Come with me on a little journey. It was a lazy night spent procrastinating in front of the computer. My anxiety was getting the better of me, and instead of working on my assignments, I took to twitter to bury myself in a sea of Jurassic Park rerelease buzz. You see, Jurassic Park has a special place in my heart. It has a special place in the hearts of many people who were 5 years old in 1993. It’s just the way things work
It was during this browsing that I came across an article on Film.com, superficially about Jurassic Park. I read it and realised I was tricked into something much more interesting than an article discussing the flaws in Jurassic Park, that clever writer…
And it was this article that got me thinking about why I do not consider myself a critic, even when my friends have told me otherwise. No, I am not a critic. I do not have nearly enough of a knowledge to actually critique works of cinema, discuss the social, political and cultural significance of the pieces, or talk in depth about any problems they have on a thematic level. At times I wish I did, but I do not have the capability or the will to absorb a library’s worth of information.
What I can do is criticise cinema. I can point out more technical flaws. I can discuss things that dragged me out of the experience. I can talk about things that reminded me that I was still a man sitting in the dark of a theatre, surrounded by other people watching a dance of light and sound for 90 minutes and up.
This is everything wrong with modern film critique, I agree. It is not everything wrong with modern film criticism. The ability to differentiate between the two, I believe would serve to only benefit consumers and those interested in the world of cinema.
A film is not its themes and its cultural identity in a vacuum. It is a product of technique, or lack thereof. Having a discussion of the more thematic side of cinema can only serve to enrich our culture and promote intelligent analysis and discourse about art and its importance.
Having a discussion about the flaws of a film can serve on a more consumerist level. Perhaps I am taking a leaf from games reviewing, where a discussion of the mechanics and technical accomplishments of the game seem to take precedence over discussion of the narrative, both textual and interactive that the game affords. It is a very consumer-centric approach, treating the game as a product, and not as a work of art. It informs potential customers, the layperson, whether a product is worth their money or not. It is a service that is not without its merit.
Let’s look at two cases.
Jurassic Park is a film with some (at times severe) flaws. The assault of the T-Rex on the cars at night comes to mind. You will find numerous explanations for the sudden appearance of the cliff on fansites across the web. Their dedication to resolving this issue makes me look like a person with a passing interest in the film. It is also a film in which I can overlook these flaws, because it is otherwise so well crafted, provides such a sense of wonder and terror with such a deft hand, that I find myself swept up in the experience. I have seen this film at least 40 times since its release, and I am actually craving another watching right now.
Could it have been the masterful score? The amazing sound design? The visual effects that still stand up today? The wonderful performances by its actors? The witty dialogue? The wonderful handling of both the light hearted moments and those meant to terrify? I think it’s a perfect storm of all these elements that make Jurassic Park a film that holds up after 20 years.
Prometheus, on the other hand, was a film with ambition. It was a film that tried to seem intelligent. It was a film with incredible flaws to match its incredible cinematography. It was a glorious mess of a film. It was wonderful to look at, yet did not offer anything in particular that stood out visually. It had interesting art direction, but many of the curiosities it offered were discarded quickly in favour of the next pretty/grotesque thing to look at. It had a sweeping score, that felt out of place with the rest of the film. It attempted to ask questions and prompt a discourse of some incredible and deep concepts with the audience, but ended up only hinting at the existence of these concepts. It was also a film with some uneven performances, quite horrible dialogue, and a not so wonderful sense of time.
These are all flaws, yes, and they stood out more to me in prometheus than the massive flaws in Jurassic Park did.
Yes, Prometheus had some interesting talking points, more so than Jurassic Park, but I really could not afford to engage with them because the film dropped most of them as quickly as they were raised. The score, the dialogue and the narrative of the film kept dragging me out of the moment, reminding me that I was a man in a cinema, watching a show of light and sound desperately trying to be more than the sum of its parts, and failing.
Its thematic weight was artifice as flimsy as the world it took place in. It did not allow me an opportunity to ponder its more interesting aspects because its flaws kept coming hard and fast. They were loud, louder than what the film was trying to achieve.
In fact, I enjoyed Mr Scott’s interviews about the film’s themes much more than the film itself. They were stimulating and provocative, and made me sad that the film did not live up to this.
I believe my take on the film, as a film, a product to be consumed as a whole, is valid. I believe that discussions of how the film’s flaws overshadowed the film’s positives is valid. I believe my opinion that the film could have been much more if it weren’t for its shortcomings, and that the film may disappoint people because of this, is important.
And I believe it is just as valuable as an after the fact dissection of the film in the context of its promotional material, the thoughts of its director, and its relevance to greater themes of spirituality, religion, and science in society at large.
Because a film is more than a statement, it is also a product.