How did we go from Apocalypse Now to Guardians of the Galaxy?
While I’m not entirely sure, I have a strong suspicion that Jack Sparrow. And deep down I’m sorry, because twenty years ago seeing The curse of the first moon I had a blast. The fact is that the huge and probably unexpected – at least at those levels – success of the film Gore Verbinsky definitely confirmed Disney that that particular formula worked: to create a product capable of entertaining both with the spectacle of special effects and thanks to the joyful frivolity of characters capable of moving with Gascon grace between serious and facetious. Especially facetious.
In the beginning there was Jack Sparrow
In short, to summarize perhaps even too briefly, this recipe included entertainment + rhythm + laughter. With the necessary variations deriving mainly from directors or actors more or less capable of inserting their own “touch” into a film, the production of Disney/Marvel of the last twenty years? And consequently to a large extent also that of the other majors that have tried to reproduce this success without succeeding? The exceptions, if any, can unfortunately be counted on the fingers of one hand.
The causes of this substantial impoverishment of mainstream Hollywood cinema are many, widely debated and analyzed elsewhere with greater competence. The Majors are increasingly driven by economic reasons to focus on a smaller number of films that have increasingly exorbitant budgets: it almost seems that they can do nothing but continue with the policy of cinecomics, sequels, remakes, spin-offs, reboots or whatever you prefer to call this type of production: it is convenient because the young audience is already “ready”. And less and less inclined towards novelty. I’m not interested in continuing to debate this mechanism for two reasons: first of all because I don’t think we can stop this process anymore; secondly, I know for sure that by delving into this dissertation I would end up making conspiracies, probably even trivial.
I am well aware that Hollywood cinema has changed from many points of view, even radically, and on the threshold of fifty I am perhaps no longer able to fully understand the new coordinates, in the methods of storytelling and perhaps even aesthetics. As the title of this article recounts, luckily (and here I allow myself to become a bit snooty) I lived in a cinema at the time when Hollywood invested large budgets in films by auteurs such as Francis Ford Coppola or Michael Cimino, just to mention the most “titanic”; in which the year’s top grosser in America, complete with an Oscar for best picture, became a family drama starring a cynic Tom Cruise and his autistic brother Dustin Hoffman; in which the social fabric was tested by the “scandal” of Martin Scorsese and its The Last Temptation of Christ. Different times, past, which I hope will return for the good of cinema itself even if I strongly doubt it. Not only has the industry changed but so has society, and in many ways (not all) it’s a good thing.
A more aware perspective
So what is the point of this article? The truth is that I would really like to at least return to using a slightly more conscious perspective on what we are seeing in theaters at the level of mainstream cinema. In recent days I have read, and not only on social media, almost unqualified praise for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Of James Gunn, cinecomic which certainly entertained me for two and a half hours. My doubt about this title is the following: on the basis of which criterion is it considered of such high value? Because it would be Disney’s best film/Marvel for a few years now? If this is the reason, then I think we must reiterate that we are talking about that same Major which over the last twenty years, as written at the beginning, has given us a series of products intended to offer the public, whether young or not, a entertainment based on such pre-packaged formulas as to not allow any attempt at problematization or, even worse, originality.
It’s pulp sets and an 80s revival soundtrack that make for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 an original movie? Is it the backstory of a talking raccoon or the presence of defenseless children and animals that makes it a “profound” film? On the basis of what the answer to these questions is, then, in my opinion, another one must be posed, a really important one at this point: a contemporary mainstream Hollywood film is liked for its intrinsic value or because occasionally some of these products manage to reach the peak of (above all) content standards now reduced to a minimum? In short, are some of these so-called blockbusters really good or do we perceive them as such because we no longer have anything better?
While I am aware that I no longer belong to that segment of spectators who in some way direct the canons of contemporary entertainment, I am also convinced that we can and must ask for more from mainstream cinema. Diversification, deepening, emotional depth, all inserted in screenplays that allow us to really get in touch with characters and events. As well-written as his story arc may be, I have a hard time identifying with a raccoon…
Where is the soul of entertainment?
Cinema is and must remain entertainment too, I have no doubts about it. The problem is that today’s Hollywood seems to have forgotten that it can also be produced by stimulating the viewer to reflect on what he is seeing. Let it be equally clear that I don’t point the finger only at the Disney cinecomics /Marvelby Warner/DC, or against i Fast & Furious on duty: if the offer of cinema intended for the general public were more stimulating, if the budgets were also decided by the artistic depth of a project, I would probably go to see them free from that annoying preconception that by now I think I have developed.
The fact is that when I enter the room to see any of these products I already know exactly what I’m going to see, the only thing that changes is the intelligence in the packaging. So when I read that to the name of James Gunn the concept of “author” is approached, I would like to point out that in my opinion, to insert one’s own “touch” into a blockbuster film, something more is needed than a juke-box soundtrack and those fifty, one hundred million dollars to spend on special effects. Spectacle does not necessarily mean amazement, marvel, perhaps even anxiety. Those are sensations that Hollywood no longer knows how to produce, now relegated to filmmakers who still have the courage to make mistakes in finding a voice of their own.