Is the internet good or bad for mankind?
You know what, that’s a little to grandiose of a question, let’s narrow it down.
Is the internet good or bad for film criticism and movie fandom? Now that is a little more manageable (as well as being something I can actually talk about). Of course I’ve been a fan of movies my entire life, I didn’t step into the next circle of fandom (i.e. reading blogs, iMDB, Twitter) until the Summer of 2010. I remember following along as the reviews for The Last Airbender came in, it was fun connecting with folks as we poked fun at a ridiculous movie. On the flipside, by July we were starving for a good Summer movie, enter Inception. Whether it be reading Slashfilm or watching reviews on YouTube, Inception was the perfect film to help introduce me to the world that is the movie blogosphere.
Jumping into the online movie world in 2010 yielded the greatest benefit the internet can bring, learning about new opportunities. I think I probably would have seen The Social Network and The Fighter as a casual movie fan, blogosphere or not. I can definitely say that without being part of the online conversation, I would have never sought out 127 Hours, Black Swan, Buried or Let Me In, all personal favorites from that year.
Looking back on it, engaging in the online film world is one of the best things to happen in my life. How can I say such a thing (I mean, the internet kind of sucks right)? Well, like I suspect is the same for most of you, to put it simply, movies bring me real joy in life. I love to have fun at the theater. I enjoy experiencing various emotions via a cinematic experience. I’ve come to find that one of the most important things we can do in life is learn from others’ human experience, and watching movies is one of the easiest ways to learn about or fellow man (check out my experience with Moonlight here).
All that being said, there is definitely a downside to constantly engaging with movies in the online world. Setting aside the ugliness that have consumed our online comment sections, the worst thing that comes from the movie blogosphere/twitterverse is overexposure to upcoming movies. Whether it be deeply analyzing trailers or reading leaked plot information, we can go into a movie know everything about the story before it even begins. There are two things we can do to help solve this problem and both of them deal with self control. First, and I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, we just don’t need to read the spoilers or watch trailers countless times. Secondly, and this is all internal,
We need to learn how to manage expectations.
Zack Snyder announced Man of Steel 2 Featuring Batman way back in July 2013, 2 years and 8 months before the film would be released. We saw our first image of Ben Affleck in the batsuit in May 2014, 1 year and 10 months before the film would be released. The first trailer hit the web in April 2015, 11 months before the film would be released! Make no mistake, Batman v Superman is a grueling experience and one of the many bad blockbusters to hit theaters this year, but sometimes these fantasy movies are more fun when haven’t been part of the hype machine for almost three years.
This principle goes for good movies as well. I absolutely love Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I was slightly disappointed the first time I saw it, mainly due to the fact that I had built the film up to be the second coming of Christ. After a first viewing, and coming to the realization that this is in fact just another movie, I was able to watch it for what it was and enjoy the hell out of it. That is what I’m talking about when I say we need to manage expectations. We need to take our most anticipated movies down from these pedestals from which they can only disappoint upon actually watching a good movie.
While it easy to see this cycle play out with the mega blockbusters that engage in marketing that lasts for what seems forever, this can happen just as easily on the smaller, more dramatic “Oscar movies” as well. Is 2011’s War Horse a bad movie? Not by any means. Is it a powerful experience from the director of Munich and Schindler’s List, surely to make you reconsider what it is that makes us human? No, but that didn’t stop me from hyping up that film in my mind the months before its release. 2011 was a flagship year for the concept of managing our expectation of Spielberg films. If you were looking to The Adventures of Tintin to be at the same level of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you would be disappointed. If you were looking for a good time with a fun action-adventure movie, look no further!
The online discussion around movies has a couple of drawbacks. First, we are all together looking forward to these movies for months on end, egging each other on to keep the excitement up. Second, once we finally see the movie, Twitter and comment sections tend to be binary in nature. Either the film was great or it was horrible. That’s it, no questions asked or further nuance allowed. So not only have we built these upcoming releases up in our minds, but once we’ve seen a good (if not disappointing our original expectations) movie, we have to decide, right then and there, is this thing good or bad. I can only speak from personal experience, but I know that I’ve written off plenty of films due to our reactionary culture, rather than giving them a chance to grow in my thoughts after I’ve seen it.
This past weekend gave me two chances to play the expectations game. First, the juggernaut that is Rogue One. Look, I think this movie is great (read my review for ‘Word of the Nerd’ here), it is a nerdy entry into the Star Wars universe that has a fun ensemble cast and great direction. It is very possible that I could have been disappointed by the movie if I had built it up for the past 18 months. After my own personal experiences with The Dark Knight Rises, Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part II and the aforementioned The Force Awakens, I pretty much stayed away from trailer analysis and speculation talk. I was able to watch a fun movie, experience reveals that had not been ruined thanks to smart nerds speculating online, and now I haven’t put myself on the roller coaster that is online fandom.
Secondly (and probably more unexpectedly) came the buildup and actual viewing of Manchester By The Sea. I’m probably not going to write a full review, but let me just say that this is one of the more powerful films I’ve ever seen. I follow all the various awards groups giving out their awards for Best Actor to Casey Affleck and I 100% agree. Affleck and Kenneth Lonergan have delivered a film that not only communicates grief and how we process it in the real world, but they have shown us a character that has many layers of emotional intelligence, struggling with how he is to relate to others given his experience. The movie is amazing, it will be in my Top 10, and in the past I would have overhyped the film in my head before seeing it.
The movie came roaring out of Sundance with somewhat of an Oscar Frontrunner status being given to it. As others saw it at the various festivals and raved, it became clear pretty quickly that I was excited for this movie and that I didn’t want to overhype myself. I expected the film to be good, I did not expect the film to be one of the most emotional experiences I would have at a theater.
Now let’s be clear, sometimes you walk out of a screening, and you truly think a movie is just ok or bad. Sometimes you do manage your expectations, you set the bar kind of low…and then the film meets those kind of low expectations. I’m not saying that if you walk out of a movie not liking it, that you “just didn’t get the movie.” Sometimes a movie is average. I am only speaking from personal experience when I say that too many good movies have been written off too quickly due to unrealistic expectations and the binary world that is online discussion.
I can be honest with you, I’ve probably put La La Land and Silence a little too high when it comes to expectations. I am actively trying to manage what I am expecting with theses movies. When the lights go down for the beginning of the movie I want to be a blank slate, experiencing what the director puts on the screen and not looking for a movie to live up to its marketing. I am hoping these movies join Moonlight and Arrival as those movies where I had high expectations going in and then they actually surpassed my expectations. That is the best experience. But hey, if La La Land or Star Wars Episode VIII or Upcoming Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Drama end up just being ok, that will be just fine, I still plan on experiencing everything the filmmaker wants me to experience, whatever my expectations may be.
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