Right up front, let me admit, I’ve never been a fan of the Fast and the Furious franchise. Despite being an action buff, up until a few weeks ago, I never really cared for the films. I was right there along side the nitpickers laughing at the runway that ran half the length of Spain. I chuckled out loud at least five times per movie uttering, “Yup! He’s dead. So very, very dead.” But then, when watching a few of the films as they aired on TBS and TNT in preparation for the release of the latest installment, something happened.
A very good friend of mine, Tom Weinbrecht, and I saw the very first chapter of the film series many years ago in the theater. I thought it was kinda fun, but just another action film without anything spectacular. I wasn’t into fast cars, so I didn’t find a connection to it. The second one came and went. Then the third one, taking place in Japan, came out and I remember thinking, “Well, that series is dead.” And it almost was. The fourth one arrived and I had no interest in that one. Then something happened, it caught on. It found its pacing, its momentum. And it became a phenomenon.
Not only did the cast and crew become a family, like the theme of the film pushed forward, but it created a family with its fans that is still going strong today. With the death of the lead, Paul Walker, fans of the series mourned the loss of one of their dear friends. I still didn’t get it, but I respected it.
I watched the 7th film when it came out on video. Then on cable in the recent weeks, I’ve watched 2, 3, 5 and 6. Not necessarily in that order. The first one is DVR’d. I can’t say I’ve become a ‘fan,’ but I have learned to enjoy and appreciate them for what they are. Escape.
As I started to appreciate the films, I started to do some soul searching. I also started to look deeper into my own films. I recalled back to the nitpicking criticism several people had of my previous releases and I felt a bit of a kinship. Not just with the Furious series, but with all films in general. TI thought about the respect people once had for film and I began looking around to see where it went. And I came to the conclusion that the internet has killed the art of film.
That’s a pretty broad statement, I know. But hear me out. The democratization of film has not only been great for the independent filmmaker, but it’s also been a disaster. But that’s the truth about anything. Anything that helps you will oftentimes hurt you, as well. But as Joey Medina said in an interview I shot with him, “Whatever hurts you and helps you, really isn’t helping you.”
Anyone can pick up a camera and make a movie now. Everyone is a filmmaker. Never mind the artists that spent decades making low to no budget films, making countless mistakes, or the years of learning and suffering because of our egos, our bad choices and our passion. Anyone with a DSLR and $50 a month for the Adobe Creative Cloud is now a filmmaker. And with YouTube and digital distribution, anyone and everyone could now reach the entire world.
But that also becomes the problem. The audience also has that reach. People with no training, no education and no class or tact can now jump online and slam a movie, make fun of a movie, or criticize a movie. And we still haven’t grasped the idea that just because something is on the internet, doesn’t mean that it’s full of quality, relevant, or even justified. The Internet also provides anonymity, which allows people to shoot off their mouth without any care of what damage their words may or may not cause. Competing filmmakers can slam their competitor’s films and influence potential fans from watching those films. This may sound crazy, but I personally know of a half a dozen local filmmakers and producers who are guilty of attempting to sabotage their fellow filmmakers in this way.
But Because a review is in writing on the Holy Wall of the Internet, it’s suddenly respected and viewed as truth, rather than opinion. The Internet supplies anonimity, but unfortunately also provides credibility where none belongs. Now, Johnny Whack-Off living in his mother’s basement has the same audience as a fifty-year veteran of film and video criticism. While some might say this is good, I disagree as it completely invalidates the years of training, education, hard earned degrees and study that actual film and cultural studies majors who actually spent time and effort devoted to the appreciation and understanding of film.
Does this mean every critic is right? No! Even Roger Ebert loved the Star War prequels. But he could appropriately articulate what he enjoyed about it and provide an argument that one has to respect. He didn’t just say, “This sucks balls!” Does it mean that Johnny Whack-Off doesn’t have a valid opinion? Of course not. What it means is that the average internet critic doesn’t always have a full appreciation of what a film is, what a film is meant to do, and what a film is really saying or how it is impacting the culture.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible independent film critics out there. I discovered a good friend through his review site. But what sites like MovieMac Reviews do, that others do not, is actually go into a film looking at it for what it is, not what they want it to be. MovieMac reviews genre films and he goes into them knowing what they are, genre films. And he reviews them as such. You won’t find him critiquing Out of Africa or The Godfather, not because he can’t appreciate them, but because they aren’t “his kind of movies.” He’s a fan of these genre films and he critiques them as such. He takes into account budget and previous works, and other films in the same genre and judges them accordingly and does so in a sharp, sometimes harsh, but honest way.
This contradicts with other critics that I’ll call NitPickers. I have found myself guilty of nitpicking myself, as with the aforementioned Europe-sized runway in the Fast and the Furious franchise. I’ve even been a long time fan of sites like CinemaSins. But in recent months, I’ve tired of their videos, feeling they go too far, and are now just attempting to make fun of and destroy movies rather than pointing out the cliches and overused tricks that filmmakers use. More and more I am finding myself saying out loud, “Oh, come on, really?” when the narrator utters some movie mistake or continuity error. The series has become spiteful and unoriginal.
I am a firm believer that had Star Wars been released in today’s age, with the democracy of the internet, it would never have become the success it is today. It would never have survived all the naysayers and the trolls and the nitpickers. It is in our nature to tear down what everyone loves and show how incredibly brilliant and smart we are as compared to everyone else. Again, I claim no innocence in this area. I, too, have tried to impart my wisdom on those lesser brained than me. Just view a typical Froggy Rant to hear the arrogance ooze from every line. But politics are a bit different from entertainment. When it comes to movies, we have to be the one who finds the mistake that throws the movie under the bus and shows how, we the lonely audience member, can make a better movie that Lucas or Spielberg, just because we realize that all the Nazis had to do in Raider of the Lost Ark truck chase was to stop the truck instead of keep driving and they could have surrounded Indiana Jones and it would be all over. But that doesn’t make for a fun, exciting movie does it?
These nitpickers and naysayers cause a movie to lose quality and appreciative fans. Parodies and spoofs are spread through the internet just like the viruses they are named after. When I was growing up and watched SNL parodies of Star Wars, or Johnny Carson spoof one of my favorite shows, it was always out of respect and the mockery was done out of flattery. But now, independent YouTubers make fun of movies out of spite. They do so to rank up views and actually make fun of and slam these films. There is no joy in them, only harsh bullying brought on by jealousy.
The Fast and the Furious franchise, like comic book films, do exactly what they are designed to do. Provide an escape. Allow us to see what we would never see in real life, BECAUSE THEY ARE IMPOSSIBLE. If we wanted to see the outcome of two guys leaping from a sports car as it falls into a one mile deep canyon as they fall and crash into the water we can always just watch the local news. Of course they would have smashed into the river and break every bone in their body as if they had jumped into concrete rather than a soft comfy river of marshmallow cream. But that’s not why we go see movies. The most memorable scene of one of my favorite films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, shows Redford and Newman jumping from a canyon into a river down below. Newman’s own words, “Hell, the fall will probably kill us,” confesses the impossibility without reminding us that we are just watching a movie.
When Vin Diesel grabs Rodriguez out of the air at 70 miles an hour and crashes into the windshield of a muscle car, we don’t want to see his spine severed, or her neck broken. We want to see how incredible these people are by defying the laws of physics. When we step into a theater, we leave reality at the door. We call it “Suspension of Disbelief.” We go to these films to watch incredible and amazing things happen. So why, after the filmmakers give us exactly what we want, do we then make fun of them for not being real? After all, if we’re gonna start debating what’s real in movies, then we’re going to start dismantling even the non-fiction or “based on a true story” movies.
Fast and the Furious is filmmaking at its best. Trained stuntmen, coordinators and pyrotechnics experts, expertly trained drivers, all get together and apply their trade, giving us things we never see in our real everyday life. There’s a reason we don’t jump for joy when grandpa pulls out the old 8mm projector or DVD slideshows of all the old family vacations. They’re boring and that’s what real life is. These over the top action films give us something that we don’t get in our real life, and that’s why we pay money for it.
And if you’re just not a fan of these types of films, that’s fine. My father isn’t one. He hates those movies, and comic book movies, and sci-fi movies and anything unrealistic. He once said about Iron Man, “That’s a bad movie. I don’t want to see some guy flying around in a suit. It’s just stupid.” It was one of the times I had to stand up to him and say, “No. It’s not a bad movie. It’s a great comic book movie. Just because it exists in a genre you don’t appreciate, doesn’t make it a bad movie.” I hate horror films. I hardly ever jump (Shining and Prince of Darkness aside). But I can appreciate a good one, understand that it is a genre piece and that within it’s genre, it is a great film. In a ways, horror films show the hypocrisy of nitpickers. They’ll accept a doll possessed by evil spirits or that a dead man can kill teenagers in their nightmares, but a 12-mile runway is going just way too far.
So next time you hear some internet blogger rip apart a film, or make some spoof that disrespects a film rather than pays homage to it, or the next time someone starts nitpicking a movie, remind them that it is just that. A movie. A movie will always have plot holes, mistakes, continuity errors or some other little detail that was overlooked, because it is NOT real. It IS a movie. It is not a camera recording the natural progression of events as a group of real people move linearly through time. It is a storyteller trying to entertain you and a group of hard working people shooting one scene at a time, out of order, before editing and piecing said story together. If you don’t want to be entertained, then why are you going to the movies?
So the next time you enter the theater, enjoy the movie while you can. Don’t call it unrealistic. It’s a movie. Of course it isn’t realistic. Why? Because it is NOT real! And the sooner we remember that, the sooner we can begin enjoying them again. It isn’t a race to see who can find the most mistakes or errors in a movie. It should be about just enjoying the movie and getting lost in it. Throwing out those nitpicking details ruins the film and the magic for others. So enjoy the film in the theater, because you can be certain that as soon as you step out of the theater, some idiot will be asking why the helmet was a different color from the comic book.