The Griffin Editorial 10/27
The big fall of the big screen
The other day, I decided to put on Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” for some light background noise as I finished up some homework before bed. Typically, I’m quick to throw on a sit-com or a TV show I’ve seen a million times to satisfy my short attention span’s need for constant stimulation. Now, I’m no film bro, but I do find it a bit sacrilegious every time I throw something on without the intent of devoting my focus and attention to it. So I usually find myself surrendering whatever homework I was trying to do and just watching the damn movie. I didn’t run into this problem while watching “Haunted Mansion,” though; it served as effective background noise, often encouraging me to put my nose back down into my book. I promise not to use this page just to deface this children’s movie. But I will say that my viewing experience led me to fully spiral about how bad movies are getting and fearing that the high-quality, high-impact ones are few and far between — probably not a review that Disney wants to hear.
I knew the movie was doomed at the introduction of a fortune teller played by Jamie Lee Curtis. She was not only hard to recognize because she wasn’t holding a cup of Activia, but also because, for most of the movie, the fortune teller’s head is encapsulated in her crystal ball, looking foggy and distorted the entire time. At first glance, I immediately asked my friend if she also thought that it was Curtis’s digitized likeness. Initially, I was joking, guessing that she did not want to spend time on set and pre-recorded some neck-up shots. Still, it got me thinking about whether or not, to the producers, an actor's name on the credit list is more important to the film’s success than their presence on set.
Clearly, this question was raised based on a divahood that I’m merely assuming of Jamie Lee Curtis, but, like anyone with unfinished homework in front of them, my mind started going elsewhere, thinking of other movies and their name-heavy casts.
Producers are able to count on loyal fanbases showing box office support for their favorite actors. I myself even considered dropping at least $15 and going to see “Dune” just for Timotheé Chalamet. Because of this mindset, I can say I probably contributed to the odd decision made to cast him as Willy Wonka in the new “Wonka” movie, just as Brit-loving moms everywhere likely contributed to Hugh Grant casting as an oompa loompa in the same film — a film that I think is going to suck but will probably still go see, and, yes, it’ll be because of the memes. That mindset opens up a whole new can of worms about memes and social media having so much power in curating popular culture that they actually give you a fear of missing out on them, but we’ll save that editorial for another week.
Unable to think about anything other than Jamie Lee Curtis’s possibly CGI head in a CGI crystal ball during the movie, I was reminded of a National Public Radio article I read regarding the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-Aftra) strikes. It included testimonies from background actors working for Disney+ who were unexpectedly “body scanned” so the company could regenerate and repurpose their likeness, costing the company less than they would spend paying a crew of actors. The same goes for A.I. generated scripts, effects and design that cut costs.
The SAG-Aftra strike has been simmering up again lately, despite being on mid-to-low heat since early October. The strike has been ongoing since July. Because of that, in short, movies kind of suck right now because there hasn’t been anyone to make them. All we can do is look to the Screen Actor’s Guild and hope that they can appease this army of picketing creatives and nepo-babies.
So now, movie-makers are faced with the dilemma of how to create a piece with zero resources and demand breathing down your neck. COVID-19 saw to it that movie theaters would be out of service, as even before the pandemic they acted as giant cesspools, perfect for contracting some illness. This upwardly creeping demand fueled by cinematic depravity during quarantine has, again, heightened demand, but it has also — at least subconsciously — seemingly lowered auideinces’s standards. Desperate just to experience a movie theater again, I’ve bought tickets to plenty of crappy movies: most recently was “Saw X”, which, yes, sucked, along with just about every other trailer that premiered before it. “Saw X” as well as “Haunted Mansion” were not great movies in my opinion, a teller of this being that I could zone in and out, hardly watch and go to the bathroom multiple times during “Haunted Mansion”-esque movies and not skip a beat narratively. Adversely, sitting through every gruesome scene of a “Saw” movie and only being able to recall the gore, unable to understand or reexplain the convoluted, but not fully-realized plot, is a big tell of a bad movie.
Taste is subjective; people should be allowed to like what they like free of public, vocal judgment (the internal kind is okay, it’s natural). But, I fear that people don’t actually like the majority of movies as of late, often nostalgic for the “New Hollywood”-style movies of the 1970s and ‘80s. Rather, they simply take what is in front of them. Imagine, you haven’t eaten all day. Someone offers you a Big Mac, and as you eat it you could swear it's a medium-rare piece of filet mignon. Take that hunger as your long-unattainable desire to go to the movies; what feels like seeing “Jaws” on the big screen for the first time is really just “Meg 2: The Trenches.”