When is the last time Hollywood came out with something successful and original? Don’t answer, just think about it. What is the last movie you can think of that was popular/critically acclaimed, and that wasn’t based on something else– not a book, not somebody’s life, not another movie? I’ll tell you the last time that happened. It was 2010, and the movie was Inception.
Now, before you voice your far more well-reasoned argument, you should know that I get how stories work. Especially in western story-telling, there really only a few “hero’s journey” narratives that are reused with various settings and nuanced plot differences. That’s all fine and good. My intent is not to spark a philosophical debate about whether or not all stories are simply manifestations of some great and ancient truth. My intent is to complain about how Hollywood can’t seem to do anything original anymore, and to tell you that it’s probably not going to get any better.
People have short memories. I can prove it. Try to remember a time when there weren’t movies. You can’t. “But Clark, I wasn’t even alive back then!” Ok, so short memories is a possible side effect of dying after a while. That’s not my fault. The point still stands: despite its being a ridiculously recent form of entertainment, we cannot understand a world without movies. Honestly, though, as far as man’s progress with storytelling goes, it really hasn’t stood much of a test of time.
Speaking of time, we are in a period of history right now dubbed “modernist” by some short-sighted scholar somewhere (seriously, what’s the future supposed to call itself now). Basically that means that the popular worldview is to approach life scientifically. The majority of people understand this world as something that can be measured and tested and controlled and via those means be recreated and improved. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, think about the movie itself: the perfect example of man attempting to recreate the world using science.
This scientific “modernist” way of thinking has manifest itself nowhere more than with information flow— specifically, since it’s what I’m trying to talk about today, storytelling. The history of storytelling had such a slow progression until recently. The transition from primarily oral to mass-published written communication took thousands of years, as well as did the development of photographs as a means to recreate real-life scenes. But fast-forward only a couple hundred years after that and suddenly we’ve got entire made-up universes being created on giant screens viewed world-wide.
Basically, if I could attempt to bring all these thoughts together, the modernist man/woman is an empowered individual with the ideal that the world is but an equation to solve. What’s more, he/she has the resources to actually feel like he/she is pulling it off. While this mindset creates an unprecedented atmosphere of freedom-seekers, it also creates the absolute worst movie-goers. Firstly, we all think that movies are for us. Like, I go to a movie and automatically assume it was made to please me. And if it’s not quite what I would have envisioned for whatever piece of world it’s trying to create or recreate, then somehow I’m also qualified and able to tell the rest of humanity that it sucks. This leads to the secondly, which is that we’re insatiably hungry for more.
In this, we (the history of humanity) are like the dog who’s been fed a bowl a day his entire life, then suddenly discovers the bag of dog food in the garage. Clearly that bag is done for. Well, in this analogy the bag of food is the current cinematic industry. We have taken this medium, this next step in the evolution of storytelling, and we have scarfed up every piece of it we could find. And now there’s nothing left to do, and also I’ve finally reached my actual point with all of this. We have three options:
(1) We could just deal with it. We continue to wait every 5-10 years for truly original cinema, in the meantime dealing with remakes and sequels and rehashed material. Unless I’ve really underestimated the laziness of people, I doubt this will be the case.
(2) The culture changes. We stop liking/paying for/making stories based on the “western hero” narrative. We somehow decide to enjoy some other storytelling prototype and milk it for all it’s worth. While this would work to satiate the masses for a time, it’s only temporary. Eventually an inevitably, I see humanity moving on to option three.
(3) We find a new medium. I know this is hard to imagine. Again, short lives/memories and all, it’s difficult to think of a world without movies. And I don’t know what the next thing after movies will be. My guess is that it will be something more individual and customizable, since everyone and their dog thinks they can do it better than everyone else. Who knows. But boy am I interested to find out.
Now hopefully I’ve left you with a thing or two to think about. Here’s something for you to do in the meantime: take it easy. I mean, really, just chill out. When you go watch building-sized robots beating up other building-sized robots, instead of griping about apparent plot holes or actors’ performances, just freaking appreciate the fact that you just saw BUILDING-SIZED ROBOTS BEATING UP OTHER BUILDING-SIZED ROBOTS. I mean, seriously.