Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bad Movie Night

I've come to the realization that I am a fan of bad movies. While there are certainly a few films that are physically painful for me to watch--such as The Creeping Terror, which not even Mystery Science Theater 3000 could make bearable (and that's saying something!)--the majority of movies labeled as "bad" by viewers are, in reality, not that great. Nevertheless, there's more to the movie experience than being entertained.

I find satisfaction in being the champion of ideas and opinions contrary to those of the mainstream (where entertainment and pop culture are concerned, anyhow), and I relish the opportunity to defend a film that has garnered widespread disapproval from the general public, or at least offer up new reasons why it wasn't any good. I think it's worthwhile to challenge the mainstream from time to time in order to ensure that prevailing opinions are the thoughtfully developed personal opinions of many individuals, and not simply the strong opinions of a select few, propagated through other people with no compelling reasons to disagree.

Too often I hear "bad" movies dismissed with a verdict of, "it sucked," as though any objective observer should concur without any elaboration that, yes, this film did indeed suck. I suspect I'm a little more analytical and less gut-reactive about my entertainment than the average person, which is why I view "it sucked" as a statement of fact that needs to be backed up. Someone would punch me in the face if I said that Avatar or The Dark Knight sucked, but if I treated my opinions as facts and failed to clarify my thinking, I would say just that--they're both terrible movies.

Stay your fist for a moment. My opinions are not facts. And neither are yours.

I've already written at length about my feelings toward Avatar and its nine minutes of bonus footage, but The Dark Knight is one film I've avoided discussing, in part because Alex might kick me out of the blog, and in part because my reasons for disliking the film have little or nothing to do with objective criticism of the film's quality.

I'm not big into crime dramas. I don't get much of a sense of character from Christian Bale (I was not impressed with him in Terminator Salvation or The Prestige, though I loved 3:10 to Yuma and enjoyed Pocahontas back in the day). I'm bothered by Batman's just-swallowed-a-cigarette-factory voice. More than anything else, though, The Dark Knight is too...dark for my tastes. The film works incredibly well, and it only works because the Joker is so twisted and Gotham City is such a troubled place. I have a strong appreciation for what the film accomplished. It's not my type of movie.

Compare that to, "The Dark Knight sucked."

Some of you still want to punch me, I'll bet, or are calling into question my right to have any opinions whatsoever. Where are the people who react that way to folks who didn't care for Catwoman or Weekend at Bernie's II? Evidently, we've either got a lot of dedicated fans who remain silent in the face of widespread discontent, or else these are the kinds of movies that, in whole or in part, are objectively bad--the kinds of movies where even the most diehard fans will identify flaws.

I now own a modest collection of objectively bad sci-fi movies that I hope to discuss in more detail at some point. Though there are a few standalone movies in my collection that have been critically panned--Battlefield Earth, for example--most of them, such as Convict 762 and Bride of the Gorilla, I have as part of a compilation. One box set bills them as "50 Sci-Fi Classics" and includes the unforgettable Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Another is a two-disc set of "3 Movies." My favorite, however, is the double feature disc that was packaged in a box labeled "Bad Movie Night," complete with Bad Movie Night popcorn and...barf bag. No indication whether it was for the movie or the popcorn.

It's fun to play MST3K with bad films if I'm watching with other people, but I'm finding more and more that it's strangely rewarding to take them as seriously as is reasonably possible, and to objectively identify exactly what factors make these movies bad. So far, I'm seeing two recurring problems with the films I've been watching: one, low budget; two, false expectations of quality relative to budget on the part of the viewer.

Films such as Absolution and Dark Planet--which, at the time of this post, have less presence on Wikipedia than my middle school's math team, if that's any indication--suffer from many of the same problems that many big-name, big-budget films do: plot holes, lousy dialogue, wasted talent, cheesy special effects; you name it. The primary difference is that there's no big-name, big-budget veneer to distract the viewer from the flaws.

By analyzing bad movies--and occasionally offering dissenting opinions about the good ones--I'm developing an understanding and appreciation of cinema that extends well beyond being entertained and stimulated in the ways the filmmakers intended. I'm sticking to bad sci-fi movies for now, but if this research continues, it's only a matter of time before I break down and see Mr. Popper's Penguins with someone.

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