x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

The death of creativity - now showing at a theatre near you

Each decade's blockbuster movies are worse than those of the preceding decade.

In the summer of 1976, my uncle took me to watch Jaws, a year after it was first released. I was only 6 years old. That's right, 6. Questionable guardianship - and a few sleepless nights - notwithstanding, I owe him, not to mention Lebanon's lax age restrictions at the cinema, a huge debt of gratitude.

All over the world, Jaws devoured the competition at the box office; Steven Spielberg had invented the "summer blockbuster". And I had a front-row seat.

A year later, Star Wars was unleashed on an unsuspecting public, and a whole generation of movie geeks was born. From 1980 to 1982, Spielberg and pal George Lucas gave us The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET. For film-lovers, it was like mining gold.

Thirty-six years after Spielberg's grand moment, that love is being severely tested. Last week brought the latest soul-crushing news that Sony is making two more films based on Hasbro Inc board games. Risk and Candy Land are set to follow Battleship, which - almost inevitably - sank at the box office this summer.

From galaxies far far away, to board games. That is some fall from grace.

Looking back, there has been a decade-on-decade drop in blockbuster quality. The Return of The Jedi, Back to the Future, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park slowly gave way to Waterworld, Titanic, the fun but superficial Independence Day, and the dismal Armageddon, arguably the moment that blockbuster films definitively jumped the shark. The ensuing plummet in standards, thanks to directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich, was even more pronounced: Godzilla, Pearl Harbor, The Day After Tomorrow. Now we know that when the Mayans predicted that 2012 would bring about the end of the world as we know it, they were actually talking about movies.

Clearly, Hollywood studios see the movie-going public as nothing more than vapid monkeys, happy to be fed a regurgitated diet of yet another end-of-the-world scenario, without the decency to explain why New York City and Los Angeles remain the favoured targets of aliens, asteroids and natural disasters.

Of course, film adaptations have always existed. But it used to be classic book adaptations or beloved comics. Christopher Nolan's Batman series, for one, continues to astound. But then came the inferior sequels. And prequels. Remakes. Remakes of remakes. And, in modern parlance, reboots.

The lack of originality did not stop there. Films used to spawn video games and toys. Then the trend was reversed, from Super Mario Brothers to Transformers. And now, the natural conclusion, board games. How did it ever come to this?

Perhaps the film industry is experiencing a variation on the "paradox of choice" syndrome, which says the more options you're presented with, the more you are faced with choice paralysis: the more technology has advanced, the less original and wondrous films have become.

Make no mistake, the bar is low. We now judge "blockbusters" almost exclusively by special effects. A very good film, such as TheAvengers, is greeted with disproportionate glee because it bothered with some semblance of a plot. And the technically brilliant Avatar is lauded for how realistic its 3-D effects "felt" (because we've all experienced blue aliens in their natural habitat, right?)

CGI, you have a lot to answer for.

Extrapolating backwards from this seemingly unstoppable regression towards a creative singularity, what can we expect next? It's surely a matter of time before we see a film based on the first ever mainstream video game, Atari's Pong. Or maybe, once all original ideas have finally have been exhausted, a big production blockbuster of Snakes and Ladders, starring Samuel Jackson of course.

Let's hope Michael Bay doesn't get any ideas, for that truly would be the end of days for blockbusters. Not even a 6-year-old could be dragged into the cinema to watch that.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

On Twitter: AliKhaled_