I read this post today, on a blog I usually visit for scientific information, and found a sentiment that personally bothers me an awful lot. The author expressed the opinion that the only ‘good’ movies are realistic ones that allow you to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. They even committed blasphemy by saying they didn’t understand the appeal of last year’s greatest film: Mad Max: Fury Road. Let’s go ahead and shred that opinion.
I’ll start by getting my own opinion on the record. My favorite genres are scifi, fantasy, horror, animation, and action/adventure. The reason I think I’m qualified to dissect this person’s opinion is that I know how to appreciate films for their quality regardless of genre. I’m not a big fan of romance, dramedy, or comedy, but I still like some films from those genres. I don’t make blanket statements like ‘realistic movies are bad’. (Indeed some truly fantastic movies are realistic: There Will be Blood, Downfall, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Cool Hand Luke, Bridge of Spies, Doubt…)
My purpose with this post is to point out the key to a healthy environment for cinema: moderation. The ideal movie environment is one in which all genres are adequately presented and funded. The author of that post wasn’t wrong when they said the current environment of marketing-linked comic book blockbusters is lousy, but they don’t realize they’re the other extremist on the opposite end of the spectrum, insisting that nobody should have fun with the impossible.
While I wouldn’t expect everyone to like every genre, it’s simply closed-minded to ignore the huge amount listed under ‘unrealistic’. I think most people find one thing to like, put up a wall, and never truly investigate the rest. It’s different, so it must be bad. This is the kind of person who looks at kung fu cinema and disregards it as cartoonish rather than accepting it as an artistic form with its own conventions and expectations. These are people who still think comic books, animation, and video games are solely the domain of children and the only good books ever written are either two hundred years old or currently nominated for a Pulitzer.
The author said in the post that Mad Max was nothing but a car chase. That’s blatantly false. It has messages and human content just like one of their precious realistic films. The villain is a powerful man, out of reach of the average citizen, who controls the water supply. This is a real thing that happens all over the world. It features a woman living her life with only one arm; representation of people like that is also a real thing. The film almost explicitly has the feminist message that toxic masculinity is destroying the world. That idea is just as valid in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as it is in a modern urban center.
I mean really… The Fly is about degenerative diseases, Zootopia is about modern bigotry, Gattaca is about the dangers of inheritance-based assessment, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is about marginalized actors in old Hollywood, Godzilla is about the dangers of nuclear weaponry… I could go on for hours. You literally have to be ignorant or a fool to say science fiction and fantasy don’t have anything useful to say about real life.
I also don’t buy into their idea that movies are about stepping into other people’s shoes. That can be an element, sure, but some of their own examples betray their point. They mention Twelve Angry Men and Spotlight as good films; I agree with that sentiment. What they don’t realize is that one of the reasons those movies are good is because they don’t represent an average experience. You’re not likely to be on a jury in a murder trial. You’re also not likely to be a newspaper journalist uncovering a religious child abuse conspiracy. These are, while technically possible, extraordinary experiences. The ways in which their lives are different is exciting. Unrealistic films just ratchet up the differences.
This is getting a touch long for what I’m trying to say, but don’t be that guy who says he ‘can’t understand’, because it usually means you’re not trying. I can listen to and enjoy the New World Symphony or the Carnival of the Animals just as well as I can chiptune or auto-tuned remixes of the Game Grumps. There’s value in the diversity of entertainment; if you don’t think so you’re stunting creativity the same way that the suits and ties obsessed with colorful plastic merchandise are.