Hey all. This will be a new semi-regular piece on Moving Pictures where Zach and I have a bit of back and forth about whatever topic has gotten stuck in our heads recently. This is a bit of a longer article than you’re probably used to on this site but I hope you all like it.
P.S. I don’t have a name for these recurring pieces yet so please feel free to give me some suggestions.
Mike: Over complexity is something you and I have talked about a lot. It seems more and more I’m drawn towards movies with a concise, straight forward story but really interesting and well written characters.
I wish more writers and directors had the confidence to do that. I hate to blame current movies for everything, but this really does feel like a recent phenomenon. When did you first start noticing this trend?
M: It feels like the trend recently has been complexity = quality. What boggles my mind is that it’s happening in exactly the type of movies that you don’t want to be over-complicated. Big budget, event type fare that used to be a good excuse to turn your brain off for 90 -100 minutes and watch shit blow up has become bloated and almost unwatchable due to screenwriting by committee and just cramming plot into places where it doesn’t belong.
However what we got is a nearly 2 and 1/2 hour “epic” with all kinds of government oversight subplots and watching Decepticons try to hack into military facilities and John Tuturro giving what is probably the worst performance of his career. Why? What is the point behind this movie being so long and plot heavy. I want a movie like Transformers to be big and dumb and fun. I don’t care about some ancient alien artifact and what it means to giant robot aliens that have little to no personality.
Z: Oh yes, Transformers is definitely an egregious offender of the over complicated “epic” syndrome. I sort of feel like we may have Christopher Nolan to blame for this particular trend. He really did pioneer the deep epic 2-3 hour summer movie that could be simply enjoyed as actiony entertainment, but also with enough cerebral elements to make it work as a thought provoking art piece. Other people can’t quite seem to grasp what made those films so special and actually worth the running time. Hell, even Nolan has faltered in this regard recently, getting a little too wrapped up in complication for either element to shine.
To take it back even farther, we could even peg Lord of the Rings as the progenitor here. Those movies really proved to the rest of Hollywood that sprawling epic 3-hour films could make a killing at the box office. What they missed though was how much skill and thought went into the production of LotR, and that ultimately it had a fairly simple plot. Ring bad, weak little guy needs to take it to the everything-melting volcano. Thus leaving us to focus on all the other little details of the world.
M: I agree that LotR made the idea of longer movies viable at big budget prices. The problem being that most studios decided to pad length by adding unnecessary plot. And then of course even Peter Jackson went crazy by taking a 300 page book and turning it into nearly nine hours of movie.
Nolan has been a particularly egregious offender of over complicating his movies recently. The Dark Knight Rises was actually the film that got me thinking about this topic in the first place. That movie has so many extraneous plot threads that it’s nearly unwatchable. Which is especially disappointing after he had gotten it so right with The Dark Knight just a few years earlier. It definitely seems like a lot of his stuff over the past five or six years has been big on plot and heavy ideas but sort of thin on the stuff that really keeps you coming back to a movie over and over.
Z: That’s a good question actually. What I hear from the average movie goer tends to reflect the same exhaustion we’re expressing. I think your average audience wants either a good story or pure spectacle. This over complication jazz is definitely the industry failing on the first point. They may be succeeding on the second point though. But I don’t know how much longer people will be willing to put up with 3 hour “epics” that are almost half fluff.
I like to think this is all just a side effect of the overall escalation we’re seeing in big budget fare. Higher budgets! Longer movies! More complicated plots that are actually dumber! We’ve got it all! Lord of the Rings was long, so everything needs to be long now! Inception made so much money because it was complicated, so everything needs to be complicated now! Unfortunately, they’re missing the fact that Lord of the Rings was cut down as short as it possibly could be, and Inception only worked because it actually wasn’t complicated, at least not at the core of its story.
So hopefully it’s a byproduct of a larger problem that will find itself unsustainable. The larger movie industry is bloated and seems to be running on pure marketing currently (though maybe it always did), it might go until the bottom falls out, or audiences may start to wise up (not likely says my cynical side). But let’s be real, a major hit will come out that’s 95 minutes long and super tight and then everything will have to be that. Hopefully it happens soon eh?