The obvious answer is because it’s fun. I’m a stickler for a lot of things, not just movies, and bad movies offer a lot of material for stickling. I know it’s odd to enjoy combing through a movie and making fun of every little thing, but as a society we like to make fun of things that we think are silly or inane. Hopefully, you watched these films and saw some of the same problems I did and you feel vindicated and that you aren’t alone. Or maybe you didn’t see the problems I enumerate and after reading the reviews you attained a new, lower appreciation for the movie. Most likely, you read the reviews and killed some time waiting for a phone call or a meeting.
“It’s Just a Movie” is not a valid reason not to do this.
For starters, it is bad to use “just a ___” for anything.
Back on topic, “It’s just a movie” is the most common refrain I hear when people disagree with the concept of mocking a film. They are correct that major motion pictures are works of fiction produced to entertain the majority of the movie going public. That doesn’t mean that a studio can just throw any old bullshit on film and that everyone has to just accept it because it’s “just a movie”. Even the people who will use this line as a reason for accepting whatever they see on the screen have problems with movies they watch. They might not have set as high a bar as I have, but there is a limit to what they’ll accept. Batman fans will roll their eyes when I complain about how ridiculously successful the Joker is in The Dark Knight, given what is shown in the film. However, if Batman were to start flying on his own, shooting laser beams out of his eyes, and sporting a green power ring, those same people would probably lose their bat shit and complain vociferously.
What I am mainly looking for is verisimilitude. For any story set in the world in which we live, or one modeled on it, the world has to work the way ours does. The laws of physics must be obeyed, the societal support structures should perform as they do in this world, and people should generally behave as they do in this world. The suspension of disbelief that comes with all movies to some degree or another is usually initial. However, once the viewer has agreed to believe that James Bond can do just about everything to the maximum human limits, the movie can’t have him defy the laws of physics in absence of some supernatural assistance. Movie worlds that are fantastical and removed from the world in which we live face a reduced verisimilitude burden. A fantasy or science fiction writer who creates an entirely new world can create the rules to his or her world and even a jerk like me has no basis for complaining. Why don’t Tolkein’s Elves ever die of old age? It’s because they don’t. There is no further explanation needed nor given.
My reviews are onslaughts of complaints and snide comments, and they are pedantic. I know. Even my own editor thinks the project is destructive and overwrought. But I still think it’s fun and I hope it strikes you as funny.
On a serious note
I am not implying that a motion picture designed to be a work of fiction should hew slavishly to realism like a documentary. It is not the director or producer’s job to create a perfect representation of real life – that would be boring. Movies are entertainment. But while they should not be viewed as a source of factual information, they still have the power to inform people’s opinions. The things that movies portray are repeated often in film and this leads people to believe they are true.
A historical film that departs from the actual historical facts is responsible for misperceptions in what really happened. This is usually harmless, since it is only minor details that are altered or misrepresented, but it still creates a warped sense of what happened. These alterations and misrepresentations can be countered by scholars voicing their critiques and trying to correct anachronisms and distortions, but they rarely have the audience that the original film did. These errors stay in people’s minds.
The same is true for movies that are “based on true events.” The audience probably doesn’t know which events in the film are depicted accurately and which aren’t. Again it’s up to the viewer to track down the real information. However there are plenty of viewers who assume the film makers have already done the homework required to present an accurate depiction of the historical event, and as a result, these viewers won’t make the effort to fact-check for themselves.
As an example, consider how gun use is misrepresented on the silver screen and the consequences that this has. On film, there are generally two kinds of people with guns – good guys and bad guys. The bad guys are very good at shooting characters that don’t have lines, and are usually very bad at hitting the heroes. Heroes, on the other hand, excel at shooting bad guys. They almost never miss. For a large portion of the population, seeing this good guy vs. bad guy shoot out on screen is the only interaction that they have with firearms. They see on film how easy it is to shoot bad guys, and that’s it. This creates the impression that it’s easy when it isn’t and that it’s relatively safe when it most certainly is not.
This impression frames the discussion of gun control in the United States. In the wake of the Aurora, CO and Newton, CT shootings many people called for a proliferation of firearms in the hands of the public, so that members of the public could counter gun-wielding maniacs. While I am not a US Navcy SEAL or a SWAT operator, I have a fair amount of experience with firearms. It is not a good idea for a random citizen to pull out a firearm in a mall and hunt down a gunman. This citizen not a hero in a movie, so he or she will have to consider the most important part of pulling the trigger: what if I miss? It is extremely difficult to hit a target when there is a commotion, when you are working with the physiological reactions to stress, and while someone is shooting back at you. If you shoot and miss and you hit someone else, you are now another gunman. No one will know if you are a well-intentioned or bad-intentioned gunman, especially the police. Of course, that’s not a concern in the movies, where the heroes always hit their targets and are always recognized by the police.
So, why are you doing this again?
As I said, it’s fun. I enjoy thinking about the issues with movie plots, I enjoy writing about them, and I hope you enjoy reading about them. This site is a form of critical thinking about an admittedly unimportant subject, but that doesn’t mean the concept of ruthless and long winded mockery of movies is entirely without merit – it’s just mostly without merit.
I think critical thinking is useful at all times, but I understand that this is not a universally held belief. If you’ve read this much you probably agree with me and you are a better person for doing so. It is perfectly reasonable to want to accept movies as presented and not bother thinking very deeply about them. However, there is no such thing as “just a movie”. Major motion pictures cost millions of dollars to make and are created by well paid professionals. I might be holding film makers to too high of a standard but holding them to no standards is preposterous. I hope you enjoy what I have wrought but if not, no hard feelings.