Monday, January 04, 2010

Douthat on Movies

Ross Douthat wrote a rather silly column about the movie Avatar, which left me wondering if it was written before he actually saw the film. But I just stumbled across one of his related blog entries....
Sci-fi spectaculars deserve to be taken seriously, as pop art if not as high art, and not just patted on the head for putting on a good show. That doesn’t require comparing a James Cameron film to, say, “The Rules of the Game” and finding Cameron wanting. But it means recognizing that there’s a world of difference between a truly great special-effects driven fantasy — like “The Matrix” (the first one, not the sequels), or Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” or “The Empire Strikes Back” — and a gorgeous disappointment like “Avatar,” which succeeds at being eye-popping but doesn’t succeed at very much else.
I recognize that Douthat's obligated to praise the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as it's a Christian allegory. But most of that film's physical beauty arose not from special effects, but from its being filmed in New Zealand. And with due respect, at least to me, The Eye of Sauron was a huge disappointment. There are roughly equally compelling special effects on the back of a one dollar bill. Also, with no offense intended to its fans, I found the Matrix to be very much like Avatar - a very simple, not particularly compelling plot wrapped up in a beautiful package of special effects.

But what really caught my eye was Douthat's endorsement of "The Empire Strikes Back". Plot summary: "Luke finds out that Darth Vader is his father." Beyond that, you could pretty much skip from "A New Hope" to The Ewok Adventure "Return of the Jedi" without the loss of any significant plot detail. Sure, you might spend a few minutes wondering why Han Solo was frozen in 'carbonite', and where the little green muppet guy came from, but otherwise? Really, back in the day I enjoyed the film, but because it was exciting and eye-popping.


  1. Why did Douthat bring up "The Rules of the Game" -- I assume this one, not this one -- instead of a similarly praised movie that most people would have heard of and possibly have even seen, such as Citizen Kane?

  2. My theories would be either that he's heard of the film but hasn't seen it, or that he's trying to sound erudite by referencing a highly praised French film that many of his readers will end up having to "Google".