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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    What we’ve been watching: the decade in film

    We’ve sure seen a lot this decade.

    We’ve survived the vampires, the zombies, the robots, the clones; we’ve narrowly escaped planetary annihilation from aliens, climatic disasters, black magic and nuclear arms; we’ve rooted for the good guys — caped avengers, pirates, wizards, teenage underdogs — and the bad guys — ninjas, assassins, serial killers, mad monks, shifty politicos; and we’ve seen far more of Sacha Baron Cohen’s body than anyone ever asked for.

    This decade has offered the viewing public thousands of feature films to consume, and rapidly advancing technology has made everything from single-camera indie comedies to big-budget computerized blockbusters more accessible than ever. Despite the huge breadth of titles lo these ten years, patterns in filmmaking and viewership have placed the same types of films at the top of the box-office charts time and again, and by looking at these massively-consumed media monsters more closely, some very specific trends emerge. In the following, I attempt to recall some of the biggest trends, and the best place to start is with the highest-grossing films of the decade …

    The Rise of CG; The fall of originality?

    To reduce the last 10 years of film into one indispensable development would undeniably require a discussion about the rise of CG. Incessant technological advancements have made computer graphics the filmmaker’s silver bullet, giving any film, no matter how poorly written, blockbuster potential. According to Box Office Mojo, the top 10 domestic box-office breadwinners of the last ten years were: “”The Dark Knight,”” “”Shrek 2,”” “”Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest,”” “”Spider-Man,”” “”Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen,”” “”Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,”” “”Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,”” “”Spider-Man 2,”” “”The Passion of The Christ”” and “”Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”” The worldwide box-office results look similar; just add a few “”Harry Potter”” films on top.

    Two big trends are visible here. First of all, every single film mentioned above relies almost exclusively on CG in its storytelling (excluding “”The Passion””; Gibson went old-school with most of his gore). Second, they are all adaptations, remakes or franchises. It’s hardly surprising that the big studios bought up the rights to heavy-hitting titles like “”Potter”” and “”Lord of the Rings”” and came out filthy-stinking-rich; what is interesting, though, is the overall reliance on existing source material that has utterly dominated this decade.

    Think about it for a minute. Try to count in your head all of the films of this decade that came from comic books (“”Spider-Man”” 1, 2 and 3, “”Batman Begins,”” “”The Dark Knight,”” “”Iron Man,”” “”The Incredible Hulk,”” “”Daredevil,”” “”Electra,”” “”Hellboy””), graphic novels (“”Sin City,”” “”300,”” “”Watchmen,”” “”The Spirit””), video games (“”Resident Evil,”” “”BloodRayne,”” “”Street Fighter””), stage plays (“”The Producers,”” “”Doubt,”” “”Mamma Mia,”” “”Rent””) , children’s literature (“”Harry Potter,”” “”Where the Wild Things Are,”” “”Fantastic Mr. Fox””), popular fiction (“”Lord of the Rings,”” “”The Da Vinci Code,”” “”Children of Men,”” “”No Country for Old Men””), TV shows (“”Transformers,”” “”Star Trek””) and even Disneyland attractions (“”Pirates of the Caribbean,”” “”The Haunted Mansion””).

    Where have all the original screenplays gone? With the advent of CG domination, this is a question that few people seek to answer. That’s not to say there haven’t been out-of-the-ordinary productions. In analyzing those select films, however, we must also look at…

    A Bit of the Old Ultraviolence

    Violence has been a theme in American film as long as it has been a theme in daily American discourse — that is to say, always. Where graphic violence used to be taboo and grounds for an NC-17 rating, however, it has grown so universal, so banal, that it has become the very foundation of some films, and the sole source of comic relief in others.

    Either way, there has been a significant increase in social acceptance of violent films. A cursory glance at the decade’s Oscar winners for best picture will corroborate this: “”Gladiator”” (2000), “”The Departed”” (‘06) and “”No Country for Old Men”” (‘07) being the standouts. Not only were each of these distinguished winners hyper-gory and homicidal, but they also cast ruthless, trained killers as their protagonists. Other nominees like “”There Will Be Blood”” (‘07) and “”A History of Violence”” (‘05) could not be more explicit in their titles, but ultimately serve as critiques of the very violence they sell. Mel Gibson’s “”The Passion of The Christ”” (’04) was criticized by many as being nothing but a glorified snuff film, yet it still managed to rake in a gross of almost $370 million. Now there’s a savior you can bank on!

    But to really get a sense of the shifting role of violence in film, we need to look away from the Academy. The rising eminence of gore in niche markets is epitomized by the perennial success of the “”Saw”” franchise, now up to its sixth brutal installment. In this same category we have films like the remake of “”The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”” (‘03), Eli Roth’s “”Hostel”” (‘05) and the whole suite of Rob Zombie concoctions including “”House of 1000 Corpses”” (‘03), “”The Devil’s Rejects”” (’05) and the revisions of “”Halloween”” I and II (’07 and ’09 respectively). Outside of the horror genre, violence has also become grounds for comic relief, with each act of extraordinary human aggression forcing filmmakers to set the bar higher and higher in terms of spectacle.

    The fountains of blood in Quentin Tarantino’s “”Kill Bill Vol. 1″” (’03), the prankish executions in “”Wanted”” (’08), the comic book dismemberments of “”Ninja Assassin”” (’09) and the mere existence of the sublimely masochistic “”Crank”” (‘06) series drive that bullet home. The more zany representations of violence become, the easier they are to stomach and the harder filmmakers have to try to grab our attention. It’s a vicious cycle that may well define film of the coming decade as well, and could just as easily end up damning us all to hell.

    I’ll see you there, if I don’t see you at the movies first.

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