Of course, being a family man, I didn’t get to actually see any of them in the theater, so I had to wait for the fall to get caught up. I’ve now seen Oblivion and Pacific Rim (Elysium is on the way), hoping that the reviews and the viewing public were wrong, and these might eventually turn into home-video-sleeper-hits.
Well, folks, the news is grim. Not so much because the movies were terrible, but because they were just weren’t good enough. A while ago, after catching up with John Carter and Green Lantern, I did “Truly Terrible Movies” week. These examples aren’t so drastic, but it’s actually more disappointing, so we’ll do “Mediocre Modern Movies Week(s)”.
I hope this provides a good opportunity: It’s so hard to reach “good enough” that it’s tempting just lay down there and go to sleep, but how do you make it to the next level where your work is actually meaningful? That’s been a focus of this blog since the beginning, and these movies exemplify a lot of rules we’ve already codified, as well as suggesting new ones.
But before we begin, we should clarify that both of these movies did certain things very right. Let’s start with just two:
- Pacific Rim is a great example of the concept of mental real estate. We all have memories if watching Japanese robot-vs-monster movies and TV shows as kids, but we’ve never sent that get a big-budget treatment before, so this movie really represented a case of just picking up money that was laying there on the ground. There’s definitely a great movie to made out of this very neat idea. (Alas, for reasons we’ll soon see, this just isn’t it.)
- Oblivion is a great example of including echoes of real life national pain in a science fiction movie. People all over our world have a new existential fear in their life: drones, but no movie has made that fear come alive yet, partially because the actual drones we have now look so...dorky. That’s part of their insidious genius: they seem so unthreatening, right up until they incinerate your mom. This was the first movie to really make drones look terrifying on screen, and it did so if a very serious and meaningful way: Cruise’s belief that, because he’s the good guy, the drones will be his friend (right up until they decide to kill him) taps directly into the fears that even Americans have of these things in a very non-hypocritical way.