Over the past several months we’ve been treated to several movies whose premiere was not what the movie makers wanted it to be. That is to say, the movie didn’t bring in as much money as expected and the reviews were poor and the potential audiences stayed away in droves. Some movies were, basically, a total bust. Movies such as The Lone Ranger and more recently, Wolverine, have been listed as flops. Why this should be so after the movie houses put hundreds of millions of dollars into making the movie, I don’t know. I can speculate, though, and I wonder if it’s due to the concept of special effects. So many movies, especially science fiction movies, are loaded with computer-generated special effects, and personally I feel that many times they detract from the story. My favorite example is the two Star Wars trilogies. I say two trilogies because the movies were made in two sets of three each. The first set, now numbered 4, 5, and 6, had relatively few special effects. Back in the 70’s and 80’s when these movies were made, computers couldn’t do special effects as well as they can now, and movie makers had to rely on actors and set designers and make-up artists to create otherworldly situations. If they wanted a monster, they had to design it from the ground up and make it and get an actor to play it. Chewbacca and R2-D2 and some of the members of the Cantina scene come to mind.
Now, though, if the producers want a monster, they get someone to design it on a computer. Likewise explosions and spaceships and flying superheroes and all sorts of other splashy screen doodads that were beyond the ability of movie makers of the recent past. Yet, I liked the first trilogy of Star Wars movies better than the second. The first three were cleaner, in the sense that there wasn’t as much going on in the background to distract from the advancement of the plot. Special effects can be spectacular and are what movies do best. But movies grew up and left Thomas Edison’s first studio and became popular because they told a good story. A story exists to relay a human truth to the viewer (or reader if the story is written), and movies should never lose sight of that fact. Dropping in special effects because they dazzle the viewers isn’t going to do anything for the story. The story has to be there; special effects won’t carry it alone.
I don’t know what made The Lone Ranger and Wolverine flop at the box office because I haven’t seen them yet. I’ll wait until they come out on DVD or on a movie channel. But I do know that special effects aren’t going to be the save-all for bad movies, and overloading a movie with special effects won’t take the attention away from a bad script. Story is the important thing. Story–story–story. It’s the plot that carries the movie and the message. Everything else is secondary.