Today’s topic is my pet peeves with movie – 8 things that I don’t like in movies, and which I can tend to get on my soapbox about how much they annoy me.
(Incidentally, this is #10 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
We’re writing this one in a hurry, so let’s get right into it. Since we’re talking about pet peeves, be prepared for some ranting. Here they are, in the order that I felt like bringing them up.
The Third Dimension…sigh
I blame James Cameron for making Avatar and being so ridiculously successful with it. I have to confess I’ve never seen it (except for when it was called Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas) so maybe if I had I’d have loved the film and would be extolling its virtues. But as far as I’m concerned, Avatar is the movie that made everyone think that everything had to be in 3D – at least every science fiction movie, adventure film, or animated feature. Let’s see, 3D…it doesn’t add to the cinematic experience, it gives some people a headache, and it makes my ticket prices more expensive…okay, that sounds great. Usually, I’ve been able to avoid seeing films in 3D, but sometimes I had no choice.
Now, of course, some movies have used 3D better than others, I guess. I thought Tron: Legacy had a good approach, similar to color in The Wizard of Oz, where the 3D helped to differentiate two different worlds in the film. And I’ve never seen Hugo in 3D, but I can imagine that that might have been more successful in being part of the storytelling. (But then, that movie is directed by Martin Scorcese, so that’s not surprising.)
But 3D in other films, like Star Trek Into Darkness, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Green Hornet and Green Lantern…not so much. Waste of effort, waste of money, and thus annoying.
Go Back for the Dog!
This one is all about Man of Steel, but I’ve seen it in other places as well. It’s where the film sets up a disastrous situation, everyone is running for the lives, but there’s some stupid dog that’s been left behind, so that someone has to run back and put themselves in even more ridiculous danger in order to rescue it. (There’s also a variation where instead of a dog it’s another animal, or a doll, or a stuffed animal. In any case, children’s feelings are usually involved). Invariably, the dog survives, but the person doesn’t always. He certainly didn’t in Man of Steel in what was that film’s worst scene, far more egregious than the neck-breaking at the end. I tell you, I have a dog, and I am gradually learning to love him. But if my family and I are running away from a tornado or a fire or an alien attack, there is no way I’m going back for the dog, or letting anyone else make that decision either. I’ll be really sad to see my dog go, and my children will be devastated, but any human being is more important than the dog.
Period Picture, Modern Sensibilities
When we make period pictures, we seem to find it hard to resist inserting characters, opinions, viewpoints and dialogue that editorialize about the ideas that we consider to be outmoded or old fashioned. It’s almost like we feel we have to make sure the audience understands that we are more intelligent, enlightened and progressive than people in those backwards times were. So in something like Kingdom of Heaven, you get Saladin during the Crusades talking about how war is such a terrible thing but it’s just because of global circumstances that we’re forced to be a part of it. Or in Little Women, we have Susan Sarandon’s Mrs. March talking negatively about the constricting quality of women’s fashion, which is especially annoying since it’s something that the book specifically says the character would not do. Including publicly accepted homosexual characters in times when that would not have been is another obvious example.
“Today I wrote an article about my pet peeves in movies…”
This is my longest standing pet peeve, actually…I’ve been talking about it for years. It’s something I picked up from one of my college professors, but I don’t think it’s a sign of academic elitism (as a bunch of my opinions from that period might have been) but something that I genuinely think makes for lazy film making. I’m talking about excessive use of voice over, and specifically where voice over narration is present simply because it’s a cheap way of giving information to the audience. The quintessential example is Dances with Wolves, where Kevin Costner’s droney voice reads his journal articles out loud, often describing events that we had just witnessed. It’s the cinematic equivalent of someone talking in my ear while I’m trying to watch the movie. Sometimes, it’s just at the beginning, such as in Jerry McGuire or Cheaper by the Dozen, where it is used to set up the story because the film makes couldn’t be bothered figuring out anything more cinematic to convey information. The Age of Innocence begins with such a long voice over describing the entire culture of the film’s story that I was genuinely getting worried it would never shut up and let me watch the movie. Other times, it runs all the way through the action, apparently because the movie is not confident that it’s told the story well enough without it. You can see this in otherwise fine films like The Incredible Shrinking Man, for example, or To End All Wars, where the voice-over intrudes upon the most dramatic scenes, diminishing their strength.
Of course, there are good examples of voice over. It’s a bit of a staple of film noir, for instance (at least it’s known to be, I don’t know how much that actually played out in reality) and the Coen Brothers made good use of it in both The Hudsucker Proxy and The Big Lebowski, primarily by bringing in the unseen narrator as a minor character, but not until the middle of the movie.
Inane Time Travel
This is probably the pet peeve that I’ve brought up the most in recent years. I like science fiction and time travel plots, etc., and I’m actually not too picky about time travel making perfect sense. But it drives me crazy when these stories obviously don’t make sense, but act like they do.
So just to be clear, I’m not complaining about something like Back to the Future. That’s a funny movie that treats time travel and the complications it creates lightly (eg. there’s no logical reason why erasing one’s brother from the timeline would cause his image in a picture to slowly disappear). I’m talking about stuff like Déjà Vu or Looper.. These are, I know, movies that generally people like but are actually kind of stupid. In Déjà Vu, Denzel Washington is sent back in time to before a terrorist attack took place, so he can investigate it and try to prevent it. He follows various pieces of evidence that he is aware of in the future, to continually discover that his actions help to create those pieces of evidence. In other words, his own investigation of the event actually helps to create the event! (Everyone who hasn’t already seen this episode of the The Twilight Zone gasps). But then, at the last second, he changes his mind and manages to avoid the outcome that his actions were leading to, thus preventing the attack. Great, except no new information was added between “this time” that he was playing out the events, and “last time” when he originally created all the evidence that led to the attack. So why did his choices change? If he’s so smart to realize what was happening, why would he ever have made the choices that led to the attack in the first place? Answer: no reason. But everybody is so confused already that nobody cares. Don’t tell me the movie I just spent two hours watching was a colossal waste of time, I can’t handle the cognitive dissonance.
Looper basically contains the same thing. A character goes through the paces of the life he knows he is going to live: he’s a hit man for mobsters from the future who send victims back in time to him to kill. One day, the victim he kills is himself, but that’s okay because that’s part of the deal. You kill yourself 30 years in the future, get rich from doing it, and live the next 30 years in high style. So he does, but then 30 years later he decides he doesn’t want to die so he acts to change the end of his life. But why, oh why, did he suddenly decide to do this “this time” but not “the first time”? More than that, he comes back in time and spends the rest of the film trying to kill the mob leader from the future back when he was a boy. Then he comes to the conclusion that his attempts to kill him as a boy are what turned him into a mob leader in the first place. Except that in the version of history where he never came back and tried to kill him, there was still a mob leader. So…yeah, whatever. It’s well acted and well directed, but it’s fundamentally stupid so that does not make it a good movie.
Project Almanac is another one that comes to mind. It’s not only an inane time travel movie, it’s also found footage movie (not on this list, but could have been) so that makes it a double-threat. In it, a guy who has discovered a time travel machine decides to use it to get a better grade on an oral test. So he goes back in time, distracts his earlier version of himself so he never gets to class, and then replaces him. But he still does badly on the test, so he tries again. And again. And again and again and again. They show how the first time they distracted the original him, but what happened to all the other hims that came back and tried before? Did they distract all of them? There are other examples of this sort of thing in the movie as well.
Anyway, I don’t like to think about it because it annoys me. Instead I’d rather go and watch Summer Time Machine Blues, which is the opposite of this pet peeve.
Instead of saying real dialogue, I just repeat something you said earlier, which is supposed to symbolize that I’ve come around the your point of view, or that we’ve come to unity with each other over something, or that I’m really hoping you’ll take me back after I was such an idiot.
I actually can’t think of an example of this right now but it happens all the time. Filmmakers use a line of dialogue as a recurring motif, having it said by multiple characters in multiple situations. Honest Trailers recently called out Batman Begins for doing this a lot. When it’s done well, it helps to build cohesion to the movie by connecting in different parts of the story to each other. When it’s done badly, or even in a pedestrian manner, it just feels like lazy writing. Instead of wrestling with real dialogue where characters are coming to terms with their differences, the movie tries to use the line as sort of short-hand, assuming that all the emotions and subtext they want are just automatically built in by using that device. The problem is, it so often fails, and makes the moment (and usually it’s an important moment) feel far less authentic than it should be.
Changing their mind because of…reasons
If the film is about an old group getting back together again, whatever the group is and whatever their reason for being together, there’s often one character who refuses to return. They’ve moved on, they’ve grown up, they’ve got better things to do. But the audience isn’t fooled, we know they need to be there, so inevitably they show up. It’s often almost immediately following their protracted refusal. When asked why, there’s never a compelling motivation. Usually, they have a completely different attitude. While before they were dour and serious, now their smirky and light-hearted. They might say something like, “Well, you guys were going to screw this up without me, so I thought I’d better come,” if we get anything at all. Gonzo does this in The Muppets. But the example that really comes to mind is Angelina Jolie’s character in Gone in Sixty Seconds, where, as far as I can tell the only reason she refuses to join the group at the beginning is so she can look awesome riding up to the guys on her motorcycle afterwards.
I’ve seen a bunch of superhero, action and adventure films and one thing that I think is essential to making them enjoyable is that the heroes have to be at least somewhat competent and capable before the climax of the film. When all they do is lose all the time, the net result isn’t that that villain is elevated; instead it diminishes the hero, and makes the film a frustrating experience. Examples of this are Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, where the IMF fail at every turn until the climax. So to does the GI Joe team in GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny are completely useless in Fantastic Four until the very end when they get the bright idea of working together, and the original team in X-Men are not much better. Marvel has really figured this out and you never get this issue in any of their movies, nor do you in even the worst Spider-Man films.
So…what bothers you about movies? Any thoughts? And what will we talk about next?