BOOM! The bus explodes in flames.
RATATATATAT! Machine gun fire blasts through the surround sound. Bullets soar through the air, leaving visible reverberations as transparent waves emanating from each tiny torpedo.
CRASH! Fireworks of broken glass. Shattered shards scatter in slow motion. Catching the light in glints and flares as the CGI artists attempt to dazzle an audience numbed into somnambulism by countless large screen video games masquerading as films.
THUMPATHUMPATHUMPA! The soundtrack floods the theatre, out-pounding a West Hollywood DJ, or a garbage truck driving down the center aisle. It is indistinguishable from the blasting soundtracks of the previous three trailers.
The hero and heroine reach toward one another as they float midair in the center of the exploding bus. Her hair undulates as if she is under water.
“See if you can make her hair undulate as if she is underwater,” says the CGI team leader to his staff of dozens.
Her wedding ring slips magically from her finger, in ever so painstaking slow motion, and tumbles rather peacefully in the zero gravity space created by the vacuum suction of the blast, while beautiful clouds of bright orange flame burn and rage all around her.
The hero, also floating serenely amidst the miniature armageddon within the exploding bus, reaches through the air to grasp the placidly tumbling band of white gold. His eyes lock with hers. He whispers, “I love you.”
Suddenly, the action returns to real time, and the couple are catapulted through the open door of the vehicle, as it erupts into a ball of flames. Sparks and shrapnel are ejected within a radius of hundreds of yards, but the couple land safely in a patch of sandy dirt near the side of the road. They share a breath. There is not a scratch on them.
“Woah,” says the guy.
What did you expect? He wasn’t hired for his skill with witty dialogue.
I am sitting in the theatre, watching the fifth of what may be eight or nine coming attractions (hard to keep track, as they are virtually identical,) and I feel as if I am being physically assaulted.
At what point was it decided that all motion pictures will now be produced by fourteen year old boys with non existent attention spans and World of Warcraft as their only frame of reference?
Years ago, I worked intermittently for an auditing company. My assignments were at movie theatres. I would be asked to check the color of the PG rating on the screen. Or count heads. Or record the audience reactions to the previews. It was different every time. It didn’t pay well, but mostly I enjoyed doing it for the chance to watch the movies for free.
On one of these assignments, I was to watch a James Bond film, and I had never seen one of those before. In the opening sequence, a plane flies over the edge of a cliff. For reasons I cannot begin to remember, there was no pilot on board.
James Bond hops on a motorcycle and rides right over the edge of that cliff, chasing the plane. He catches up to it in midair, as it plummets from what must have been a spectacularly high cliff. He then gets off his motorcycle, which is falling at an incredible speed, and jumps through the air to board the falling plane. Somehow, he manages to climb into the cockpit. Then rights the plane and flies off.
Yep. That’s when I stood up and walked out of the theatre.
There was no way I could accept such a preposterous situation. I realize those sorts of movies appeal to a certain type of fan, and I am not among that set, but at least back then it was easy to tell when a movie was that sort of movie. Now, with CGI as ubiquitous as popcorn in the theatre, it is nearly impossible to know when you are going to be bombarded with guns and explosions, or asked to swallow the most ridiculous acts of gravity defying physics.
Here I have come to see a drama. One of the Oscar nominated dramas. I am expecting that the previews will be similar dramas. The high brow sort of films that are usually released during the normal nominating season. Yet, trailer after trailer features actors I had always regarded as classical Shakespearean leading men, succumbing to the allure of the big budget video game.
There’s one of them now. The last person I would expect to see floating through the air in slow motion. Bullets streaming gracefully past. He slowly reaches inside his tuxedo jacket and retrieves his semi automatic. Glaring into the lens of the camera, jaw clenched, he growls, “Sod off!”
Well, he is British, after all. The best actors usually are.
He unleashes his macho manly fury as the gun spits ammunition in flares of searing yellow and white, and he cartwheels magnificently to land on his feet. Everyone around him is killed. The polish on his shoes has not even been scuffed.
The next coming attraction throbs on to the screen. Music pounding. Thumping. Another bus crash. Another cliff. This time, as the bus explodes into plumes of smoke and flame, it pinwheels end over end as it careens into the abyss. The hero escapes by diving out a hatch in the floor of the bus. Then, he runs along the top of the bus as it spins in the air.
“Hey! What if we had the guy run along the top of the bus as it spins in the air?” The fourteen year old executive producer gushes. “That’ll be so cool!”
In excruciating slow motion, he leaps from the bus and flies toward the cliff. Just as we think he is not going to make it, his super hot Asian model girlfriend screeches her bright blue hot rod to a skidding stop, inches from the edge of the cliff. He grabs hold of the whale tail and she steps on the gas pedal and tears off, with him flying along behind. One hand on the car, the other aiming his gun between his legs and firing off a few rounds in the direction of the black car now giving chase. You see, the bad guys are in there, and they are pissed off that they spent all that money on explosives, yet have not been able to harm our hero.
It’s inescapable. Every movie you see now has insane action sequences that push the limits of believability. Computer generated creatures the size of elephants leap and bound at speeds that are physically impossible. Yet they cannot seem to catch the main character, who is running on foot. Everyone has a gun. Count the movie posters. Not just action films. All of them. Are we to believe that every citizen is packing heat?
How are audiences buying this nonsense? How are they able to sit through it?
The over-the-top special effects that call attention to themselves may have been ground breaking a few years ago, when they were only used in big budget action films. They were expensive to create, and their ability to dazzle was the whole point. However, since they can now be done by any kid with a laptop and the right software, they come off as merely cheesy. Especially when they appear unexpectedly in a romance, or a period drama. With highly esteemed British actors.
The Dowager Countess of Grantham floats thorough the air in slow motion. Her voluminous garments spreading out like the tail of a mermaid. The tea setting spirals through the cavernous space of the library, as the table topples over. Silver flashes from the sterling sugar bowl are reflected in her garnet earrings. The camera zooms in on individual crystals of sugar bouncing against one another. A molecular dance. Asteroids in the cosmos. A chaotic game of pick up sticks is called to mind, as delicate silver spoons jettison from their caddy. The butler lunges in slow motion, reaching for the priceless Faberge.
Dame Maggie Smith slips a gloved hand inside her corset and pulls out her Glock. With a steely gaze, she takes aim.
“Go ahead, Sprat,” she says, archly. “Make my day.”