The other night my husband and I were probably some of the last people in the galaxy to see Rogue One. But I can’t even write about that film because I am too distracted by the previews that I saw ahead of it.
I’ll take this opportunity to confess that I LOVE trailers; I even ask students to make them in my Film classes to illustrate concepts like summary, suspense, story arcs, genre conventions, and thinking about audiences. I’m also a huge fan of Screen Junkie’s Honest Trailers, which if you haven’t seen, do yourself a favor and check them out. Be prepared to spend way more time than you thought; they are hilarious. So I am not one of those people who is late to the movie, saying, “ah, there’s going to be twenty minutes of previews before it even starts.” I WANT to see those trailers.
There were six trailers in front of our movie—I’ve read that in some theatres there were more, but our local Carmike also has actual COMMERCIALS, as well (way to spoil the movie experience, Carmike. If I wanted to see commercials, I’d just watch TV). The first one, Life (Daniel Espinosa, 2017), was the only “original” movie in the bunch, and incidentally, probably the only one that I might go to see. It’s sci-fi and it looks terrifying, and space movies (like Rogue One, of course) are always better on the big screen. Ask my husband how I continually gripped the armrests when we saw Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity in 3D. Plus, I’ve been a firm Jake Gyllenhaal devotee since 2014’s Nightcrawler. Robbed of that Oscar nom, I tell you! Robbed!
But the other five—War for the Planet of the Apes, a new Transformers flick, the second Guardians of the Galaxy, another Pirates of the Caribbean film, and—for real, Hollywood??—another Mummy reboot—were just… well, more of the same. More franchise installments, more reliance on stories that have, at least in some ways, already been told. Did we need another Transformers movie just because they got Anthony Hopkins? I gotta tell you, this discovery lost him some serious points with me. You are a knight, sir. One of the most respected Shakespearean actors of our time. Do you really want to be involved in a series that is basically a romp through some adolescent male robot fantasy? I digress. More questions: Will Tom Cruise make this Mummy’s particle animation look even more amazing? I know it’s sci-fi, but in a film environment that seems to be more and more reliant on artificially constructed realities, I have become a serious sucker for practical effects (done well, that is). The maxim, “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should” comes to mind. Will another look at green Zoe Saldana make my life better? Can Pirate Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men be worth the $320 million budget of Dead Men Tell No Tales? And finally, would it be too much to ask that TRAILERS not have the f-bomb in them? I’m no language prude, for sure, but if that is the best bit of dialogue a film can come up with in order to get me to the theatre to see it, I think it might be ripe for a script rewrite. I’m looking at you, Mummy.
I know what you’re thinking: wait a second, you were there to see Rogue One! Isn’t THAT also a franchise installment? To that I say: yes, yes it is. A franchise that changed cinema, beginning in 1977, and one that will continue to feed its dedicated fans when the new Star Wars film is released in December 2017. I’m kind of OK if they want to flesh out the timeline a bit, and I’ll admit to being BLOWN AWAY by the not-Peter Sellers Tarkin, so there goes my argument about the CGI. But I will also say, in contrast with seemingly every other reviewer of that film, that Rogue One was just that: another Star Wars movie. Right down to the “oh, I love it when the At-at gets blown up and falls down. Let’s see that again!” Rogue One was entertaining, and even thrilling at some points, so I’m not disparaging it as a film, per se. It did all of the things that one would expect a Star Wars movie to do, and, in my opinion, not much more. Which I guess is the point not only of franchises, but of genre itself: if you want to see “fill in the blank”, then we’ll give it to you. I am a horror aficionista, after all, and like other horror fans I actually somewhat enjoy when a movie fulfills my expectations.
But I do, in the end, most admire films that take those expectations and subvert them in some way, films that do something different with those conventions, films that are revisionist somehow. Audre Lorde said that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” but if the master’s house is genre, filmmakers can surely use those tools to do a bit of remodeling. It’s disappointing to me that more Hollywood filmmakers and screenwriters don’t take up that challenge, perhaps because most audiences wouldn’t appreciate it, and that’s why we get franchises. And five previews for films I feel like I’ve seen before ahead of a film I’ve kind of seen before. Human beings are, if nothing else, certainly creatures of habit.