The Dark Age of Film
April 7, 2015
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. You hear it all the time from people, summer movies aren't what they used to be, nobody makes them like they used to anymore. Well, in some respects, they're kinda right.
(Clips of Ben-Hur's chariot race scene play out as an example of an old summer epic)
NC (vo): In the grand history of cinema, we've both visually and with character, pushed the boundaries of what can be done. Some of these are so incredible that you could argue we'll never recapture it again. But that's not really what I'm talking about. (Clips of Space Jam play) What I'm talking about is people who grew up in the nineties saying that they don't make summer movies like they used too.
NC: Bull-fucking-shit, a lot of people forget there was a dark, dark...DARK time in our history where summer movies were just expected to suck!
NC (vo): (Clips from Titanic and Fargo play as examples of good award season films) Now again, I'm talking specifically about summer movies. Good films came out around award season and, yes, (Poster of Batman Forever) there are a long list of summer films in the past that are terrible then and are terrible now, (Clips from Godzilla (1998), Speed 2: Cruise Control, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Battlefield Earth, Batman & Robin, Lethal Weapon 4 and The Phantom) but, honest to God, there was a period of time when audiences just accepted the fact that every summer we were gonna get something that was really stupid, and most likely we're not going to enjoy.
NC (vo): (Clips of Armageddon) That's right. Good summer movies were the exception; they rarely happened. (Clips from Hercules and Dante's Peak) And, yeah, some films were just underwhelming; not the worst, but didn't leave much of an impression on you, but hey, that still counts as not a good movie, too.
NC: I remember this dark age so well, I can even pinpoint the exact years it happened: (years pop up on screen) 1996 to 2001.
NC (vo): (Clips of Lost in Space) Now to best understand why this is, it's best to look at the films that came out prior and after. (Clip of Jurassic Park) A little before 1996, we made an amazing discovery: CGI. With films like Jurassic Park, (Clip of) Terminator 2 and (Clip of) Forrest Gump, we were suddenly realizing that we had a tool that could make us see whatever we wanted to see. (The T1000 is shown again) Even the greatest effects in the past had some limitations but now, (Clip of The Mask) if you could imagine it, it could exist. (Scenes from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) But sadly, like the discovery of anything new, the excitement of one element often overshadows the other important ones.
NC: For example, when Super Mario Brothers came out, nobody cared what the story was.
NC (vo): (Scenes from Super Mario Bros. play) We were just so excited to see something so groundbreaking and new. (Clips of Bioshock Infinite) Now since then games have gotten a lot more complex and interesting. (More Super Mario Bros. clips) But that's because the novelty of what Super Mario Brothers bought us has worn off. It's still a good game, but obviously we crave something new and challenging. (More clips of Bioshock Infinite) Thus we need to focus back on those essential elements again. Games now have interesting characters, fascinating stories and incredible effects to make them much more interesting games. (Clips from Independence Day and Twister and Dante's Peak (again) are shown.) The exact same thing could be said for CGI in film; once we knew anything was possible, we exploited it and I mean, really exploited it. Suddenly, every movie was a disaster film: Twister, Independence Day, (Posters for Armageddon, Deep Impact, Dante's Peak and Volcano are displayed) we had two asteroid movies and two volcano movies the exact same year! And guess what? All of them had little to no story, the most basic of cookie-cutter stereotypes, and the star of the film was always the effects. Explosions, storms, lava, you name it. (Clips from Deep Impact) But the audience was so excited because, we'd never seen effects like this at the time. And back then, they were seen as really good. (The train scene from Mission Impossible plays) But on top of that, the action could be a lot faster. You didn't need stuntman, you could just green screen it. All the close calls were made a lot closer because you could digitally make it look like they really were. However years later, they're mostly really dated, (Scene plays showing the very dated CGI cape from Spawn) leaving us now not only with unconvincing effects, but no interesting character or story, so there's really no reason to watch them, outside of getting a giggle about how they dated they are. (Poster for Rambo) There was also an emphasis to tone down the muscle-bound action hero (clip of Will Smith and others from Independence Day) and make them more like the everyman. Not a bad idea, but again, they wanted to put more attention on the effects than on the characters...
NC: ...so they went for the easiest arc that was already dated from the 80's: the geek.
NC (vo): (Posters for This Is The End and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) Oh, not the funny geeks like what you see today, (clips from Godzilla, Independence Day, Twister, Hercules and Dante's Peak) I'm talking Big Bang Theory geek blackface. The geeks that actually have no idea what a geek is. They just sort of gave them glasses and have them do something silly sometimes, and BOOM: Geek!
(Coffee time scene from Dante's Peak)
Greg: Coffee time! Coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee! Cappuccino!
NC (vo): (Scenes from The Lost World and Godzilla showing the main character) This arc was so easy because, hey, the main star's a geek. If he saves the day, he's already overcoming something because, he's a geek, and he never does anything! Cause he's a Geek! (Clip of Dusty from Twister) But by God, these characters were terrible! (clip of David Levinson from Independence Day) Stuttering Jeff Goldblum, (clip of Leo Biederman from Deep Impact) awkward Elijah Wood, (clip of Bill Harding from Twister) divorcing Bill Paxton, (clip of Dr. Ian Malcolm from The Lost World) Jeff Goldblum again! (Clip of Dr. Niko Tatopoulos from Godzilla) And of course, Matthew-fucking-Broderick!
Dr. Nick: That's a lot of fish.
NC (vo): GOD! (Images of Michael Keaton's Batman and Christopher Reeve's Superman followed by clips from Spawn and Batman and Robin) The heroes that we used to look up to like our comic book icons? Well, they were being represented by Spawn and Batman and Robin. Because who cares, they were just stopping crime, they weren't running away from a (scenes from Twister and Armageddon again) tornado or an asteroid! (Clip of George Clooney's Batman) A guy wearing tights wasn't a big deal, (Clips of Titanic) sinking the Titanic was a big deal. And seeing how that was the highest grossing movie of all time, (Dante's Peak is shown again) you bet your ass there were a lot more disaster films that came out, and when I say disaster, I mean both literally and figuratively.
NC: You wanna know why these films aren't so inspiring and don't hold up anymore? Because these movies aren't about heroes, they're about survivors.
NC (vo): (Clips of the kids from Jurassic Park are shown) And don't get me wrong, sometimes in life, you just need to survive, it's totally understandable. (Clips of Dante's Peak (again), Independence Day and Spawn) But when everything, fucking everything is centered around just don't die? You're not inspiring people to do anything greater. And these films demonstrated that. (Clips from...) Godzilla, Lost World, Speed 2, Lost in Space. Everything was a repeat of a formula we were already way too familiar with, and they sucked, SO HARD.
NC: Remember the film Men in Black? It was a good film right?
NC (vo): (scenes from Men in Black play) It was funny, it was clever, it was well written. But when that movie came out, everybody was treating it like it was the second coming.
NC: Everybody was shocked: "HOLY SHIT! A SUMMER FILM THAT CAN BE SMART AND CLEVER! WHAT THE FUCK?!"
NC (vo): (More clips from Men in Black play) And don't get me wrong: it's a decent flick, but back then, decent was amazing. Anything that was clever, creative, and most of all, new, was extremely rare. It was a gigantic hit with critics and audiences talking about it a lot. And yeah, once in a while, we could get a good summer flick like (Posters for...) Face/Off or Mask of Zorro, (clips from the Space Jam trailer) but they were still pretty few and far between.
NC: And the absolute worst part of it is, we just accepted it.
NC (vo): (Clips from Lethal Weapon 4, Battlefield Earth and Batman and Robin) We didn't make a big deal, we didn't demand movies be better, we just sorta shrugged and walked out. We had more important things in our lives, why should being challenged by art be one of them?
NC: So you might be asking yourself: what happened to get summer movies back on track? Well, a few things.
NC (vo): (various stock images of the internet, focus groups and critics are displayed) One, was the Internet. Whereas before you got feedback from focus groups which aren't the most reliable and critics who offer good points of view but many would argue don't always represent the everyman, suddenly we were getting feedback directly from the viewer and it wasn't just word of mouth. (Clips of the Star Wars prequels) Everyone could post in a forum how much they liked or disliked a film, and with great speed to. Films like (Poster for...) Bruno and (Clips of...) After Earth were said to be destroyed by the Twitter effect; having a strong first day opening but word spread so fast that it tanked before the weekend was over. (Stock image of world wide web) Suddenly people could discuss in front of the world why a film was good or bad and Hollywood can take better notes. (Clip of TMNT (2014)) Remember when the turtles were gonna be aliens? You can thank the internet for fixing that. Though Fichtner still would've rocked.
NC: On top of that because we were getting so bored of the exact same thing, Hollywood tried to do something a little different: the exact opposite.
NC (vo): Films like (clips of...) The Matrix and The Sixth Sense were coming out which offered interesting twists and ideas that weren't in summer movies prior. (Clips from...) Comic book films like X-Men and Spider-Man suddenly weren't just punches and catchphrases, they took time to show emotion and turmoil. (Poster for Slumdog Millionare) More art house movies were getting attention, again, partly because of new media. (Clips of Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean) And then there were just weird ideas like, Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek. They were strange and odd but, by god, we just saw so much of the same thing, we were praying for strange and odd. (Clip of Toy Story) The first fully CGI movie came out launching Pixar movies that had child-friendly ideas every year and they made money! (Clip of A Simple Wish) Child-friendly moneymakers? That was unheard of at the time! And then of course, there was a gigantic risk called Lord of the Rings. An expensive film trilogy that was all being shot at the same time that was gonna release one a year that was, a fantasy. A fantasy; those were box office bombs in the past. But all of these films were doing something that the film's the past five years didn't do: think! (Clips of Spiderman, Toy Story and Pirates of the Caribbean) They thought about character, they thought about story, they thought about what wasn't being done in theatres anymore, and they made those elements the stars again as opposed to the effects. Which is not to say a lot of them didn't have big effects, but they were no longer the focus. As you'd expect all of these were big hits. (Clips of Lord of the Rings again) And they put together this brilliant idea that maybe good characters and good story equals good movies. And maybe good movies could be...
NC: (Sarcasticly gasps) PROFITABLE!
NC (vo): (Scenes from The Matrix sequels) A lot of producers saw what was going on and tried to plan their films accordingly. True, some of the trilogies didn't work, like, The Matrix didn't please that many nor did (Poster for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End) the Pirates films. (Clips from the various Marvel films, mostly from The Avengers: Age of Ultron) But then you have something like the Marvel Universe. This isn't just a trilogy, this is a series of films all tied together. Do you know how much time, effort and planning has to go into that? It's hard enough to get one movie off the ground, but a continuing story with dozens of directors, writers and producers all having to be on the same page? You better be damn sure this is going to work. Thus, there's a lot more commitment to it. And even the films that aren't that great, still aren't as bad as those previous five years. Yeah, Iron Man 2 wasn't so hot (clips from Steel) but it tried a lot harder than Steel. (Clips from The Incredible Hulk (2008)) Yeah, The Hulk wasn't that great, but it wasn't... (Poster for Hulk (2003)) The Hulk! (Clips of Pirates of the Caribbean) The focus is where it should be, even if it isn't always done spectacularly. That being the identifiable, strong, and different characters we haven't seen before on the big screen. (Poster for Guardians of the Galaxy) A raccoon and a tree are our heroes now, (Image from The Lego Movie) a fucking yellow block can touch people's hearts, (Clips from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1) a teen with just a bow and an arrow can inspire a revolution. These are all characters that never would have flown in those previous five years. True, most of it's based on existing material and I've done an editorial on that as well, but at least they're giving unique spins and interpretations. (Clips from The Avengers: Age of Ultron) While the subjects have been done, the way they're being done has some interesting variations. Now? Characters can think about their actions, they can show their emotions, they can inspire heroism and clever ideas. They're no longer exceptions to the rule; good, is the new good!
NC: So the two things I want you to take from this is, one: be fucking grateful.
NC (vo): (Poster for Captain America: The Winter Soldier) So Captain America changed a few things, what do ya want, (Poster for Psycho (1998)) a shot-by-shot remake of Psycho? (Poster for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) So they made a Hobbit 3, would you rather have (Poster for Alien: Resurrection) Alien Four? (Clips of Batman and Robin) Its fine to point out when a movie sucks, but don't act like they're the majority anymore because we went through five fucking years of that. (Poster for Godzilla (2014)) No matter how much you hate something now, (Clips from 1998 Godzilla) guarantee they would have done it worse in that time period.
NC: Two: I think everything will always go through peaks and valleys, even art.
NC (vo): (Clips from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1) Who knows what the next generation will be inspired to create? And what they'll inspire for the next generation to create as well. (Clips from Age of Ultron again) We'll hit a similar low point again in our future and when we do, it's important to realize that good and creative ideas will always come back. (Poster for Guardians of the Galaxy) Because hey, when our main characters are looking more like this (brief clip of Nick Tatopoulos from Godzilla) and less like this, (Guardians poster is shown again) there's still a lot of people out there who want to give us something pretty awesome.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to!
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