Well, they’ve gone and done it again. The trailer for The Amazing Spider-man 2 promises even more of what made the first so special: weightless action scenes, too much plot and completely superfluous character work. Pretty par for the course these days, to tell the truth.
This isn’t friggin’ rocket science, guys. Storytelling is challenging stuff, but it’s not THAT hard. We’ve had the ingredients to inexpensive, effective storytelling down since at least the 1950s.*
Want an example? If you haven’t, check out this movie I just discovered: The underground classic Steve McQueen drive-in flick, The Blob.
The Blob has one of those perfect “movie” setups. In a small town, kids try to figure out what caused the death of an old man out in the woods. As you might suspect, there’s more going on than any of them initially suspect. You probably could have guessed that from the title, actually. The short explanation is that there’s a Blob.
Unfortunately, the adults don’t want to hear about it. The movie primarily chronicles the difficulties faced by the pack of kids as they try to find someone, anybody who will listen to them. It also follows the exploits of the titular Blob as it blobs around, blobbing people left and right. The action comes to a peak when the Blob attempts to blob an entire movie theatre, ultimately leading to a final showdown between Steve McQueen and the giant gelatinous red mass.
And you know what the stakes of the final showdown with the Blob are? Five people in a small diner. That’s it. If this movie came out today, that thing would be threatening the entire Eastern Seaboard by the end of Act II.
But that’s good old-fashioned moviemaking for you: never doing more than necessary to tell the story. The Blob is eighty-two minutes long. EIGHTY-TWO. It’s a modern cliche to moan about CGI and the proliferation of digital technology, but I find it hard to deny that access to these kinds of anything-you-want tools has led to an awful lot of bloated filmmaking. For every Rian Johnson, there’s a Peter Jackson.
Efficiency allows for more than just budget management and a reasonable scope. It makes it easier to control ALL aspects of production: acting, cinematography, pacing, tone… actually, let’s talk about the tone work in this piece. Short version: It’s awesome.
The Blob ostensibly starts as a sci-fi horror movie, but it doesn’t stop there. Its primary subplot is a chaste jukebox romance between McQueen’s character Steve and his sweetheart Jane. The main conflict feels straight out of a James Dean-esque “nobody listens to the teens” riff. To top it all off, despite the emphasis on the Blob’s penchant for disfigurement and murder, the film regularly drops into fairly hilarious laugh lines. I don’t want to spoil them for you; just trust me on this.
Oh, also, the whole affair opens with this remarkable bit of songwriting (you have to watch the whole thing):
You know what’s amazing to me? Even after that absurd number setting the mood for the film’s opening, the story manages to play things pretty straight. No, the movie isn’t exactly scary, but neither is it a farce. It takes its characters and their problems seriously. This kind of tonal highwire act is remarkable.
Nowadays, if you make a horror/sci-fi/action flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s common to refuse seriousness altogether. Movies constantly wink to the audience; the filmmakers know you come prepared. We all know this is a movie, they seem to say, so just sit back and be amused at how ridiculous we got while making it.
There’s a time and a place for that, but there’s also a time and a place for movies that simply own up to their content. One of the appeals of this particular movie is the complete lack of apology for its cheesiness, low budget, or any other aspect of the production. Sure, it’s goofy, but it’s sincerely goofy. It’s called The Blob. The filmmakers, clearly assuming you came to see something Blob-related, aren’t terribly worried that you’ll make fun of them for telling a story about a malicious… Blob.
I really am not going to use that word again for two weeks after I’m done here.
The reason I bring this up is simple: I’ve seen a lot of movies lately that don’t do any of this stuff. They don’t know when enough is enough, they don’t trust their audience to be on their side, and they don’t bother grounding their high concepts in relatable, salt-of-the-earth humanity. Yes, I’m talking about Man of Steel, but there are a ton of other movies that belong in the same police lineup as that one. Not Dredd, though, that one rules.
And frankly, a movie like this, that simply knows what it’s trying to do and does it, feels like a breath of fresh freakin’ air. The Blob is simply fun.
Also I didn’t know that I was going to like it as much as I did, and I’m kinda hoping some of you guys will go watch it. Maybe one or two will even discover a new late-night favorite like I did.
I will never, ever tire of this.
*Don’t get up in arms; I know it came earlier than that. I’m just trying to stay on topic.