This post is following up on my previous post discussing the social ramifications of Transformers: Dark of the Moon and other films of that ilk. As you may recall, I was not too happy about them, nor was I optimistic about their effects on our children. The lesson of these movies, such as their is one, seems to be mainly that it’s fun to watch people get killed and property destroyed. In addition one could glean a number of secondary lessons, such as that the proper role of women is to be helpless and useless beyond wearing as little as possible.
It’s worthy to ask where such movies came from. As I said, they have always been with us to some extent, but they’re with us now to a much greater extent. A foundational moment in the evolution of the crap movie would be a title that it’s quite appropriate to discuss on this particular date: Independence Day. This, for anyone who’s forgotten or was lucky enough not to learn in the first place, was the 1996 blockbuster about alien invasions. It might be considered the ultimate summer movie, if summer movies are those producing ungrammatical comments such as “I like watching stuff blow up real good.” There are more and bigger explosions in Independence Day than in any other movie I know.
Beyond the massive fireballs that took several minutes to roll over Washington D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles, the other notable thing about Independence Day was the shameless stereotyping used in the cast. The message is clear. It’s nice to have a character like Jeff Goldblum who can encounter an alien spacecraft and program a virus to take down the entire alien fleet with ten minutes, but you wouldn’t actually want to be him. He’s too geeky, too socially inept, and too Jewish. Clearly the character you want to be is Will Smith, who punches aliens directly, chomps on cigars, survives any number of recklessly stupid decisions, and uses as much profanity as can be squeezed in under the PG-13 label.
Now the obvious response that we hear all the time is simply that dumb science fiction movies have been around for a long time. This is true, as the following trailers will demonstrate:
However, there is an obvious difference between Transformers and Independence Day on the one hand and This Island Earth and Earth versus the Flying Saucers on the other. It’s a difference so obvious that most of us won’t think about it unless someone points it out. Current movies have good special effects while movies of the 50’s had lousy special effects. It’s obvious that Earth versus the Flying Saucers is showing you wooden saucers slicing into cardboard buildings. The space scenes in This Island Earth would barely cut the mustard in Loony Tunes. By contrast, Transformers has achieved photo-level realism, or at least what realism would look like if giant robots disguised as common household objects ever infiltrated Chicago.
Because of the better technology, today’s blockbusters can occupy a bigger ‘space’ in our imaginations than yesteryear’s. A typical movie-goer today will spend more time mentally reliving the scenes from big movies because those movies are, at least in the visual sense, much more worth reliving. While the cheeseball epics of the 50’s could serve as a spur to someone’s imagination, today’s movies instead become replacements for imagination. The visuals are so powerful that they take over the mind for long periods of time. That’s why there’s more reason to be concerned about modern movies and the effects that they have on us.