My Year in Movies

A few years ago, after seeing a wave of bad movies in the theater, I decided that I was probably seeing too many movies. This coincided with my student teaching, so I didn’t really have the time to go to them anyway, but I still decided to increase the overall quality of the movies I was seeing by reducing the quantity.

It’s a decision I’ve never regretted. Since then there have been many movies come and gone that, before, I would have seen simply out of some geek obligation. I haven’t seen them, have no plans to see them, and don’t miss them. My rationale is that if it turns out later on that a movie I didn’t see was really good, I can always rent it. But others can’t un-see Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

There are very few movies I’ll go see without at least checking on Rotten Tomatoes to see how they are doing. Rather than the bizarre notion that reviewers have no idea what’s good, if 70 people who watch a lot of movies think something is bad, I’m inclined to think they may be right. Often I’ve seen people on message boards complain about bad movies they’ve seen, and nearly every movie mentioned was one that critics were saying loudly was awful and should be avoided. These people knew better, though, and spent $10 and 2 hours of their life.

So it was with interest that I came across this list of all the releases of 2003. (It comes from The Stinkers, a site about bad movies, hence its angle on the list.) I finally had a way of seeing just how many movies I’ve seen over the course of a year. The answer is, in 2003, I saw 7 new movies in the theater and an additional 4 on DVD.

The theater releases I saw were: Finding Nemo, Kill Bill: Vol 1, Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Matchstick Men, Matrix Reloaded, Pirates of the Caribbean.

On video I saw A Mighty Wind, 28 Days Later, Shanghai Knights, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (more on this one in a moment).

Eleven new releases total. Counting only things I saw in the theater, the worst of them was, by far, The Matrix Reloaded. The best one is tough, but I think ultimately I have to go with Lost in Translation. I loved Return of the King, but the other movie stands on its own and worked for me on a deeper level. If you include the video releases, the best still stays the same, and possibly the worst does too — any movie with a plot, at least one interesting character, and an ending is always going to beat out Matrix Reloaded — but The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen certainly gave it a shot.

Why, you may ask, did I watch this, having said what I said above? I admit; I caved. I didn’t see The Hulk or either X-Men movie because I really don’t care about those characters, but I love the LOEG comics and I just had to see what had been done with them. We watched it last night, so I had absolutely no illusions that this was a good movie.

Good grief, where to begin? You may consider these paragraphs to be “spoilers” for the movie, but how do you spoil something that’s already awful? Let’s start with what sets LOEG (I’m not going to call it “LXG” because I know how to spell) apart from other superhero ventures: these are characters from literature, in the Victorian era. This is what defined the comics. Anyone can make a superhero team with an invisible guy, a strong guy, and so forth. Doing so the way Alan Moore did it was not the same old thing, and people responded. Stephen Norrington, the director of the movie himself, in one of the few DVD extras we bothered to watch, explains that he was uninterested in Moore’s other stuff because it all sounded too typical superhero, but this excited him because it was so different. Naturally, this director then went about removing these differences completely. If you made a movie where some characters from literature came to life in the present day, you’d have the same movie. Absolutely nothing sets this movie in the Victorian era. The technology is all more or less modern day. Captain Nemo’s Nautilus is simply a huge (far too huge) modern submarine. His car (a man who spends his life underwater invented a car why?) is simply a modern day car (pretty much. It even appears to be an automatic.), there’s machine guns, tanks, and yes, black leather. The Victorian Era doesn’t really make an appearance here, since there’s seldom anyone on the screen except the main characters. It’s just more of the same old thing.

Most of the characters were slightly changed or brand new, and honestly, most of these changes didn’t bother me. Tom Sawyer wasn’t a bad addition, and Dorian Gray was pretty interesting. Changing the Invisible Man from Hawley Griffin to someone else is puzzling, and I’ve no idea why this was done. Having Allan Quatermain be a bit younger and more ready for action made sense, given another choice that was made.

Which brings us to Mina Harker, the heroine from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Oh dear. In the comics, Mina Murray is the disgraced, divorced leader of the bunch, being intelligent and having faced monsters before. What’s her “superpower”? She’s a smart and capable woman, and in a Victorian era, that makes her enough of a freak to qualify for this bunch. Alan Moore understood this. Apparently Stephen Norrington didn’t get this, and decided that Mina was actually going to be a vampire. Now, one might think that taking a normal person and making her a vampire would make her more interesting, but one would be extremely wrong. Peta Wilson plays Mina as a completely one-dimensional character. She’s a sultry vampire, and a boring one at that (I suppose Norrington felt that her being a vampire would be enough to make her fascinating, forgetting that most of the time she wouldn’t be a vampire.) Again, an element that made the comic stand out was removed for the same old thing.

These are the only reasons League threatens to topple Matrix Reloaded. I never cared about Neo and Trinity, so there really wasn’t much lost to me by the second movie, other than time and money (I chose not to repeat the loss by seeing the third movie). League, however, took something I did really like, and completely manhandled it. Reloaded can be seen as failing because it tried to do too much, assumed it was more important than it was. League fails for trying to do too little, and assuming the audience would be too dumb to accept the premise as originally written. I suppose I can forgive the former for not being able to live up to the standard it set, but I can’t forgive not even trying.

Speaking of movies, believe everything you hear about Return of the King. It’s a worthy finale to Peter Jackson’s series. This chapter of the story is one that I was least familiar with (I’m not a huge Tolkien fan) and so it was the one I went into knowing the least about beforehand, and it totally rocked. The extended cuts of each of these films are ones I will be proud to have in my DVD collection, and represent possibly the greatest trilogy of movies — certainly in geekdom, and possibly of all movies.

Looking towards 2004, before ROTK we saw trailers for Harry Potter 3, The Butterfly Effect, an unneeded sequel to Pitch Black, a remake of Walking Tall with The Rock, a supremely unneeded sequel to The Mask (featuring a CGI dancing baby. Shudder. If I hadn’t been there to see ROTK, I would have stabbed my eyes out right there. Hollywood, please stop with the CGI talking babies.), something with Viggo Mortensen and a horse that I’ve come to call “Viggo Horse Thing”, and something I had never heard of before: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Sky Captain is a sort of pulp action steampunk 1930’s style retro-futuristic movie, and I’m totally there. I’ll say that now. Even if critics say that the movie does everything short of leap of the screen and beat you with a sack of pineapples, I will be there just to look at it. Zeppelins, air aces, clunky robots, it’s everything I love, and I’ll happily go see it, with headphones on if I have to.

We didn’t get trailers for I, Robot or Spider-Man 2, both of which others got. I’ve seen the SM2 trailer online, and it looks really good. I liked the first movie. I’ve also seen the Hellboy trailer online and it seems like they got the look of the book down and Hellboy’s attitude, though his voice throws me a little. That’s another one that, like LOEG, I may just have to eventually see no matter what.

I’ll probably end up seeing two or three more 2003 releases on DVD, but for now this is what I’ve sampled of Hollywood’s offerings for the year. Despite my movie feelings in general, there are some 2004 releases I’m already looking forward to.

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