Feb 25 2014
I’ve always been a movie fan. Even after television had its post-Lost quality explosion, nothing quite worked for me like a two-hour trip to the theatre. The screen is bigger; the sound is louder; that “movie magic” we always hear about is a very real thing.
Still… television may have taken the lead for now. As a declared “movie guy,” it’s maybe taken me longer than it took a lot of you, but bear with me.
It happened while devouring the third season of Game of Thrones — spoilers, by the way — in order to catch up before the fourth starts. I’m massively anticipating being able to function online again (surely my medal for not finding out details of the Red Wedding is in the mail). More than that, though I’m simply anticipating the show itself in a way that I’ve anticipated precious few movies lately.
Actually, I can identify the moment that movies’ superiority officially lost its exclusivity for me: The conclusion of the episode “Walk of Punishment,” when Jaime gets his hand cut right the f*** off. No warning, no recovery. Chop, scream, credits.
That feeling I had while the credits rolled? Can’t remember the last time I felt that in a movie. Oh, I’ve felt incredible amounts of suspense, horror, thrills, hilarity… the full spectrum. But what I haven’t gotten from movies in a long, long time is that depth of investment. That understanding of character. The episode in question was brilliantly written to lead up to that ending, of course, but in a lot of ways the dismemberment was the culmination of every single moment in Jaime’s storyline up to that point.
Jaime Lannister’s storyline stuck out because it’s a perfect example of television’s best quality. By that I mean the medium’s ability to explore characters, twist them, challenge them, and basically play me like a fool once it gets its hooks in. Here’s a guy (Jaime, not me) who is kinda a minor character on this show. An important one, but not a terribly active one. Mainly he’s a gross jerk in the first season, and then tied to a pole for much of the second. In virtually every one of his appearances over twenty episodes of television, his characterization is mostly just clever riffs on being a huge dick.
But then, in “Walk of Punishment,” he finally shows a shred of human decency. Not much, no, but after two seasons of general dickishness even that little bit is effective. So, that changes much of what we knew about the guy.
And then he loses his sword hand, and that’s pretty much the only other thing we knew him for. That’s the kind of “holy crap” event that completely changes someone. Jaime was only known for being a dick who’s great with a sword, and Game of Thrones wrecked his status quo in the span of about two minutes. And now they have to do something else with him.
This guy got off easy.
Television used to be the safe medium. It was the sitcom that maintained status quo above all else, it was the police procedural that flirted with progress but never committed. Movies were the bold statements; the high drama. Now we’re smack in the middle of watching a generation of TV writers who understand that complacency is the death of drama. And the death of drama is a soporific for your audience.
On that note, movies are starting to make me sleepy.
It helps television that syndication is no longer the end goal of a series. Showrunners are coming in with plans; they have the ability to unspool deep, complex storylines. The medium simply allows a ton of room for growth and experimentation, and I finally feel like the pendulum is fully swung in that direction
In other words, television is character-driven. It’s drama-driven. And people are coming to it in effing droves. Game of Thrones, and HBO in general, may be amongst the cream of the crop in a lot of ways, but the trend has firmly spilled over into the mainstream. Audiences can’t get enough.
Sadly, movies are now the ones that seem terrified to take truly dramatic steps. Whether because that would hurt any sort of “franchise potential,” or simply because people aren’t paying attention, I don’t know. What I do know is that the lifelike worldbuilding of Star Wars and the epic sweep of an intimate character study like Lawrence of Arabia are more likely to appear on a small screen than a big one these days.
Television certainly has its share of problems, some very similar to the ones facing movieland. Shows like Grimm and Sherlock thrive more on the gimmick of their concept than the strength of their storytelling. Ambitious, brilliant shows are cancelled early every year. Garbage clogs the airwaves until dusk most days.
But with a to-be-legendary show like Game of Thrones on HBO, and a brilliant gem like Hannibal on an honest-to-goodness major network, I think I’ll be okay.
And sure, there are truly great movies that come out every year. Even the past two years, previously labelled disappointments, yielded can’t-miss brilliance in theatres. A medium that brings us both Iron Man 3 AND 12 Years a Slave in the same year can’t justifiably be called a failure. But that hasn’t kept the past few years from feeling a bit hollow.
I could keep unpacking causes and factors and reasons for the current state of things. But that’s not the point. The point is this: Overall, am I excited about the direction movies are headed? Not really.
Television? Hell yeah.
For a movie guy, that’s a bold statement that’s been a long time coming.
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