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I enjoyed lots many parts of this chat about The Dark Knight Rises over at The Awl, but this is the bit that really struck me:

EK: There are many times when filmmakers have taken on huge ideas and have been given huge budgets to do so and they did not produce the kind of dross we are getting in big ticket cinema right now. This film cost a quarter of a billion dollars.

MB: They've gotten too big, I reckon. Too many people to hire, too much pressure on too few at the top… plus there is so much merchandising that goes with it, plus all the furren considerations.

EK: Can we try maths? At which I am terrible! Terminator 2 cost $100 million in 1991

MB: That was a big deal, I remember.

EK: The Dark Knight Rises was $250 million. So are these movies being made for about as much as they used to be? Or considerably more?

MB: This calculator says that $100 million in 1991 is $158 million in 2010, inflation-adjusted.

EK: !!!!!!!!!

EK: An extra $100 million. That is insane amounts of money. That is so many great smaller films.


Like Moon, $10 million

MB: It seems to me like they can more guarantee big revenues in EMEA and Asia from blockbuster movies with explosions? Just from random travel observations, it seems like those are the movies they go for, abroad. Maybe Moon won't play in Asia?

EK: Which again is about treating people as stupid.

MB: Maybe more like finding the thing everyone likes? Culture-blind stories? An explosion is an explosion in any language.

EK: "Better make it simple enough for them foreigns to understand!"

All that extra money is surely being spent to create greater and greater quantities and qualities of spectacle. But does anyone, even today, watch Terminator 2 and think, "Nah - not enough spectacle"? Heck, does anybody watch Terminator and think it? I kinda doubt it. I marveled at any number of amazing long shots in Prometheus, but nothing I saw etched itself into my memory like the slavering jaws of the original xenomorph in Alien.

And, I would argue (and this is the main point here), there isn't a special effect in all of Skywalker Ranch that can make a movie memorable if the characters and story aren't. Effects are frosting; they make a delicious cake into something spectacular. Way too often of late, we're getting mountains of frosting on cakes no bigger than a cookie, and that's if we're lucky. If we're not so lucky, the frosting obscures something far less appetizing.

"So what?" you ask. "I like frosting." Fair enough. But when movies aren't memorable - when they do nothing more than pass a couple of hours on the way to the grave - then they do nothing for us. You don't have to think The Empire Strikes Back was a good film to grant that it had a profound effect on a huge number of people and became a cultural touchstone. Yeah, yeah, death of monoculture and all that. But tentpole movies are maybe the closest thing we have left to monoculture, and all too often, they aren't getting the job done.

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