I’m a reluctant cinema-goer nowadays.
This is because broadly speaking and generalising wildly, I’m a grown-up.
Please excuse me the following rant / soliloquy.
(I like to vent occasionally: it makes me a better person the rest of the time, in theory).
I love a good story (and yes, I’m a scifi/fantasy geek, but not exclusively). I want my brain in knots, I want it to flop around in surprise and I want to feel the warm, delicious summer’s-evening glow of seeing all the pieces of a story fit together so seamlessly that it suddenly makes a Whole I’d never even dreamed of, painlessly squeezing my soul so nothing is quite the same afterwards.
Some films fit that bill. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Alien changed me – as did Gladiator but in an entirely different way (the plot was pure Xbox – but the lighting and the music made up for it). An Oscar-winning Redford film called Ordinary People changed the way I saw relationships – and Mary Tyler Moore, whose performance was chilling (netting her a Best Actress nomination). Of the hundreds – yes, only hundreds – of films I’ve seen, a fair few have left me a different person.
But not recently.
Oh, how I enjoyed The Matrix. It was clever, it was cool, it had something to say. Oh, how I’ve hated everything the Wachowski brothers have done since (V For Vendetta least of all, because I only curl my lip with contempt at that one). But again and again they get the money to carry on. So does Uwe Boll. So does Roland Emmerich, whose latest film, 2012, looks like yet another orgy of completely uninvolving lowbrow CGI-masturbation. The special effects are amazing. I bet the plot will make my brain vomit. Millions are spent on these films. They’re dreadful fiction. This is the pattern.
Okay, there are exceptions. And for three glorious years, we had 3 colossal films from Peter Jackson which combined vast amounts of well-spent money with a largely well-penned script.
But generally, the films that make the biggest ping on the radar are usually the ones that let us down. Even the great ones have a few why-did-you-do-that moments, such as the unforgiveableness of the ice-planet section of JJ Abrams’s recent Star Trek. I rather loved the film until that happened. Why did you do that to me, dude? Why did nobody stand up in a scriptwriting meeting and say “I hate to sound negative, JJ, but if I’m going to be completely straight with you, I think this part here is a sack of navel-lint. Tell me it isn’t.”
So – I reckon modern films are too often an inadequate mess. But what makes TV any better?
The answer is that TV has grown up a damn sight quicker than films, even taking into account its far greater breadth and output. I think the average intellectual demands of a serialized TV drama show are far higher than the demands of the average modern film drama – in other words, a slightly altered version of Steven Berlin Johnson’s thesis. I think this applies pretty much across the board, including with comedy. I think TV is the only place where writers can truly get under the skin of their characters and allow us to find out who they really are. I think TV is where the edgy, peering-through-your-fingers stuff happens. TV takes more risks.
For this reason, for all its shortcomings and vast swathes of middling nonsense…I think TV is better Art.
And obviously this.
These shows changed me.
(Nobody mention Heroes. I don’t want to talk about Heroes. It’s too painful).
And we have Lost – a mega-whopper of a hit that is deeply, unashamedly, ubergeekily science fiction yet has maintained a massive following, even despite a frustratingly inconclusive second season and an initially meandering third. Lost has had the time to get to grips with all its characters (too much time, you could argue) and it’s done a sterling job. The final season is on the horizon in the States, and I think – I dearly hope – I know what they’re going to do with it. If they do, it will be an awesome and beautiful Whole. It will be a slice of dazzling wonder and it will make everyone’s toes wiggle with excitement and joy. It will be damn good Art.
(I hope I’m right).
I enjoy films. They’re often fun.
But I love TV shows – because they’re better.