Saturday, December 29, 2007

The "Buffy" Factor.

Just as What Dreams May Come got it through my thick skull that audiences don't like it when the same characters are played by different actors (for metaphysical reasons, presumably showing the effects of age is okay), I formulated an important theory--humor me, it would be "important" if I actually made movies or if anyone listened to me--from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

No, no, not "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer", which is a TV show, but the movie Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, with Rutger Hauer, Paul Reubens, Kristy Swanson as Buffy, and Luke Perry at the height of his popularity.

The lesson was this: You can't make a successful movie where you mercilessly mock the target audience.

Buffy was, in essence, about the triviality of high school life. All those girls who wanted to see Luke Perry got treated to a lesson in how stupid they were. Buffy herself transcends her situation out of necessity, but opportunities for the average teen to do so are relatively scant.

The series took a much gentler approach all around.

I've seen this mistake made a number of times: The under-rated Last Action Hero, for example, ruthlessly mocks the tropes of action films, while itself being an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. (The first half does, the second half suffers a little crisis of conscience, and tells us it's all real, potentially--a position which lacks much credibility after the first half of the film.)

More recently, Josie and the Pussycats overtly trashed the consumer culture and trend-following of teens. It, of course, broke the record for number of on-screen product placements, something which is pretty funny in a "meta" way. But really, does the audience want to be told they're brainwashed morons?

Not usually.

You can mock your audience, presuming they have a sense of humor. You can't do it while insulting their intelligence, however. A good example of doing it right is the mild Galaxy Quest, which roundly mocks the sci-fi fan. Science-fiction fans, for all their obsession over trivia and ability to take their childhood passions to the grave, are (broadly) smart and self-deprecating in their humor.

For example, this sketch. (Can't believe there's not a better version online.)

Still, if you're going to deconstruct Sci-Fi tropes, you generally need to replace them with better ones. Sci-Fi fans aren't really interested in people saying "That's not the way things are." They know that. They're interested in the way things might be.

The choices that Galaxy Quest makes are telling: The Kirk-figure, played by Tim Allen, is a kind of true believer himself (something I doubt of Shatner). In addition, the aliens are geeks themselves, gawky, ungainly engineering types who move awkwardly because--I guess because they're not comfortable in the human forms they assume. (This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, now that I think about it, since it seems to be an illusion versus an actual changing of shape, but we'll roll with it.)

Of course, the little TV show saves an entire race by serving as a model, and a fan saves the crew from destruction with his knowledge of trivia. In the end, the show is even renewed with the original cast.

When I put it down in black-and-white, it almost seems like pandering.

By contrast, you could look at This is Spinal Tap: a movie which tried to mock heavy metal fans, a great many of whom don't seem to realize they're being mocked.


  1. You put your finger on why the current crop of anti-war movies suck donkey dick. Hollywood won't break the narrative unless it is disguised as Spartans fighting Persians. We need to get directors like Willie Wyler and Nicholas Ray who can inject a subtext into a movie without it hitting you over the head. That subtext would be the patriotic feelings of most Americans that can never be displayed openly in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Or religious feelings for that matter. A person of faith has to be a bigot or a hypocrite or a molester unless he is a Vulcan. In short, that's why I watch westerns.

  2. Also as Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder always said:” Moreover, I advise that Robin Williams must die.”

  3. Trooper,

    You know, I'd never thought of it in that sense, but you're right. War is a great and awful tool of the state, but all we get is the awful, with a subtext of "aren't you stupid for rooting for our side?"

    If they applied that to action films--well, they'd never make any action films. (And, of course, there seems to be a sizeable segment of the critic set that sniffs at all action films out of principle.)

    That's actually the approach they take on the news. Rebecca Aguilar accosts the 70 year old man who's shot someone and attacks him for being "trigger happy". Or they run some story about a criminal being shot in the act as if we should feel ashamed for our need for self-preservation.

  4. So, Trooper, does that mean that the Cato Institute has that as part of their platform?

    (Heh. You know, they might!)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. The problem is both political and the fact that most of the hacks working today are technical whizzes but couldn't tell a plot if it bit them in the ass. When you watch John Ford or Howard Hawks or William Wellman or even Robert Freaking Aldrich movies you get a sense of the waste and destructiveness of war. How good men could fight for bad things. How command is a thankless thing. A talented antiwar director could make a great movie about American soldiers who do their duty against a terrible enemy. But they have to load it up to make the USA look bad so as to be politically correct. Someone should give someone like Michael Yon a chance to write and direct a war film. Ambiguity and nuance can be expressed, think of the Wire on TV. But they use real writers like George Peloncanis and Michael Lehane, not the Hollywood hacks we see in most movies today. I hear the biggest movie coming out is about how the found a treasure map in the stains of President Jefferson’s underwear. Hooray for Hollywood.

  7. By the way, great work in getting the link from Althouse. You are on your way buddy, I think you can go far in this blogging biz. Congrats.

  8. I would argue that the writers and directors of yore were, by-and-large better. Not just better at what they did, but in some ways better human beings.

    If that seems, I dunno, prejudiced, it's just that I think life was harder then and you kind of had to be a better person.

    We have good qualities our ancestors did not have as well. I think we're intellectually adaptable and fluid--products of our time just like they were products of theirs.

    But I know I grew up in a world where The Self was exalted above all, and it's taken years to shake that off.

    Where that shows up, in my estimation, is that these directors and writers have a lifetime of experience that most people today don't have.

    If you haven't, check out Who The Devil Made It. These guys were airplane pilots and mechanics back when human cannonballs had better odds. They fought in wars. And when they had problems with each other, well, they fought it out--and then it was over. No whining, no lawsuits, just man-to-man.

    Who's like that today? Yeah, maybe a Michael Yon. Hell, I'd help pay to put him through film school, just for selfish reasons.

  9. Yeah, well, I don't think I'd count on a bunch of Althouse links. That conversation about movies just hit the right note.

    It's all right though, I haven't really given a lot of thought to driving traffic.

    I tend to work in bursts, which doesn't lend itself to blogging. So, there's that.

  10. Don't sell yourself short dude. You have very cogent and well thought out opinions about movies without an ideological ax to grind. I think if you hit the right note in your comments she will pick it up and use it as a base for her posts. Blogging requires content, and you can let her set up a thread that lots of people will respond and comment on as witness this last link. That makes it easy for her to bounce off your comment. The key is to get other people to read you and comment as well. Then you will be on the way. "Top of the world, Ma." Keep it up; I think you are doing a great job.

    Moreover, I advise that Robin Williams must die


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