Film snobbery or a matter of taste?

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Please, someone, make them stop.

When I saw The Dark Knight on Thursday (24/07) amongst the previews was a trailer (attached below) for Disaster Movie, which included Iron Man being squashed by a cow, the Incredible Hulk's trousers ripping, the Sex and the City girls turning out to be men, one of whom gets into a fight with someone masquerading as Juno, who employs a fighting technique which I saw in the trailer for the new Adam Sandler movie You Don't Mess with the Zohan.

This is the new offering from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, the 'brains' behind such films as the Scary Movie franchise, Date Movie (2006), Epic Movie (2007) and Meet the Spartans (2008). They have such a conveyor belt of these parodies that, including the screenwriting credits in 2000's Scary Movie (which is principally a Wayans brothers movie), they have made eight films in as many years, with their latest including a parody of a film that has yet to be released in the UK!

I don't mind admitting that I liked Scary Movie - it wasn't up there with Airplane! or the Naked Gun films but it spoofed a lot of films I like and it did them quite well but, after that, it was a case of the law of diminishing returns with the fourth instalment in 2006 instantly forgettable.

I haven't seen any other of their films - the trailers did a fine job of keeping me away from the cinema - so can't comment on the quality (or otherwise) of them but they just look dreadful with the titles not reflecting the content. Epic Movie, for example, did not spoof epic movies and there wasn't a single 'disaster movie' (The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno for example) in the trailer for Disaster Movie. If you look on the IMDb for Freidberg and Seltzer, their pages contain the keywords 'parody' and 'female nudity' so it's clear from the level of humour and content that they're aiming at the lowest common denominator, particularly adolescent boys who are undiscriminating in their tastes.

Maybe it's me - maybe I'm a film snob. Is it because I'm the sort of person who would watch movies recognised as great like Citizen Kane, The Seventh Seal or City Lights for pleasure that I find the output of Friedberg and Seltzer to be derivative, crass and completely lacking in artistic integrity? On the other hand, I like the 'so bad they're good' films of Edward D. Wood Jr. and H.G. Lewis but I see trailers for films that look abysmal or sit through things like M. Night Shyamalan's dreadful recent films Lady in the Water and The Happening and think to myself, 'who agreed to fund these things?' and 'do they not see that they are absolute rubbish?' These films are 'so bad they're bad'. I won't even start on Uwe Boll's output.

What does this do to cinema and film as a medium? There are bodies that screen films for content and give them a certificate based on the age of the audience that should see them - could they not screen them for content and rule 'not fit for public viewing'. I know this is censorship but it's for the good of film and the general public who should not go and see a complete abomination and leave the cinema happy. In previous decades, such films would never have seen the light of day as the producer would have simply binned the script, but we're at a stage now where basically anything, regardless of quality or taste, makes its way to the cinema because there's an audience for this braindead nonsense. This is a kick in the teeth to talented filmmakers whose names we'll never hear because studio executives think their work is too cerebral for the general population and therefore won't see the light of day (or, more accurately, the darkness of the cinema).

OK, rant over. It was just seeing THAT trailer that did something very strange to my head that I'm still stewing over its very existence even after watching 150 minutes of supremely skilled filmmaking by Christopher Nolan and everyone else involved in the production of The Dark Knight.

Your Opinions and Comments

You're a film snob, Dave. ;)

Couldn't resist that.

Would you really really want to give somebody the power to stop a film being made or released based on a judgement of taste? You know the saying "one man's meat is another man's poison" (Oi, no snickering at the back), well the same is true of movies. You may loathe something I love, and I may hate unreservedly something you might watch regularly as one of your favourite movies. I'm not defending crap for crap's sake (Stercore Gratia Stercoris to paraphrase MGM's motto), but I honestly don't think a "quality" criteria would make for better movies.

It's difficult enough to get a film green-lit in Hollywood of any description, let alone what you would call a "worthwhile" movie. The net is littered with discarded scripts for movies that never got further than "development hell", and they're mostly the really crap ones the authors aren't constantly rewriting in the hope of successfully submitting to this month's head of production at Paramount.

I have seen Friedberg and Seltzer's Date Movie and Epic Movie, and I'd be the first person to put a hand up and say they're crap, but I'd never suggest they should never have been made. Yes, they are low-brow comedies which only just pass muster as comedies, and of course they're derivative, they're spoofs. If anything these movies indicate Friedberg and Seltzer are competent, sure hands in making low budget, production-line comedies. They know how to use the equipment, they know how to please an easily-entertained audience, and they can bring a cheap picture in on time and on budget, which is what the Studio suits like about them.

No-one would argue that Stanley Kubrick was one of the greatest visionary directors in cinematic history, but if you take any one of his titles and research its development and production, you inevitably uncover a nightmare tale of difficulties and arguments. He may have made great movies, but he was undoubtedly a nightmare to work for. You look at his plans for unproduced movies and you realise how many amazing movies we've missed out on, but it's not because the Studios didn't want to make his movies - they couldn't risk it.

Look at Cimino's Heaven's Gate - a high concept cinematic movie if there ever was one, and it bankrupted United Artists.

Hollywood is a schizophrenic beast at the best of times. On the one hand the Studios are snake-oil salesmen wanting to get the maximum number of bums on seats watching their movies and paying for their nose-candy, hookers and tequila. On the other hand, the Studios want to be admired by the rest of the planet for making great, high Art. They know they can't have it both ways because Art is expensive and it doesn't necessarily get bums on seats. Bums on seats, however make for happy Studio shareholders and Hollywood is after all a multi-billion dollar industry first and foremost.

Lowest Common Denominator sounds like a good title for a Rob Schneider Arnie spoof, which would undoubtedly be a very bad film.
posted by Mark Oates on 8/8/2008 23:59