Anthony's Film Review



The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Hollywood Trends

April 13, 2015


The film industry of Hollywood, as with any other kind of industry, is subject to trends. Whenever someone does something that catches people's attention in good ways, there's a natural tendency for others to follow, cash in on this new thing, and perhaps do it better. It is no wonder that people in the movie audience sense various patterns in the films they see, whatever they may be. Sometimes, they're good trends that we all can appreciate. Other times, they are bad trends we can do without.

I thought I'd share with you the trends in Hollywood that I have noticed in the past or am beginning to see now. This is in no way a complete list of significant Hollywood trends. They're just the ones that stood out for me. I hope you will join me in looking closely at Hollywood trends that please us or irritate us, but either way keep us engaged.

With that, I present to you the good, the bad, and the ugly of Hollywood trends, according to yours truly.


BAD HOLLYWOOD TREND

Poorly Made Sequels

One of the first Hollywood movie trends I ever noticed in my lifetime of watching movies was the proliferation of movie sequels. I remember sequels to Rush Hour, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Jurassic Park, and other films, and I couldn't help but notice how they all came out within a few years of each other. Sequels are now a trend that is so common that the announcement of a sequel is no longer a surprise. Everyone, including me, shrugs it off, knowing that this is how Hollywood makes extra bucks.

The issue, however, is not the number of sequels, but their rather quality. Putting aside some entertaining sequels of the past two decades, like Rush Hour 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, and Shrek 2, there have been some sequels that did not live up to the predecessor. One striking example is Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. This movie is not as funny as the first Austin Powers movie for two reasons. The first reason: uncreative jokes. There's a reference to The Empire Strikes Back and a recycled but modified version of the ransom joke from the first movie. (To be fair, the inclusion of the White House destruction scene from Independence Day and the appearance of controversial talk show host Jerry Springer were pretty funny.) The second reason: the disgusting character of Fat Bastard, especially the scenes with toilet humor.


Fat Bastard, who definitely ruined the first Austin Powers sequel



QUESTIONABLE HOLLYWOOD TREND

Prequels

Star Wars - Episode I: The Phantom Menace was not just a new Star Wars movie. It was also the film that, as far as I know, ushered in the trend of movie prequels. That's not to say that it's the very first movie prequel (The Godfather: Part II is partially a prequel). Still, it seems to mark a timeline in Hollywood's history, because I noticed more prequels after that Star Wars prequel than before it. For example, I can recall Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and various X-Men movies after the third one called The Last Stand.

I'm rather neutral about prequels. On one hand, it's still possible to enjoy a movie series without any prequels, because the focus is more on current and future events in the story. Then again, prequels may provide an interesting backstory to characters and story elements already seen previously. I definitely enjoyed Star Wars - Episode III: Revenge of the Sith because of its emotional power and its connections to the original Star Wars trilogy. Also, I'm somewhat looking forward to the upcoming movie Minions, a prequel/spinoff of Despicable Me that centers on the lovable and funny yellow Minions before they served the villainous Gru.






SOMEWHAT GOOD HOLLYWOOD TREND

Reboots

Another movie in recent years has started a noticeable Hollywood trend: Batman Begins, which reboots the Batman series. I do think the idea of the reboot (starting a series over without the need to connect to previous films in the series) is a good idea, because one can avoid the bad entries in a series and also further improve on the ideas that worked already. Batman Begins was an incredible reboot because fans can forget about Joel Schumacher's Batman movies (Batman Forever as well as Batman and Robin) and experience a new version of Batman that easily surpasses Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns.

So whenever I hear about a reboot of an old film series, I tend to look forward to it. For example, I like the 1987 film RoboCop as well as the 2014 version of RoboCop. Also, I was glad to see the brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a reimagining of the series that started with the 1990 movie. So far, the only reboot film that I do not like being called a reboot is the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale. I love the movie, but I don't think it's necessary to have James Bond get his licence to kill for the first time, especially as the movie is considered the 21st film of the 007 series, not the first of a new series. Oh well.




GOOD OR BAD HOLLYWOOD TREND

Remakes

First off, let me clarify my definitions for "reboot" and "remake." A reboot is a movie that is designed to start a new film series and essentially replace the previous version of the series. The movie titled The Amazing Spider-Man is essentially a reboot because it disregards Sam Raimi's three Spider-Man movies (perhaps because the third one was so bad). A remake is a movie that is based on a prior movie and made in the new filmmaker's style. You could say that all reboots are remakes. But not all remakes are reboots.

Basically, my opinion of non-reboot remakes is that they tend to be not as good as the original, though some aren't necessarily bad movies. For example, I liked Eddie Murphy's version of The Nutty Professor, though I didn't enjoy Dr. Dolittle. I could go on and on with other examples, but I'll just wrap it up with a film remake that I loved: the 1993 film The Fugitive. It's based on an old television drama , which I have not seen, but I can imagine that the 1993 film takes the same original story to a new level in terms of pacing and thrills. (Note: I'm not calling this movie an adaptation just because television and movies are forms of the same medium of motion pictures, rather than two different media.)




ANNOYING HOLLYWOOD TREND

Shaky Camera Shots in Action Movies

Here's something I never got used to and I'm not sure if I ever will: shaky camera shots in action movies. When a character is running, the cameraman does the same thing, running behind the actor while holding the camera pointed at the actor. This is supposedly intended to simulate the shakiness that occurs when one is running. But I, like some other people, say that this is unnecessary. When we watch action movies, we want to appreciate all the physical action that is going on, and that means it should be visually clear for us. Hence, the methods that are used to capture smooth action sequence shots should continue to be standard filmmaking practice.

You definitely have the Jason Bourne movies to blame for this. But they're not the only action movies that annoy us with shaky camera shots. Even the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace is guilty of this. I remember an early scene in the movie where Bond is chasing a double agent through various passages in an Italian city. The running, jumping, and other physical acts on screen were often accompanied by shaking. It is true that Bond finds himself in shaky and dizzying moments, but we the audience have no need to experience the same. We can appreciate what is happening just fine with a stationary camera shot, thank you very much.




Jason Bourne and James Bond, both in shaky action shots



WEIRD HOLLYWOOD TREND

Ridiculous Adaptations

There are lots of sources that could provide material for film adaptations, including books, television shows, and video games. Now, this isn't necessarily a big Hollywood trend, but it's still something I began to worry about in recent years: ridiculous film adaptations, as in movies based on something else that are immediately criticized as being a stupid idea to begin with. The one example that comes to mind is the movie Battleship. Yes, that movie, the one based on the board game of the same name, which is crazy because there's no plot or characters of any sort that were developed with the board game. To make things even more ridiculous, the movie includes an alien invasion. I don't remember the Battleship board game, simulating a naval war, ever having sci-fi elements.

This reminds me of a sketch on the animated comedy television series Robot Chicken. The sketch presented mock trailers for movies based on board games. There was a trailer for a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie that feature the hippos as gangsters, and another called Chutes and Ladders featuring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as two guys named Chutes and Ladders. Keep in mind that it's all for laughs, and they're not going to be made into movies. Still, when Battleship came out, I thought, "Oh, boy. Hollywood really has lost its mind." Don't be surprised if the classic board game Monopoly gets made into a movie eventually.

This isn't to say that any unusual source for an adaptation is bad. It just has to make sense. Think about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. It was based on a popular Disney amusement park ride. And while the attraction itself didn't really present a story, the movie did present the world as seen on the ride. And it worked. Pretty soon, Disney will release a movie called Tomorrowland, which I assume is inspired by the futuristic-themed Tomorrowland section of Disneyland. I hope the movie has a sensible connection to it.


Jack Sparrow, who proves that a movie based on a theme park ride can be fun



UNNECESSARY HOLLYWOOD TREND

One Book, Two Movies

Quick. What do Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and the Divergent series all have in common? Besides being popular book series among teens and young adults, they are also film series in which the adaptation of the final book is made as two movies instead of one. When I first heard that the end of the Harry Potter movie series would be called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Part 2, I couldn't believe it. I mean, it goes against the tradition of having one story per movie or one distinct story in a movie that is part of a series. But not two movies for one story. Even as I watched those two Harry Potter movies years ago, I still think it's unnecessary to have two movies adapting one book. The same goes for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2.

Surely, some content could be trimmed per scene so that the two movies can actually work as one movie, even if it were two-and-a-half hours long instead of a little shorter as with the previous entries in the series. I wouldn't have a problem with that, especially as I'm more accustomed to two-hour movies these days, such that any movie lasting only 90 minutes feels a little short in my opinion. If you can make a movie very good, the running time shouldn't matter all that much (within reason, of course). Just look at the three movies in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, each one being awesome despite a long running time.




Two movies based on one book. Really, is that necessary?



ANOTHER UNNECESSARY HOLLYWOOD TREND

Movies in 3D

These days, so many movies, particularly those of the genres of action, sci-fi, and animation, are released in theaters in multiple formats. In addition to the regular two-dimensional format, there's the IMAX version projected onto a massive screen, a Real 3D version where you watch the movie with special glasses, and an IMAX 3D version that combines the two. Every time I hear a movie advertisement that emphasizes those bells and whistles, especially the 3D format, I can't help but ignore them. Yes, there are advances in cinematic technology that have a huge difference, like the addition to sound and color. But I don't see what 3D adds.

So far, I can only think of a few movies that I watched in 3D format: Insurgent, Kung Fu Panda 2, Tangled, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Each time, I forgot that I was watching a movie in 3D, because the only things that seemed three-dimensional were certain items in the foreground. It's not like everything on the screen was sticking out at me. So in the end, the experience was close to watching a movie on a regular screen. That's why I say this is an unnecessary trend, because the moviegoer pays a few extra dollars at the box office for pretty much nothing extra.


Honestly, I have absolutely no need for 3D glasses with movies.



SOMEWHAT ANNOYING HOLLYWOOD TREND

Too Many Movie Trailers Before the Feature Presentation

Whenever we go see a newly released film at a theater that is part of a theater chain, we are subject to movie trailers. It's one thing to have maybe three to five trailers max. It's another to have something like 10 trailers spanning a period of 20 minutes. It's gotten to the point where I no longer scramble to get in a theater seat before the scheduled showtime. Rather, I assume that the actual showtime is 10 to 15 minutes after the posted showtime. I'll even use that extra time to go to the restroom before sitting down.

If I don't really sound too upset by this, it's because I'm not. I have noticed that one thing makes the long series of movie trailers more bearable: they're interesting. Whether or not I actually want to see the movie once it's officially released, I enjoy watching the trailer. In a way, they are like mini-movies, made by cutting out much of the full-length film to leave behind the best parts. Now, it is still possible for a trailer to be deceiving, because what's in the trailer may be the only good parts of the entire movie. Alternatively, if I want to avoid trailers, I can just watch the movie on DVD or Blu-ray, or go to an independent theater where they may show just one or two trailers and that's it.


The all-too-familiar Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) green banner preceding every movie trailer



EXCELLENT TO OK HOLLYWOOD TREND

Computer-Generated Images and Special Effects

When it comes to computer-generated images (CGI) and special effects, how cool they are depends a lot on the year of the movie's release. For me, any movie in the 1990s that uses CGI was fun to watch, because they're a huge step up from decades prior. Just think of how amazing it is to witness a Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing a Jeep in Jurassic Park, the metamorphosis of T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, or alien ships blasting a military base in Independence Day. Back then, such visual effects were a new thing, and probably hard to do because nobody did them before.

These days, CGI and special effects don't trigger the same excitement as before, because they're so commonplace. In fact, CGI is so commonplace that the entire genre of animated films has dramatically shifted. Just about every animated film that is released is in CGI, whether it's from Pixar, Dreamworks, or any other studio. Disney hasn't entirely abandoned traditional 2D animation, because there are a few Disney animated short films that have preceded Disney's 3D animated feature-length films. Plus, they did make The Princess and the Frog as well as the partly-animated Enchanted. Anyway, the point is that CGI and special effects will always be cool, even if they are very familiar features of so many movies today.








ACCEPTABLE HOLLYWOOD TREND

More Straightforward Depiction of Sensitive Topics

To begin winding down this commentary article, let's look at a Hollywood trend that has gone on since the early days of motion pictures. I'm talking about the evolution of America's societal customs such that the subjects allowed to be depicted on film evolved with them. Here's a good example. In the 1946 crime film The Big Sleep, the private investigator Philip Marlowe deals with a situation involving a photograph secretly taken of a female character. On the surface, that sounds invasive already, but when you consider that the lady was also not fully conscious, you start to worry that her picture was taken while in the nude. And it is, in fact, a pornographic picture we're talking about, though it's very thinly hinted. Now, if you were to follow the history of films, you'll notice a trend towards more explicit depiction of sex. You have Janet Leigh in a brassiere in 1960's Psycho, a topless woman seen in 1971's Dirty Harry, and numerous examples of nudity and sex in many movies since.

Violence in movies is the same thing. In the early 20th century, action and violence in movies was not realistic with blood. There can be guns fired and people falling dead, but there's no blood or gore visible. Or if you have swordfights, like in The Adventures of Robin Hood, you may see characters getting stabbed with blades, but again, there's no graphicness to shock us. Now, I don't know the full history of movies, but I can say that, for me, the earliest movie I'm aware of to shift towards more shocking violence is Rebel Without a Cause. It may have been from 1954, but the scenes involving a knife fight at the Griffith Observatory and the deaths of certain characters sent chills down my spine.


The knife fight scene in Rebel Without a Cause



GOOD HOLLYWOOD TREND THAT HOPEFULLY WILL KEEP GOING

Unconventional Filmmaking Styles

Once in a while, a movie will come along that will amaze and surprise us because it's so different from what anyone expects. There have been a few examples of this in the distant past, like The Wizard of Oz with its brilliant use of Technicolor (not actually the first film in Technicolor, but still very noteworthy), Star Wars with its mindblowing special effects, and Toy Story as the first full-length computer-animated film. Breaking new ground is not something you see filmmakers do everyday. Still, I hope to keep seeing movies that defy our expectations.

As an example, I recall a movie trailer I saw not too long ago, for a thriller movie called Unfriended, about a teenage girl who had killed herself a year ago and is supposedly haunting the online world in vengeance. What's remarkable is the way the story is told: as a series of text messages, chatroom messages, online videos, online social medial profiles, and other common apps that youngsters of the millennial generation enjoy using when online. Obviously, this is meant to pull the audience into the online world where some people spend countless hours. It's quite creative, like the use of video camera footage for the The Blair Witch Project in 1999. I don't know if Unfriended is a good movie, but regardless, I admire the ingenuity of its filmmaker.

So even with annoying Hollywood trends, I continue to keep my eyes open for new films with brand new styles of presentation. I'll conclude with one more example of a movie that strives to be different from all other films released around the same time: the 2011 black-and-white silent film The Artist. Just knowing that a 21st-century filmmaker dared to revive an obsolete style of film is inspiring. Again, I just hope we see more films like this. When Hollywood gives us something fresh, we cannot help but feel excited about seeing what is in store. The ability to charm and engage the audience with creativity is where true movie magic lies.


The Artist, a black-and-white silent film in 2011 (yes, the 21st century!)



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