About Spectacle

I’ve noticed that a lot of major films being released recently focus on the grand spectacle of some event or character. Certainly, there are films that do not do that, instead focusing on the characters and story. Even in those films, I’ve noticed the urge to include spectacle. The big clash or the mighty flash draws people in and I get that. It is like watching a trainwreck or someone performing on the street. It catches your attention and trying to look away is a lot harder than just observing some more. I get it, I do it too.

What is Spectacle?
Every last one of you has seen spectacle. In terms of the every day, it is that event that draws attention and gathers crowds. People watch the woman balancing cups on her head or dancers performing on the street corner. It is a departure from the ordinary. It pulls us to see what is going on. To be a part of the crowd. Most importantly it is more interesting than our lives at that moment. If it weren’t then it wouldn’t be a spectacle, but ordinary.

In films, what is ordinary is so far gone from what most people experience most of the time. Something ordinary in real life, may come off as mundane in a film. Whereas something spectacular in real life may just seem ordinary on the big screen. our expectations are different. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is that shift in expectations that results in some of the grandiose film we see. People want to see what they have never seen before and flock to the theatres in droves. And then we have the next blockbuster.

Is it too much?
In no way am I implying that a movie that focuses on spectacle is not a good movie. Look at The Avengers (Joss Whedon 2012). The concept of the movie is blending various characters, whose very natures are a spectacle, into one film. There was no way that the conflicts that arose would not be equally large. But the movie is not bad and I believe the reason is that the characters participating in these grandiose events feel like real people. It is the characters that allow a film with such great spectacle to be more than just a giant showing of boom and smash.

If Avengers is a good example of a spectacle film that is more than just it’s clash, Pacific Rim (Guillermo Del Toro 2013) is an example of the opposite. The premise is giant jaegers (robots) fighting kaiju (monsters). That in itself is spectacle. It was why people were so drawn to Godzilla so many years ago. It is a disaster movie, where the disaster is caused by the kaiju. The humans want to smash. But in order to feel something other than just an urge to kill and destory these giant kaiju, you want to care about the characters. While Pacific Rim delivered in terms of big battles, it failed to make you care about the vast majority of the characters.

The Role of Spectacle in Our Culture
Spectacle is not going to go away any time soon. Big movies, with lots of over the top action will continue to dominate the box office. However, I believe we are moving to a place where simply providing over the top action and a reaonable plot is not enough. There are plenty of films now that can deliver the basics of a big clash. I think the audience now wants to be further engaged between the big moments of spectacle. It is asking those filmmakers who create these great movies not to just rest on the draw of the spectacle, but to invest enough, if not more, time into why we care about the spectacle.

3 thoughts on “About Spectacle

  1. I haven’t seen Pacific Rim though my husband has and loved it. I’m a big fan of del Toro’s work and am surprised to read that this one didn’t make you care about the characters. Guess it’s time for me to hit the theater alone and watch Pacific Rim (this is what happens when there’s a toddler involved and no child care in sight – so we end up doing tag team babysitting which means one person sees a movie, while the other stays home) 🙂

    • Pacific Rim is a fun movie. I liked it, but there was no avoiding the lack of connection with the characters (except Idris Elba). The film is very much on his commercial end work. It’s no Pan’s Labyrinth.

  2. Pingback: About Blockbusters | So, I pondered...

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