Do docos spell the end for blockbusters?Save
By Karl Puschmann
Because there's only so many times you can watch a man in spandex crack lame jokes while computer-generated explosions blow up harmlessly behind him I began to find myself turning off big budget blockbusters.
For a long time, spectacle was one of my primary motivating factors when selecting what movie to see. It didn't trump all else. I learnt a valuable lesson enduring the filmic turd that was the first Transformers movie, but it was a major factor.
Don't get me wrong, I'd still fork out for non-"event" films. But at the cinema I was mainly wanting the cinematic experience. I wanted to be blown away by spectacle. I wanted that spine-tingling, eye-popping, ear-crushing combo of big screen and big sound. I wanted to feel like the cinema's equipment was really working for my money.
That may appear foolhardy but there was sound economic theory behind my reasoning. Why waste the guts of $20 seeing something at the movies that you could quite happily watch at home a few months later without any obvious loss of enjoyment?
For a while this worked superbly. My economic theory backed up by my cinematic satisfaction. I'd regularly leave the movies gobsmacked and happy. Content in the knowledge that there was no way the experience could be replicated at home.
The Life of Pi, Gravity, The Jungle Book and Star Wars: The Force Awakens spring to mind as movies that would undoubtedly have been lesser experiences had I watched them on the couch.
But somewhere between The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Superman: Man of Steel, Warcraft and Star Wars: Rogue One I was forced to reassess my position.
Despite ticking the right boxes these all proved hugely disappointing experiences. No matter how many computer generated things blew up in a blaze of retina burning colours and bone shattering surround sound.
The problem I encountered is perfectly encapsulated in the quote, "a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing". Those prophetic words were spoken by Star Wars creator George Lucas way back in 1983 and seemingly forgotten entirely in the 90s when he sat down to write the first prequel Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
I think those words are truer now than they were back then. These days it very much feels that spectacle has almost entirely replaced story. The odd exception still slips through but nowhere near enough for my economic theory to hold.
Instead, I've found that it's the humble documentary giving the blockbusters a run for my money these days. Their shoestring budgets and zero special effects overly compensated by either gripping, mind-boggling or hugely funny stories that have made me question everything I thought I knew of the world.
Doco's like Man on Wire, The King of Kong, Amy and, of course, Tickled were all far more enjoyable and satisfying movie experiences than many of their competing blockbusters.
Even these days when truth has totally eclipsed fiction in the strangeness stakes documentaries only seem to be getting stronger and more and more popular. It's not hard to see why.
By increasingly adopting the qualities of fiction to their narratives the genre has become more accessible and digestible. It's been happening for a long time. While some still play it straight, doco's like Roger and Me, American Movie and Grizzly Man are just a few really great and early-ish examples of movie making techniques and tropes being pushed into and popularising the non-fiction genre.
There's been some purist outrage about doco makers not letting the facts get in the way of their stories - Google nearly any doco you want and you'll find people disputing facets of it - but audiences are lapping them up.
The fact that the New Zealand International Film Festival would decide to lead its first announcement of eight films with three local documentaries is testament to that. As is the fact that there's three local movie-length documentaries to even lead with.
Not only that, in cinemas right now is Meat, a local doco about meat farming in New Zealand, and releasing next week is Pecking Order, another local documentary about, of all things, competitive chicken breeding in New Zealand.
And no, I am not making that up.
There's also the International Documentary Film Festival kicking off in June which, alongside the expected heavy and serious topics, houses a couple of pleasingly quirky delights.
While there's far too much money involved for the extravagant blockbuster to ever die isn't it an enjoyable twist that their biggest box office threat could well be these little, no budget, real-life movies?
Someone should really make a film about it.