I often think how unfair it is that we judge films on narrow criteria, discounting some aspects of filmmaking while arbitrarily elevating others. For example: discerning cinephiles tend to dismiss the Transformers franchise as trash because it is poorly written, acted and directed, scornfully saying that it’s “nothing but a series of giant robots punching each other”.
That might be so, but a lot of people worked really hard to make those giant robots punch each other, and they needed a hell of a lot of training to get them to the point where they know how giant robots can be made to punch each other: certainly a lot more training than Renee Zellweger ever went through. Yet for some reason we consider the ability of Ms Zellweger to impersonate Judy Garland far more praiseworthy than the ability of the faceless minions of Michael Bay to make a battalion of giant robots appear out of thin air.
It’s the same with scenery. Films hardly ever get credit for having nice scenery, yet nice scenery can make a film watchable much more effectively than wonderful acting, especially if the wonderful acting is in the service of a harrowing story about drug addiction or domestic violence or the British welfare system. The movie The Tourist was critically slammed for offering nothing more than picturesque locations. But honestly, is spending two hours watching Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie be attractive in the world’s most beautiful spots really a bad life choice? Yes, obviously an interesting script and a cast that could be bothered actually trying would be nice: but if offered the choice between a lifeless script and lazy-but-sexy cast gallivanting about the great cultural sites of Europe, or a razor-sharp screenplay and tour de force performances set against the backdrop of a Birmingham slum, frankly I’m going for Johnny and Angelina every time.
Beautiful people, beautiful places: they’re nice to look at, and despite what the likes of Margaret Pomeranz will tell you, “nice to look at” is what movies are all about. We often speak of film’s ability to ‘transport’ us, to take us to exciting new places. So why don’t we give more weight, critically speaking, to those films that try to ensure the places they take us to are worth visiting? Why can’t we admit that, just by setting a movie in Venice or Paris or the Amazon or the African savannah, the filmmakers have already scored a few points? After all, we laud great writing even when the sets wobble and the director is so inept he made his movie in the 1930s before CGI. We applaud wonderful acting even if the whole thing takes place in one room and the soundtrack is one guy improvising jazz on a banjo. So there’s no reason we can’t look at a movie with dull characters, wooden acting and a script clearly written by a drunken pre-schooler, and say, “Well worth watching because of the gorgeous beaches and also the castle.”
If we can give awards to Joker in spite of its dirty, depressing scenery; if we can give awards to Snowtown in spite of it taking place in Adelaide; then we can properly acknowledge those movies that, even if they get nothing else right, take the trouble to take place somewhere nice. An Oscar category for pretty locations? Maybe that’s the only way that the art of making moviegoers say, “I’d love to go there for a holiday” will finally get the respect it deserves.
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