Well, we get what we deserve.
Battleship, a film allegedly based on a board game, is being pushed and pushed hard as a major “summer blockbuster” as we’re now supposed to describe lazy, vapid and cynical films made mostly by computers that happen to be released between May and September. Battleship has nothing to do with the board game at all. Battleship is a Transformers spin-off.
Of course, the Michael Bay Transformers movies made such little effort to actually develop characters beyond basic tropes of wise leader, adventurous youngster and racist (oh, the racism of those films is truly terrifying) so there’s really no reason at all for them to have to bother with a genuine Transformers spin-off. They just went and grabbed the Transformers sound for their bad guy, made them transforming robots, hired Rihanna for some reason and then, I can only assume, promised to put all members of the Neeson family through college until the twenty-fifth century.
Let’s stop for a second and pretend we don’t live in a world that sucks. These cretins who make decisions regarding “summer blockbusters” aren’t stupid. They’re lazy. Listen, trust me, I am no art house snob, at all. My favourite films are decidedly low brow in the main. I liked the last Die Hard film (though, again: it could have been a lot better). I have no problem with big, fun films. This is pushing it. The whole logic for pushing Battleship is that there is a market already there and so the marketing will have a head-start and the film will thus make tons and tons of money. Setting aside for a moment the rather questionable appeal of a “brand” based on a boardgame most people associate with a rainy weekend in the 1970s, let’s assume these people are right. Let’s assume that the Transformers movies had a huge head-start thanks to their brand.
It begs the question: Why didn’t they make good movies, then? If the audience was there, wasn’t it a golden opportunity to make good action films that would also make money? Might not the films have made MORE money if they didn’t suck? Don’t these people, as artists, have any kind of personal obligation to actually trying to entertain, rather than just fooling us to walk in the door and spend a couple of hours of our lives sitting in the dark. I know there are people who just need “something to do” on a Saturday evening but the vast majority of people would like that “something” to actually be entertaining.
I’m not talking about the bankers here, I’m talking about people like Michael Bay. Bad Boys was a bit of fun. Not Shakespeare, but nowhere near the horrifying depths of Transformers 3, where nothing much happens except that Michael Bay’s avatar gets worried about Patrick Dempsey shagging his impossible-looking girlfriend while things nearby explode. I suppose he does elbow in weird and highly insensitive Arab-bashing scenarios, so there’s that. He’s political, I guess. In a racist sort of way.
What about John Turturro? Frances McDormand? I’d like to see you try and argue that John Malkovich has any kind of credibility now. I’m sorry, you can say “hey, it’s a pay cheque” but let’s get serious about this: they’re selling their dignity for cash. I don’t think we should be okay with that because they’re actors.
Imagine, just for a moment, Transformers movies that don’t suck. Live action films with Transformers that don’t like weird creepy insects and aren’t defined by that sound effect. Imagine Optimus Prime and Bumblebee with actual personalities and not just broad stereotypes that the film-makers are too lazy to flesh out beyond “you should respect this character because he is wise” and “feel bad now that this character got hurt because… just do!” Imagine storylines that weren’t crap, that didn’t suddenly follow that untalented fool Shiny Beef through college or through his rather intensely chauvinist sexual panic. Imagine a REAL science fiction story that was interesting and compelling.
Then imagine, a couple of years after the main story finished, a spin-off sequel. The Marvel films have been handling this fairly well, so far. It can be done.
I guess they don’t make as much money though. Prometheus should be wonderful, will probably be my favourite film I see in the cinema this year (I hope). It won’t make anywhere near the coin of some of the crap on offer though. Well, maybe Battleship will flop. We can only hope.