Did you ever leave the movie theater or turned off your television without feeling satisfied? If so, that movie you watched probably did not engage you. This will happen from time to time and especially when your expectations for that movie are high, it can be a huge disappointment. But what about the times that you did feel engaged, those moments where you just had to share your thoughts, the minute the credits started to roll down on the screen? Isn’t this partially the reason why we watch a movie in the first place? So what is it about the movies that were able to captivate you? Was it the cast? Was it the director? Those awesome special FX? That bone-chilling score?
Well, in my opinion it’s the overall experience itself. It’s what I take away from it that truly matters. I don’t necessarily have to feel an emotional connection with the narrative or its characters to feel satisfied and not every movie that engages me has to have a big budget or an A-list of cast members. What I want is to be entertained and there are truly two types of film that do so, each using different conventions and both can receive my respect in two very different ways.
The first type of film I will reference to is what I will call the Cinematic Experience and the second type of film is what I will call the Movie Spectacle. Let me try to explain in my own words what they both mean and what sets these two apart for me.
Let’s kick this off with the Cinematic Experience. These types of movies are the movies that seem to be movies I find some sort of comfort in. Every time I come back to some of my favorite Cinematic Experience type of films, it feels like I’m returning back to a safe haven. I normally have no problems watching these movies over and over and rather than leaning back, I find my self observing and analyzing them. These type of films to me are often of a smaller budget in contrast to the Movie Spectacle films, but not necessarily lack the big names, both in cast and in crew. I think that their narratives are more compact and smaller and often they feel more experimental to me. Maybe Art-House and Indie Films are Cinematic Experience type of films by default, I don’t know. To give you a personal example, let’s quickly talk about one of my favorite films of all times; Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).
The story is quite simple here. A troubled and depressed Vietnam veteran named Travis Bickle suffering from insomnia takes on the job as a New York City taxi driver in gritty 70’s Manhattan. Now of course there is more to this film and story, but I don’t want to focus too much on individual movies here, other than using them as references. What I do want to point out are some details that seem to be significant to my statement. This movie has this underlaying tone or mood throughout the entire screen time, it has personality; it breaths. The film feels artistic and displays the directors’ vision, rather than placing the empathy on pure spectacle and entertainment.
Lets take a look at one scene that to me is defining my definition on Cinematic Experience when talking Taxi Driver. For those who seen the film- remember the scene where Travis is calling Betsy from a payphone in this long open hallway, looking out to onto the street? If so, than you must have noticed an unusual film making, or should I say camera technique. While the camera is focussed on Travis from behind, it suddenly starts to pan or actually track to the side, placing Travis completely out of the scene- highly unusual for that time being. This is a clear example of the artistry within this film. Something like this you would never see in any of the glorious Marvel Cinematic Universe films of the last decade or so, which to me are great examples of Movie Spectacles.
That’s right. If you’d ask me, the contrast to Cinematic Experience are the Movie Spectacle films. Before I continue, let me just be clear about one thing. I am not saying that one is better than the other, nor do I have a clear preference. Actually, sometimes they can be both, like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014), or there may be occasions where after viewing it a couple of times and noticing new things, that to me they cross over to the other team. But lets venture into Movie Spectacles.
These films are often the big blockbusters (MCU), trilogies (The Bourne saga), franchises (Star Wars) and so on. Now you may say, wait a minute, Star Wars doesn’t really fit into that, does it? Well, sort of , yeah. Of course when George Lucas made Episode 4, it was new and evolutionary in film, no doubt about that. But ever since Disney took over, you can’t deny the gentrification the franchise underwent. Disney is the marketing campaign king when it comes to movies if you’d ask me and although it guarantees big numbers at the box offices, I can’t help but to think how it actually changed the entire brand, and not all for the greater good.
Anyway, these types of films with the highest paid actors in Hollywood, multi-million dollar budgets and backed up by one of the big 6 studios and companies are the best when it comes to pure entertainment in my opinion. These are the movies where you kick your feet up for 2 and a half hours and never take your eyes of the screen. They don’t always make you think or cry, but they sure make you laugh and cheer a lot. But where they stand out in their glory of CGI, SFX, beautiful symphony scores and a platoon of foley sounds for every single item in motion on-screen, they lack the relationship movies can establish between filmmaker and movie goer, at least that’s how I see it.
I can literally count down the days until the next Marvel production is released 5 years from now, because I am such a huge fan of those types of films, but I secretly love nothing more than viewing a movie that I haven’t heard of before until only a few weeks before my screening and I walk out with a crush, cherishing that movie from here on out. My favorite Cinematic Experience films of a more recent time period include Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) and Spike Jonze’ Her (2013). A few moments ago, I already gave away what my favorite blockbusters were (MCU) or Movie Spectacles– Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010) and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012), although as said before, Christopher Nolan-possibly my ultimate hero when it comes to filmmaking- always seems to make these big movies that fit into both categories.
Overal, I hope I gave you guys a clear insight on how I label my films and the expectations I have for movies. Surely, this point may have been made before and I may needed to use different terms or references, but point being made I think. I won’t be surprised if many of you feel the same way or may disagree. This is the way I see it, at least at this very moment. Feel free to comment with any thoughts or feedback.
Thank you for reading and hearing me out and until next time!