Six Movies That Changed The Way I Watch Movies

man-of-steel-flagI saw Man of Steel on the day it opened and absolutely loved it.  I found myself quietly cheering in a few scenes and actually got choked up in a couple of others.  It wasn’t a perfect Superman movie–it could have been maybe 10-15 minutes shorter, a few more jokes would have been nice, and someone needs to confiscate Zack Snyder’s copy of the Singles soundtrack–but when I walked out of the theater I had a big smile on my face and was all, “YES!”

Then, I went on the Internet.

My liking Man of Steel in the midst of a serious backlash over a variety of things (and I’ll keep it spoiler-free for those of you who haven’t seen it) made me feel like I was stupid or had done something wrong.  Reading through last week’s Entertainment Weekly made me feel even dumber–they had a fun cover story on Superman’s 75th birthday but then did what’s a typical fake-out for them where the critic destroyed the movie in his review.  This week’s issue didn’t help matters much, with Supes appearing in the outer rim of their back page “bullseye” feature with the caption, “Man of Steal–as in, you stole two and a half hours of our life, and we want it back.”

Now, I don’t know why I am taking this as personally as I am taking it.  After all, this is only a movie, right?  I guess some of it is rooted in the psychological trauma of high school, where I often found myself ridiculed for my musical tastes (among other things–I took a lot of shit from my “friends” in high school, who were actually quite cruel).  But I graduated from high school almost twenty years ago and am pretty much over all that crap, although I sometimes wonder if you can be completely over it, especially when you develop reactions to certain behaviors in such a way that they almost become reflexive.

Anyway, this post isn’t meant to be about the shit I went through in high school, it’s meant to be about movies, and it’s not meant to be a defense of Man of Steel, either, because there are plenty of people out there doing that.  What led me to writing this post was that in the midst of all of the hand-wringing and Internet-bashing (some of which I am pretty sure is of the “It’s fun to hate on something” variety) about the movie, I began to think about why I like what I like and how I came to have the movie collection that I have.  I’m sure there’s enough for an entire book, let alone one blog post, but in thinking about the experience of seeing Man of Steel and then feeling weirdly hurt when the media I read has the complete opposite reaction to the movie that I do, I thought of other times I’ve watched movies and they’ve either changed my tastes or changed the way I view the moviegoing experience.  I narrowed it down to six, and since lists are fun, here they are in chronological order.

Batman-1989-Movie-Burton-41. Batman (1989, Dir. Tim Burton).

Lesson Learned:  There is more to a movie than just a movie.

If you were alive during the summer of 1989, you know that it was one of the best summers for movies because it seemed like every weekend another huge blockbuster was opening.  Don’t believe me, I’ll run down the list:  Back to the Future IIIGhostbusters II, Lethal Weapon 2, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Look Who’s Talking, The Abyss, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Weekend at Bernie’s, Road House, etc.  Okay, those last two are there as a joke and Star Trek V only gets a mention because while it is a steaming pile of crap it did pull in $52 million and was the 25th highest-grossing movie of 1989.  But for all of the blockbusters and huge sequels of that summer, they were eclipsed by one film and that’s because the summer of 1989 was the Summer of Batman.

Tim Burton’s Batman movie, starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, was the highest-grossing movie of the year, earned a glowing review and blurb of “The movie of the decade!” (which is debatable; after all, the decade started out with The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that’s beside the point), and was the movie that everyone wanted to see before it even hit theaters on my twelfth birthday (and like a moron, I went to see Star Trek V.  No, really.  Star Trek V. In my mind, I am still making up for this).  Not only that, it was the ultimate “been there, saw that, bought the T-shirt” movie.  Literally.  The merchandising for Batman was enormous and I don’t think there was anyone in the summer of ’89 who didn’t have a Batman T-shirt.  I had two: one was black with the bat symbol and another had a great picture of Batman on the front.

Now, I had grown up with Star Wars toys, so it’s not like I had ever seen movie merchandise before, but being twelve years old when Batman came out as opposed to -1 month when Star Wars  came out (I was born in June 1977), this was the first time I was actually aware that when a blockbuster came out there was a lot of money thrown behind promotion and licensing.  Batman had toys, T-shirts, comics, magazines, even a cereal.  Heck, I even bought the issue of Mad because the cover had Alfred E. Neuman dressed in the Batman costume with the Superman “S” on his chest.  So this film (and subsequently, Batman Returns) showed me how someone can follow every aspect of a movie’s production as well as how the movie was part of a whole, larger experience and it made me wait every year with baited breath for the latest crop of summer films.

Clerks poster2. Clerks (1994, Dir. Kevin Smith)

Lesson Learned:  Not every great movie makes it to the local multiplex.

Prior to Clerks, my experience with “indie” films was probably shitty direct-to-video action filcks and oogling the boxes of movies that were Skinemax fare.  Yes, I had seen Dazed & Confused when it came out on video but that movie had actually been at my local triplex and I had never gotten around to seeing it, so it really can’t count as my first “indie” experience, and I had already seen Reservoir Dogs, but neither of those registered with me as a different “type” of film.

I first encountered Clerks in a video store in Oakdale when I was hanging out with my girlfriend (and if my friends questioned my taste in music, they really questioned my taste in girls–although in this case, they were right).  I picked up the box, considered it, and then put it down, choosing some romantic comedy or something otherwise innocuous, instead.  A couple of weeks later, I was in my “home base” video store–Video Empire–and saw the box for Clerks again.  The guy behind the counter couldn’t recommend it enough, so I took it home and watched it with my sister.  It took all of five seconds to adjust to the black and white, and I don’t think the two of us stopped laughing through the entire film.  In fact, I can pop this in the DVD player today and I’ll laugh my ass off all the way through.

More importantly, though, it was from here that I started to realize that I should check the shelves of the video store more often.  My dad was the type of guy to rent anything and everything, and maybe he was onto something.  I also went to college a few weeks after watching Clerks for the first time and that definitely helped because it was at college where I binged on Tarantino and got to know directors like Hal Hartley and Jim Jarmusch.  I’m not exactly a connoisseur of cinema by any means (translation: I still watch John Hughes movies on a regular basis), but  the film was definitely a tastechanger and I’ve been pretty grateful for it since.

batman-forever3. Batman Forever (1995, Dir. Joel Schumacher)

Lesson Learned:  Trumped-up casting can be a warning sign.

My exact words when leaving the theater at the end of Batman Forever were, “I waited for this?

Really, I was wholly disappointed in this movie.  I had followed news about it for quite a while and was psyched to see Jim Carrey play The Riddler.  In fact, the casting announcements were pretty huge, as was the change in director, which was promising since even though Batman Returns did very well, there seemed to be a bit of a backlash against Tim Burton as the director.  Plus, again, Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones as The Riddler and two Face?  Val “Iceman” Kilmer as Batman?  Nicole Kidman as the love interest? And they’re putting Robin in the movie?  Where do I sign up?  This movie was going to be huge and awesome!

I really went into it thinking that (as opposed to Batman & Robin, which I went into knowing it was going to suck and only went to see so my friend and I could make fun of it the entire time).  When I was underwhelmed, it confirmed what I had started to realize way back at the beginning of the whole making of this movie–that when there seems like there’s way more focus on a movie’s cast, soundtrack, or licensing instead of whether or not the movie will actually be good, it might not be a very good movie.  In fact, I’m pretty sure this is why I never saw Cloverfield because while the pre-show marketing was pretty cool, there seemed to be way too much attention paid to that and only that and not, say, the actual movie (plus, I was too busy at the time chasing Dharma Initiative clues).

I don’t go to the movies now as much as I did when I was a teenager.  Part of this has to do with simply not having the time to take in a movie on a regular basis.  But part of it also has to do with my wariness toward hype, and that definitely started with the Schumacher Batman films.

Titanic_poster4. Titanic (1997, Dir. James Cameron)

Lesson Learned:  You can get so sick of hearing about a movie that you can grow to hate it, even if it wasn’t that bad.

I saw Titanic on New Year’s Eve in 1997.  It was the only time I saw the movie.  I really liked it when I saw it.  It certainly wasn’t the Waterworld-level disaster that the entertainment media seemed to be predicting when the movie went way over budget and got way behind schedule. And I know I’m not the only person who liked the movie because it wound up being the highest-grossing movie of all time (surpassed eventually by another Cameron movie, Avatar) and wound up holding the number one box office spot for what seemed like the entire winter and spring of 1997-1998 (in fact, I believe the movie that finally knocked it out of first place was the Matt LeBlanc/William Hurt film version of Lost in Space, which I saw in theaters and thought was all right).  But by the time it left theaters, I didn’t like the movie.  

Why?  Well, I hate to pass the buck here, but it’s the media’s fault.

For the better part of late 1997 and early 1998, you could not escape Titanic.  It seemed that every week there was an Entertainment Weekly cover story (this has since been … no pun intended … eclipsed by its constant flogging of Twilight in recent years) and Entertainment Tonight and other TV shows were all Leo all the time. Not to mention that damn Celine Dion song was on the radio every time you turned it on. It got so much that I began to not only get sick of hearing about how well it was doing or seeing how many Oscars it was nominated for/winning, I began to hate it.  Even though I hadn’t seen it more than once and had actually enjoyed it the first time out.

Perhaps, one day, I actually will watch the movie again–quite frankly, I don’t have any interest in seeing it even if my hatred has waned significantly in the years since.  But the Titanic media experience definitely imbued me with a sense of “Oh man, the fans are going to ruin this” when it came to certain movies/television shows/bands, and is probably why I never followed Buffy or Firefly, because the fans I was around were so annoying that I just refused out of spite.

Which is really immature when you think about it, but at the same time, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been turned off by fandom or popularity.

Phantom Menace5. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (Dir. George Lucas)

Lesson Learned: Sometimes, you get burned

I don’t think that the lesson learned here is a surprise to anyone, as Phantom Menace is easily konwn as one of the bigger disappointments in recent cinematic history.  Then again, considering how high the bar was set for this movie, the first Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi came out sixteen years earlier, it was bound to be a bit of a disappointment in some regard unless it was the biggest, best movie ever. 

I saw Phantom Menace three times in the theater and liked it each time, although as the summer wore on, I definitely saw some flaws in the movie and by the time it came out on video, I wasn’t as hyped about it as I had been in May.  But this wasn’t like Batman Forever; it was a different type of letdown because … well, because I had way more of an emotional investment in this than the Batman movies.  I had grown up with Star Wars; it had been a huge part of my childhood, and when the prequel movies came out, I got … midichlorians and Jar-Jar Binks.

All right, that’s a little unfair, I guess, because while Phantom Menace doesn’t hold up very well (and Attack of the Clones is only slightly better), it’s not like it’s Batman and Robin or anything like that.  Still, there was buildup for this the likes of which I’d rarely, if ever seen before–the trailers made the evening news for crying out loud–and the ensuing letdown of it being a subpar Star Wars movie definitely hurt my outlook on future movies.  Oh sure, I saw Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith in the theater, but with the exception of my anticipation for the appearance of Darth Vader at the end of Sith, I went into the theater hoping that the movies wouldn’t suck.  Which shouldn’t be how I feel going into any movie, let alone a Star Wars movie.

By the way, I like the prequels.  Phantom Menace is still the weakest of the three, though.

ManofSteelFinalPoster6. Man of Steel (Dir. Zack Snyder)

Lesson Learned:  You like what you like.

Which brings us to where we started.  And it’s not like I had never learned this lesson before.  But when you get caught up in the culture surrounding the latest geek film or whatever you’re following at the moment and then find yourself with a contrary opinion, you start to get a little defensive even though you know that in the grand scheme of things people finding fault in your opinions or even ridiculing you for it doesn’t matter.  You’re the one who is paying to see this movie or watching the series on TV or downloading that song from iTunes, so your opinion should be the only one that matters, right?

Okay, I know that sounds trite, but every once in a while you need something like a movie to remind yourself of why you care about your entertainment and if that goes against what “they” say, then, well … so what?

One comment

  1. While the first three I was not quite old enough to see any in theatres, I am 100% in agreement for the latter three. I have still never seen Titanic due to all the hype. (Granted, knowing my taste in movies I will probably not enjoy it as much as recognize the strengths of the movie.) It inundated my much less connected 8-year-old life. I was hardly old enough to know what a good movie was, but it definitely taught me that sometimes it is worth not being up to date on the most popular movie.

    Star Wars Episode 1 was definitely a fantastic movie. I say this in that it catered to its target audience of preteens and children very well. As I’ve grown into a Star Wars fan more than a youngling amazed by the visuals of film, this movie has not grown with me. The lessons this film taught us are definitely still present as we await Star Wars Episode 7 in two years. Just remember, if you expect the worst, you’ll never be disappointed.

    Once again I find myself in the main demographic of Man of Steel. I was ready for an updated version of Superman. I am also quite a fan of Zack Snyder. (In fact an episode about his movies will be up at tomorrow). So I went into this movie with high hopes in spite of knowing a lot of people had problems with it. (Read: people were obnoxiously angry over very pathetic and emotional reasons with little logic to back it up.) I thoroughly enjoy this flick. Sure it had some problems, but what film doesn’t? Godfather 2 maybe? The majority of the problems with Man of Steel are small filmmaking issues and not at all having to do with it being a Superman movie.

    I’m sure I could find several other movies I learned things from, but I have rambled enough. Thanks for the great blog!

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