I watch a lot of movies. Always have. My very first flick to see in a theater was at a small cozy movie house in Sheboygan Wisconsin and it was entitled ‘The Green Slime’, which I can still recall vividly. I have fond memories of our mom taking us three boys to afternoon matinees to see ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, or one of the James Bond movies (the good ones with Sean Connery). Back in my college days I was known to see 3 to 4 movies in a single day when all the major blockbusters were released in the summer. I’m the person who would see a new movie on its opening weekend, arriving 30 minutes before show time so I could get my milk duds and take the seat dead center in front of the screen mid way up the aisle. Although the advent of DVD’s, Plasma Televisions, and 7.1 surround sound systems have substantially diminished my visits to the theater, my Netflix account has actually increased the number of movies I watch per week. I still prefer to see a film in its natural environment, the cinema, but our local theater sucks ass and the number of films I am willing to drive an hour to “the city” to see in a decent setting is limited. I point all of this out so you can appreciate my love for film and illustrate what I feel is an above average knowledge of the industry.
Just because I watch a lot of movies doesn’t mean that I’m a critic or anything, but a big reason why I’m writing this today has to do with movie critics. Somewhere along the line film critics stopped simply providing a plot summary and evaluation of a film, and actually started influencing the content in the movies themselves. Of course, they don’t do it directly, it’s more subtle that that. What I’m talking about and what gets my hair up . . . how movies end nowadays.
The ending of a story shouldn’t be taken lightly. The feeling you take away from a piece of work is what sticks with us, and colors your opinion of the whole. It’s the same in literature as well. A book can be an awesome read, but if it falls down in the last chapter I consider the entire novel a disappointment. When you go to a concert, don’t you remember the encores the most? College professors have learned to structure their lectures so that the most important material is either at the beginning or the very end. A great ending can lift mediocre material and leave the audience satisfied and content. Endings matter so much that movie studios commonly hold preview showings of their films and conclusions have been altered because of the test audience’s reaction to it.
I believe that more and more films are criticized because the writer or director chose to tack on a Hollywood ending. I’ve also read where critics have complimented films because the filmmakers resisted that same temptation. I don’t read movie critic reviews very often; in fact when I do read them it is not to determine whether or not I should see a film. Rather I read them after I have already seen a movie to see if I agree with what the popular opinions were. I find that in general I’m not near as harsh as the people who purportedly do it for a living, maybe that’s because they approach the movie going experience as more of a job than the entertainment it’s supposed to be. They’ve forgotten what the movie going experience is supposed to be like and are trying to re-shape the industry via their criticisms.
Let me give you an example. The movie ‘Without a trace’, released in 1983 starring Kate Nelligan was a movie about the abduction of a couple’s 6 year old son. The movie was generally panned by critics because of the obvious Hollywood ending that failed to accurately portray how most abduction cases actually turn out. THAT’S MY POINT. If I wanted to subject myself to the pain and heartache normally involved in that scenario, I would read the evening newspaper or watch Katie Couric. I could also go to see a documentary. But no, I WANT TO SEE THE HAPPY ENDING! That movie is on my top ten lists of tear jerker movies because of that ending. I have watched that movie over and over again. Rented it multiple times. Would the same be true if the movie ended more realistically? Definitely not. Sure, it would have still been a powerful film and I probably would have watched it, ONCE.
Movie studios are out to make money! I get that. They make that money via ticket sales and DVD rentals and purchases. The movies that end up making lots of money are the ones that people want to see multiple times. Movies with depressing, confusing, anti-climatic endings aren’t the type most people want to watch over and over again. So in the cases where filmmakers cave in to the critics, or just try and to be different and forgo a Hollywood ending, they end up shooting themselves in the foot. They too have forgotten why we go to see their films in the first place.
I like happy endings! I like it when the good guys win! But I’m not greedy, the hero doesn’t have to survive all of the time, although the forces of good should prevail. I fully understand that there is a demand for the negative endings. Heck, half of Stephen Kings books end badly, but the man’s a gazillionaire. So sure, a slice of the entertainment pie can be designated to the anti-hollywood ending movies, but just because it exists doesn’t mean the other is any less relevant.
Stop criticizing films for simply providing us with what we really want see. What we need to see.