I have seen a number of blockbusters this Autumn. Some were decent, some were terrible. But each was indicative of the state of American cinema today in its own way. Together these films provide a survey of the strategies and tactics employed by producers, directors, and studio executives in the effort to fill seats and entertain.
Of all of the films I have seen this Autumn, Hacksaw Ridge(2016) is by far the most indicative of America’s mass consciousness and how Hollywood chooses to address that mass conciousness. Hacksaw Ridge is a return to form for director Mel Gibson. Again he addresses the horrors of war, the morality of Christian duty and the circumstances that prompt Christian men to question their beliefs. As always, Gibson does all of this at a fast pace, fast enough so that we the audience don’t have time to question nor ponder the significance of Gibson’s images. Gibson’s film succeeds only in so far as it conveys his own Christian beliefs as well as serving up a violent spectacle so tantalizing to fans of Saving Private Ryan (1998) and video games that nothing else really does matter anymore.
That’s the issue at hand in American cinema today. If a film conveys one articulate moral platitude and provides enough spectacle then nothing else really does matter. This has been true of American mainstream cinema for sometime, though it has never seemed so blatant to me before. The pretense of artfulness seems to have died in the wake of J.J. Abrams and Michael Bay. Arguably the last really compelling mainstream commercial release with wide distribution in this country was Lee Daniels’ The Paper Boy (2012). Since then, aside from some films released on the “art-house circuit” (if one really can call it that), the best work available to American audiences is happening on television or online streaming platforms. The cause of this jockeying in power and quality is inevitably born out of a competition between film, television and online streaming as well as a competition between the major entertainment conglomerates for successful branding or franchises (Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Marvel vs. DC, Harry Potter vs. Pixar, etc.). Given this atmosphere it isn’t any wonder why American media as a whole has stooped to pandering, placating and generally condescending to their audiences.
This piece was first published in the fall of 2016.