Star Wars

It’s Ok to Dislike Great Movies

taxi-driver

In 1976 Martin Scorsese released his timeless classic, Taxi Driver. Arguably one of his greatest films, it’s wonderfully written, beautifully shot, and impeccably acted by Robert Deniro. My first experience seeing this masterpiece was when I was eighteen.

I’ve never had it in me to see it a second time.

Everything I said earlier I truly believe. Taxi Driver is a masterpiece, but man did it take a ton out of me. For me, Taxi Driver is like when I ran cross country in high school. I have fond memories of it, I’m proud that I finished those races, but even the thought of trying to do that again starts to give me heart palpitations.

Much like running those races depleted me of all energy, after watching Taxi Driver I remember being emotionally drained of all happiness. It’s tough to watch Travis Bickle descend further and further into madness, yet still desire him to right the wrongs of society, while also questioning whether he’s just as bad as the criminals he’s trying to bring to justice. It’s much like a rollercoaster except it’s your heart in the front seat and by the end of it it’s puked out any remaining faith in humanity.

It should also be noted that I hate rollercoasters.

Society as a whole can, at times, be a cruel companion that will tear you down at the first sight of unconformity. Want to see this in action? Next time you’re at a party conversing with a group of people, casually mention that you don’t like Star Wars. Even if you adore it (odds are you do), try it anyway, for the sake of science. I guarantee you at least 85% of that group will go slack jawed and demand an explanation, but don’t bother, there isn’t one. You might as well say you hate puppies or Tom Hanks. It’s a taboo of the highest order and in some cases the punishment for even hinting at it is nothing short of social extradition.

e36167f50f305cb6b377e9e7fabb0812

But the truth is there are plenty of reasons why a person wouldn’t like Star Wars, yet still acknowledge that it’s a well made film. Maybe you don’t relate to any of the characters, maybe science fiction isn’t your thing, or maybe (like myself with Taxi Driver) you just don’t like the emotions it elicits. These are all perfectly reasonable, if perhaps solely personal, excuses to dislike a film.

Battleship Potemkin is considered one of the most influential films of all time and is routinely shown to film students as an example of the fundamental uses of the montage. The impact this film had on history is undeniable, but by today’s standards it’s a tough watch to say the least. I don’t think I’ve ever ran into a film buff who has even casually listed it among their favorite films of all time.

tumblr_ngzjo1Gspc1rp0vkjo1_500.gif

The fact is, a film’s exceptional qualities are mutually exclusive to the enjoyment you get from watching it. You can outright hate a film, yet still recognize that it might have expert level visual qualities or spot-on sound design. Take Transformers, a film most serious film fans will say they despise, but suggest to them that Michael Bay has mastered the explosion and they’ll be forced to reluctantly nod in agreement. He should have by now, there hasn’t been a movie he’s made without a minimum of ten. I’m pretty sure he even managed to sneak in twelve small explosions in the background of Pain or Gain.

There is no rule that states that great films need to be enjoyed, no Amendment to the Constitution that makes it unlawful for you to personally dislike a widely accepted pièce de résistance. Just like it’s possible to accept that Michael Jordan is a great basketball player without ever taking a liking to the game, it’s perfectly fine to dislike Unforgiven if you can’t stand Westerns. It’s important as a film lover to acknowledge when greatness has been achieved, but that doesn’t mean you should have to wire your eyelids open through repeated views of a film like Alex from A Clockwork Orange to prove it.

Advertisements

Film Rant: What’s Truly Unique About #Blackstormtrooper

This week JJ Abrams released the teaser trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens and just like every other fanboy I watched the video over and over, often pausing to pick out even the most minute details. My dissection of the trailer was handled with the same level of precision as a group of Spaceballs with an giant fine-tooth comb. I mean this is JJ Abrams we’re talking about here. The guy who made Lost. Do you know how many Easter Eggs he snuck into that series?

Of course I wasn’t the only person with their eye on the trailer and it didn’t take long before people shared their discoveries and doubts to social media. It took no less than ten frames before some members of the Star Wars fan base had a collective head burst. The scene I’m talking about is the one that opens the trailer, where we see a stormtrooper with his helmet off, looking out into the distance with fear in his eyes.

Oh yeah, and he’s black.

The amount of outrage over this stormtrooper’s race has been well documented over Twitter and other social media outlets under the hashtag #blackstormtrooper. Although most is overwhelmingly positive, some try and point out the supposed “inconsistency” of his race due to the fact that stormtroopers were shown to be cloned from Jango Fett in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones:

Still others believe this is an attempt to appease the “PC lovers”, “Social Justice Warriors” or whatever other term kids are using these days to describe people who want to see women and minorities in films because they exist in a place we call society, just a small subset of the universe:

How this is still an issue is beyond me, although I’m sad to say I’m not surprised. I was under the assumption that science fiction had moved beyond this nonsense decades ago. Duane Jones was cast in a starring role in a major Horror/Sci-Fi film in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. That was in 1968, the same year Kirk kissed Uhura. Also, I don’t remember anyone accusing George Lucas of checking “diversity boxes” when he cast Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu in 1999. It’s 2014, a black stormtrooper shouldn’t be considered progress or pandering, it should be considered the norm.

That’s not to say the scene doesn’t mark a historic moment in the series. Go back and take a look at that scene.


There is definitely something striking and out of place about this stormtrooper that has nothing to do with the color of his skin.

Look again.

It’s his expression, or better yet, the fact that he has an expression at all. Provided this is truly an Imperial Stormtrooper, JJ Abrams has done something that has never been done in the Star Wars universe. He’s humanized a stormtrooper.

Stormtroopers have traditionally been portrayed as a cookie cutter military outfit. Their uniforms are monochrome, without any semblance of coloring. No personalization, like stickers. No nametags. Their appearance is skeletal, the most stripped down our bodies can be while still maintaining their shape. Their voices are monotone, devoid of any kind of inflection.  Even when they’re introduced as Jango clones, they are portrayed as mindless copies unlike the strong-willed Fett. For all intents and purposes, stormtroopers are meant to be mindless automatons, lacking any modicum of emotion or marksmanship.

There’s a reason for this in filmmaking, particularly Science Fiction, Horror and even some War and Western films. Things like zombies, robots, ninjas, orcs, brood-like aliens and the like are meant to be devoid of any humanizing features. This is so heroes can easily shoot and slash through swaths of enemies without eliciting an emotional response from audiences. It’s what differentiates Starship Troopers from becoming the sniper scene in Full Metal Jacket.

This method is used to great effect in the Star Wars franchise as the Empire is often depicted as masked or cloaked in battle, but the Rebels’ faces are exposed and possess features that make them unique. As an example take the first assault on the Death Star. On one side you have the the Imperial TIE Fighter Pilots, completely concealed in black helmets. Yet all the rebel pilots, from Wedge Antilles to my favorite, the portly Jek Tono Porkins, have their faces visible.

During the battle, no one cares as TIE fighters are blasted into particles, because they might as well be piloted by Death incarnate. But audiences feel for guys like Porkins as we witness him meet an untimely death as he sizzles (heh) among the stars. Porkins speaks with authority, we can tell he’s respected among his squadron and he sports a rocking neck beard. And for those of you wondering, yes, Lucas really named the heavy guy Porkins. (This was just to illustrate that Lucas humanizes his characters, not that he’s good at it.)

It’ll be interesting to see if Abrams is planning on giving the Empire a human side. It’ll certainly change the way we look at the Empire as well as explain the motivations of those within their ranks. Furthermore, it might reveal that there’s more than one side of the story when it comes to the battle between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Perhaps like most rebellions the outcome didn’t turn out as planned.