An Open Letter to Hollywood

Dear Hollywood…

I know “Hollywood” isn’t a real person, but I figure if someone down there reads this then passes it on to your friends and then their friends and so on, eventually all of you will read this. For the record, I’ve watched movies for over 20 years, worked at a movie theater, and even explored movies academically, so I feel highly qualified to make the following argument.

What the fuck happened to good action movies? I recently saw one of your so-called “summer blockbuster” films and was very disappointed — not because of the acting or plot, but because the action scenes were terrible. However, the problem isn’t the action itself. The real problem is that somewhere between The Dirty Dozen and Batman Begins, you decided that we don’t really need to see the action any more.

These days, action films are loaded with tons of special effects, complicated choreographed fights, and stunts, all essential parts of the Hollywood action film. We love to see these things because we can’t do these things in our own lives — escapism that you only find in a movie. Certainly a good plot and good acting helps too, but it’s the excitement of the fights and explosions that separates action films from, say, The Prince of Tides.

But somewhere along the way, the vision of what an action film should be was lost. There are still fights and explosions and shit like that, but now directors are trying harder and harder to bring the audience into the fight using motion blur, incredibly short cuts, and excessive camera shaking so that we can’t tell what’s happening in these scenes. All of the action is lost in a half second jiggling blur. That might even be a half second of the director’s hairy ass pointed at the audience for all I know.

I’m not sure individually who is responsible for this. I’m sure directors are largely to blame, but then so could the cinematographers, editors, writers, and the special effects people too. I’ll leave it to you to decide who should be punished. Besides my anger with you, I feel sad for the stunt people, fight choreographers, and other people whose work is marred because you can’t see it for the blurred three seconds it appears on screen. You pay those people a lot of money to do their work, and if I was one of them I’d be really pissed off that my contribution to the film was spoiled because the director felt that an added camera shake would really make the audience feel the force of that punch better.

So Hollywood people, here are some lessons for you to work on:

  1. Use a steadicam. If a student can build one for $14, you can too, but I’m sure you can afford ones better than that.
  2. Long cuts work for action scenes too. There’s an elegance to action scenes that is ruined by short cuts.
  3. If you’re not willing to pay for 1 or 2, pay your special effects, stunt, and fight people less. No sense paying them if you respect their work by not letting us really see it.

Two more things. If you could pass this on to the appropriate people, I’d appreciate it…

Robert Rodriguez… I love your movies, except for the whole “Spy Kids” thing, but I hope that’s just a phase. You have a great visual style but you can’t write music worth a damn. In all seriousness, the opening theme from Sin City made me want to flee the theater. You could have written a score that rivals Batman, adding a deeper texture to a dark film, but instead floundered like a Daredevil. The music hurt what was otherwise a decent film. Stick to the directing and leave the music writing to a Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer — to someone who know how to write good movie scores.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger… I never liked the idea of you running for governor of California. When I think of my politicians, I always like to consider their resumes — what about their past makes them qualified to hold a public office. So Arnold, what about your role in the film Batman and Robin makes you qualified to be governor? For that matter, maybe you can also explain The 6th Day, Last Action Hero, and especially Kindergarten Cop. I’ve got questions about some of your other films too, but I don’t want to waste the governor’s time…

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