When the blockbuster does it right

I’ve been watching movies regularly and maybe even fanatically for close to five years now. I’d like to think I’ve seen at least most of the popular stuff, even if I’m still literally a baby when it comes to certain niche genres, directors, etc.

I started with the ‘acclaimed’ stuff – many things on top 100 lists, a bunch of famous directors who aren’t renowned for making blockbusters but draw in a bulk of the film crowd. You know, people like Fincher and Anderson and Tarantino. Auteurs without the stress of being too weird or out there. Touching upon a few problematic directors along the way, such as select Allen movies, and just people I outright did not like, like the Malicks and Kubricks. Then there’s the move to the Von Triers, Winding Refns, and Bertoluccis.

All this is easily trackable; it’s pretty much a ‘film studies’ approach. I even took the kinds of classes where people sideeye you if your favourite film isn’t Magnolia and you’re not super into obscure documentaries. Just so I could learn more about the industry…or so I thought.

Only subscribing to these select crafters of film, and even so-called acclaimed genres, definitely just blinded me from a lot of perhaps less interesting but still very entertaining cinema. It’s true that I’ve found my favourites in Park Chan-wook and Andrea Arnold (to name a couple of people), and they’re a direct influence from film studies classes. I also found out about Xavier Dolan working among film ‘aficionados’ at one of the biggest film festivals in my city, and have come to love his work. (His now more mainstream status really excites me.)

But I also realise that that’s not all I love to watch. I’m a child of the blockbuster. My family is not made up of film buffs, and I never went to the movies as a young child – I only started going at around seven or eight years old when the Harry Potter films were starting to be released. And everything I watched at home from the Disney Renaissance to Michael Bay’s Armageddon was commercial as fuck. I probably saw Jurassic Park way too young, and was scarred, but still loved it.

I’m writing this entry just contemplating the number of reportedly ‘bad’ or at least ‘not great’ films I’ve seen over the past couple of months. Everything from Tomorrowland to Jurassic World, from San Andreas to Battleship. People say they’re bad, and I just enjoy the bloody heck out of them. They are all fun movies with a surprising amount of heart, and balance the narratives of multiple, diverse characters very well. But critics don’t love them, and that pains me.

Oddly enough, those blockbusters are pretty solid ground from which to craft diversity, such as in their portrayal of female characters. Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing from Jurassic World, for instance, is a character I truly love. Now I’ve heard criticisms of the film itself being incredibly sexist, with implications that its use of stereotypes and the way the film breaks those down are detrimental to a feminist narrative. This is why I think they’re wrong.

Female characters have always fought to take centre stage. The industry likes to say female-led films don’t bring in the cash. Men and many women find fault in female characters’ very existence, taking discussion away from their effectiveness to draw diversity and instead focusing on ridiculous things like ‘why is she running heels?’

Why can’t Bryce Dallas Howard run in heels? She’s said in interviews herself, she trained to do that. As for how she outruns that t-rex and how ‘unbelievable’ it is, this is also fiction. Men in fiction get to dodge bullets impossibly, fly in ‘iron’ suits that would logically not work in real life, motorcycle while being flanked by velociraptors…and Claire Dearing gets flak for outrunning a giant dinosaur. Okay.

Also, why can’t her character also be a workaholic and not want kids? Because apparently people have been saying that that’s in itself sexist. “Oh I love my work so much my ovaries are dead.” Please.

I personally identify so much with that aspect of her character more than anything else the film did; the confusion over people expecting and wanting you to have children, despite a personal preference to decide otherwise. For some, it’s more of a struggle than others. The character is shown to be uncomfortable around children, something I also relate to. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about the people she’s supposed to protect. It doesn’t mean she won’t step up. So even if this is reading too much into it, Claire Dearing probably just doesn’t fucking want children unless she’s damn right ready to have them.

There are a myriad of reasons people love film, but the constant state of the film crowd just isn’t all that accommodating. I’d honestly rather watch films like Jurassic World and Tomorrowland (a film with a stellar female protag, I might add) than a zillion deep films about the tortured male soul. Give me all the Pacific Rims and Fury Roads, and as well as the Cinderellas and Jupiter Ascendings. They all have great and different female characters, but that’s only one layer to the experience. I won’t go into diversity in this blog post, because this is getting overly long, but there is a point to portraying women in varying degrees of strength and weakness. It depends on how you define those traits, but to me it’s all positive when they find themselves in the end. It just feels like these days, it’s up to the blockbuster to figure it out.

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