Friday, February 4, 2011

Hype -- a guaranteed buzzkill when watching films

Now that you know who the Golden Globe winners and the Academy Award nominees are, you're probably going to try to catch some of those much-buzzed about movies that you haven't seen yet -- especially the Best Picture nominees like The King's Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan or The Fighter. But here's the thing: you're going to be disappointed. More likely than not, you'll come away wondering what all the fuss is about. Sure, you'll think the movie was good, but award-worthy?

It happens every time. Earlier this year, there was a lot of excitement with the first wave of critics who saw Inception. The next wave heard the hype, and when they finally saw the film, many of them scratched their heads and thought the first bunch were getting all worked up over nothing. Then there was a backlash against the backlash with following group. A. O. Scott from the New York Times commented on this whole phenomenon. The same roller coaster response played out with the general public. As I said in response to a commenter on my Inception review, it was unfortunate for those who caught it after the wave of hype, but it was still a good movie worth watching again.

This also happened last year around the time of the Academy Awards. The two leading films were The Hurt Locker and Avatar with nine nominations each. But people who saw it close to the Oscars or soon after were underwhelmed. They almost wanted to dislike Avatar because of its huge box-office success. With The Hurt Locker, a lot of its impact came from seeing the most recognizable actor in that first scene (Guy Pearce) get killed, and not knowing if and when the lesser-known actors would suffer the same fate. When Jeremy Renner received his Oscar nomination, it took a lot of steam out of the film for new viewers because they knew he wouldn't die anytime soon.

I remember seeing The English Patient after it had won nine Academy Awards in 1997 and I hated it. I couldn't believe that this is what they thought was the "Best Picture." It was only a couple of years later that I saw it with a girlfriend and I loved it. I couldn't believe how much was going on that I missed the first time. The scene where the Count and Katharine meet succinctly laid out the themes of names, ownership and the varieties of love that weave their way throughout the story - "What do you love?" "You're in love with him, aren't you? Your poor patient." "I've always worn it; I've always loved you." I discovered all sorts of poetry and brilliant thematic interlacing taking place. It has since become one of my very favourite movies.

There are several reasons why this happens. When you hear many great things about a movie, you can end up expecting way too much. You might inadvertently expect that it will be something that will have you on the edge of your seat with excitement from the beginning to the end. This can never happen. Even high-adrenaline films like the Bourne Trilogy movies or Run Lola Run will have moments of calm. The majority of films aren't meant to be like that. If you did try to make a movie with wall-to-wall action, it would ironically be more boring. Constant excitement becomes predictable and dull. You need the restful moments to make the exciting moments truly exciting.

Another problem with post-hype film-going is that you will often end up trying to outguess the movie. You'll be too busy trying to figure out the end, rather than just following the thread of the film and getting inside the characters. In many cases, you will be able to figure out the end when you wouldn't have if you hadn't made the effort. That especially will happen when someone spoils the film by letting you know about a "twist ending." I've had films ruined for me because I knew about a twist and was on the lookout for it while watching when I shouldn't have.

I think the best way to watch a movie is to let it wash over you and then to sit with it a while and let it sink in before you start to make up your mind about it. Trying to out-think the film is a sure way to lessen your enjoyment since you'll feel like an idiot if you're wrong, but if you're right then so what? You've just spoiled it for yourself.

There's also the possibility that ego is always a part of film-going as much as music or anything else. Those who see a movie early have a degree of cachet that comes with discovering something before everyone else. When you see something months later, the only badge that you can wear is if you have a very different response. Then you're not the follower, but the original one while the others are the sheep. This attitude may not be conscious, but it certainly plays out on the internet comment boards. A lot of people can't respect differences in opinion and use them to inflate their own sense of self-importance.

Whatever the reasons, it happens again and again. As long as you're aware of this, you can take steps to prevent it from happening. It's rather easy to hate something, no matter how good it is. Try your best to enjoy a film for what it is. If that doesn't work, then give it another try a year or more down the road. You may find that it's much better than you thought.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more. My high expectations will always ruin a film. This is why I try and see as many films as possible at TIFF and Hot Docs, as well as going to certain films opening weekend before I let other people's opinions wash over me. It's very hard to curb expectations when you're addicted to movie reviews and news.