but only few have equaled it.

This year has been an especially tumultuous one for the film industry.

So far, we have had a couple really big movies do well but underwhelm and a bunch of forgettable flops with the potential for more in the coming weeks and months.

In the past three months, we have seen it all.

Earth was destroyed a couple times on the big screen as it usually is, even the crew of the Starship Enterprise couldn't save San Francisco from being partially flattened and Hollywood still can't convince audiences that Channing Tatum and Ryan Reynolds are legit action stars. (On a sidenote, poor Ryan Reynolds. He seems like a nice enough guy and is a understated comedic actor, but he needs a new agent. One flop is enough. He had two this weekend in "R.I.P.D." and "Turbo." Ouch!)

"Iron Man 3" started off the summer movie season. It was the most forgettable movie in the franchise, though it's hard to compare when you're coming off "The Avengers," the third-highest grossing movie of all time.

"Man of Steel" was supposed to be the exception this summer, and while it was still my favorite movie so far this year, I hoped for more, especially with Christopher Nolan -- the mind behind "Inception" and "The Dark Knight" trilogy -- having a hand in it.

I recently heard "Man of Steel" described by an online movie reviewer as the most-polarizing film of the year. That person hit the nail on the head. There were parts of the film I loved and others that left me extremely underwhelmed.

The Superman movie was a dynamite example of the wrong direction Hollywood is taking movies that have the potential to create that sense of magic and wonder that has been lost in recent years.

The source material for "Man of Steel" is about as good as there is to work with, and the origin story is timeless and relatable to almost anyone, especially Middle Americans like us. But, as Hollywood does, instead of telling us a story through rich character development, they gave us a Superman who spoke less than the villain and brooded around the world trying to find himself before about 45 minutes of straight action that tried to be "Transformers" meets "The Avengers" and got lost in translation.

The problem is that Hollywood is trying to do too much while at the same time, not doing enough.

Everyone loves action, right? So give us action. But audiences still want heart, relatable characters and dynamic dialogue. Typically we get one but not the others, so either you get an over-the-top action movie with no character development or a decent-enough story that plods along. This is likely because most movies nowadays are made in such a rush that screenwriters are pushed to get words on paper that are at least passable.

Plus, a lack of original ideas is starting to show that audiences are turning away from the same old stuff.

Of the top 10 domestic grossing movies so far in 2013, only one of them is an original idea that wasn't either a sequel, a comic book, book or TV adaptation or some combination of the aforementioned source materials. The lone original idea in the top 10 was a cartoon -- "The Croods." Then again, it can be argued that "The Croods" is just a rip-off of the Roald Dahl children's book "The Twits" so it's hard to call that an original idea either.

"Avatar," which is the highest-grossing movie of all time, premiered around Christmas 2009 and was about as close to a "Jurassic Park" as we've seen in recent years, though many people just thought it was "Dances With Wolves" in space. Nonetheless, director James Cameron conveyed that sense of magic and created a world full of creatures and places we've never seen nor imagined.

There isn't much in the foreseeable future that looks like it could replicate either movie. At this point, I'd be satisfied with something on the level of "Forrest Gump," which is truly standing the test of time nearly 20 years after it came out.

Next summer is bringing us a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" remake starring Megan Fox that I'm sure will defecate on my childhood, an unnecessary fourth "Transformers" movie that doesn't have any of the established characters returning -- including North Dakotan Josh Duhamel -- a seventh edition of "The Fast and the Furious" and a barrage of other sequels, including second installments for "Captain America," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "X-Men," "How To Train Your Dragon," "21 Jump Street," "Planet of the Apes" and "Sin City." There will also be remakes for classic monsters "Godzilla" and "Dracula."

There are a few original ideas in there -- mostly comedies -- as well as a potential new comic book franchise in "Guardians of the Galaxy," which is part of the Marvel universe and tied to "The Avengers" story that gets its sequel in 2015, a year also looks to have new installments for "Star Wars" and, of course, "Jurassic Park."

I'm not getting my hopes up for anything at this point until Hollywood can prove itself capable of recapturing that movie magic.

Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at dmonke@thedickinsonpress.com or tweet him at monkebusiness.

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(c)2013 the Dickinson Press (Dickinson, N.D.)

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