Ah, New Year’s Eve. Such a beautiful holiday, such a horrible Garry Marshall movie. And such a great time to make resolutions; to look in the mirror, brutally assess your flaws, and vow to improve them. We promise ourselves we’ll lose ten pounds, or swear less, or get less annoyed when goddamn crying babies won’t shut their fucking mouths while I’m trying to read on the subway (oops, there goes #2). Those resolutions are common. But over the past few weeks, I’ve realized I want to make another, more unusual New Year’s Resolution this year. A movie-related one. And here it is:
In 2013, I’ll write more reflection and less prediction.
This is something that’s been nagging me lately; the sheer amount of effort expended by film journalists guessing stuff about upcoming movies. We try to figure out who Benedict Cumberbatch is going to play in “Star Trek Into Darkness.” We hypothesize why Superman is wearing handcuffs in “Man of Steel.” We debate whether “Pacific Rim” is going to look like “Transformers.”
It’s fun to watch a trailer and speculate about the finished movie. But that’s hype, not criticism. There’s a place for that, of course; after all, there’s no movie business without new movies to look forward to. But that place has gotten awfully big lately. Maybe too big.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m curious about Cumberbatch’s “STID” character, “John Harrison,” too. But whether he’s really Khan or Gary Mitchell or a time-traveling Rutherford B. Hayes, what difference does it make? The movie is the movie, and it’s not coming out until May. The filmmakers tease you with just enough information to guess, but not enough information to guess correctly — because if you solve the mystery, you’ll stop writing about their movie and start writing about something else. The piece I want to read is the one written after “STID” comes out, when some hardcore Trekkie breaks down how Harrison — whoever he really is — compares with his previous iterations and reflects the shifting ideology of “Star Trek” throughout the decades. Dammit Jim, I’m a film critic, not a gumshoe!
In a sense, pieces analyzing trailers or posters aren’t all that different from pieces slamming “Zero Dark Thirty” without actually watching it. It’s all supposition and conjecture. So why do we hate when someone does it about “Zero Dark Thirty” but love when someone does it about, say, “John Carter” — a movie that was widely written off months before its release? Shouldn’t we wait to judge all movies until after we see them?
Earlier this year, I coined the term “perpetual sneak preview culture” to describe the kind of marketing overload that has started to take hold at some film websites. Every day there’s a new teaser, or behind the scenes featurette, or five exclusive new stills. Each one comes with its own prediction-laden blog post; each builds up bigger expectations that are harder to match. We start to confuse good marketing with good moviemaking — or worse, we assume bad marketing equals bad moviemaking. We form our opinions, then watch the movie as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. “John Carter” looks bad, hence “John Carter” is bad (or, for a 2013 example, how about “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters?”) The “Zero Dark Thirty” ads that run during NFL football sell it as a piece of macho, patriotic action, hence “Zero Dark Thirty” is a piece of macho, patriotic action.
Once we make those kinds of predictions, serious, unbiased reflection is that much harder. That’s why I’m going to try to write less of the former and more of the latter in 2013.
And before you call me a hypocrite for publishing a piece earlier today about the most anticipated movies of 2013 let me just say: that was written in 2012. So it totally doesn’t count (and it’s more evidence of how badly I need to make some self-improvement). Plus, who actually keeps their New Year’s Resolution, anyway?
Ooh! Ooh! I know who John Harrison is! He’s one of the humpback whales from “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home!” I mean, look, he’s in that tank just like the whales were in that tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Kirk’s standing there just like he stood there in “The Voyage Home.” Thoughts?