Are modern action movies too streamlined and family friendly? - PG-13 and CGI rant

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Every movie director, producer, and cast member wants to have butter on his/her bread. Sales matter. That's for sure. That being said, I'm a bit concerned about direction that action movies have taken on the past decade in the New Millennium.  I don't know about the rest, but I feel unenthusiastic about majority of the new releases. Why? Well, for starters I feel that directors nowadays streamline movies down too much. "What do you mean, like no plot, in action movie? Well you don't need that in action movie!". I'm not talking only about a plot, I'm also talking about streamlining in terms of making movie fit for audience of all ages (or, at least, wider selection of ages than before). I'm also talking about the fact that real stunts are pushed away, making way for cheap looking CGI effects and action sequences, which all tend to look the same nowadays. Not to mention the overly popular PG-13 rated super-hero movies - how about something totally different once in a while? Most of the new action movies leave me without taste, without impression of any kind. They are tasteless. Like eating a chicken salad without chicken.

Have you noticed the trend where new sequels to some old movie series, which started as "R-rated" (for no younger than 17 year old) movies, are now coming out as "PG-13"? For example "A Good Day To Die Hard" (2013) was rated PG-13, while original "Die Hard" (1988) was R-rated. Upcoming "Robocop" (2014) aims for PG-13, while the original "Robocop" (1987) was rated R. Original "The Terminator" (1984) and "Total Recall" (1990) were both rated R, while "Terminator: Salvation" (2009) and "Total Recall" (2012) were both PG-13. Just a few examples, but you can see the trend. It's certainly not a coincidence that high hitting action movies are coming out with lesser PG-13 rating more often than ever before.  I'm surprised to see that "Lethal Weapon 4" was actually tagged with R-rating, for it was much soften than the first one. "So? Less violence, so what, the spirit's still the same!" - no it's not, I disagree. It's not only amount of the blood in the movie, but also the topics that are involved in the movie. The aesthetics, upon which the movie is created. In other words, PG-13 rated movies will have less adult topics and violence, thus changing the tone completely.

(upcoming Robocop (2014) looks like a "Dare Devil 2".)

I'd call most of the modern action movie directors out on proposing mass audience, instead of driving on honest artistic vision of theirs. Yes - John Moore, José Padilha, Bryan Singer... even my old favorite Sam Raimi, recently. Avoiding adult topics and violence is some sort of a trend of "family-friendlying-down" movies for a level, where whole or almost whole family can watch it. But, dark real-life topics and high paced violent action was driving force in action movies previously, perhaps reaching it's pinnacle in the eighties. Avoiding those elements in hopes for wider audience and PG-13 rating will leave part of the action movie fans with bitter taste in their mouths. I'm sure that at some point we are getting tired of the excess supply of family-friendly PG-13 action films.

Another complaint of mine is the action itself. Or rather, the looks of it. Have you noticed that movies today lack really good/scary looking blood effects and gore? Few decades ago directors got creative, because amount of CGI-effects (computer generated imagery) was rather limited. Hand-made effects (hand crafted physically by man, instead of computer art) sometimes looked cheap (on their own way), but often also scary and brutal. Nowadays, action movies have forgotten pretty much the effects than can be physically made by man, and are replaced by CGI-effects.

(Terminator 1 (1984) eye scene. I'd take this over modern CGI generated scenes any day. I kid you not.)

The use of CGI has reached ridiculous level, where almost anything from blood to explosions, from a simple car to a full scene, is generated by computer programs and technology. CGI generated stunt doesn't look, and will never look as good as, for example, real stuntman driving a bike or flying a helicopter, not to mention more honest looking hand-made blood effects and explosions. Now bare in mind, that CGI  has it's upsides, and allows totally new dimensions of creative freedom for movie directors, just if they used it the right way.  I do accept some environments (such as backgrounds) to be envisioned and created by CGI, if they wouldn't otherwise be possible to be made. Modern movies just feed us too excessively with CGI effects and CGI-generated stunts, to the point it's ridiculous and looks clumsy. Just take a look at the zombie-like creatures (dark seekers) in "I Am Legend" (2007), for example.

(Some disastrously bad looking zombies in I Am Legend (2007). Not scary at all.)

Couldn't they just hire a few actors instead of computer-generating them? I don't want to feel like I'm staring a highly modern computer game, but a real movie with real actors (and real stuntmen). It's sort of funny to think, that modern movies are starting to look more like modern video games each day, and likewise, modern video games are starting to remind interactive movies. A pinnacle, where "hand-made" effects live in total harmony with CGI, in my opinion, is Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It looks fabulous, even today! I hope that we don't reach the day, when real stuntmen are not needed anymore, because by then, the action scenes will look like watching a video game cut-scene.

One more point of streamlining, in my opinion, is that modern action movie producers have mostly abandoned deliberate pacing and tension-building in the movie, as well as idea of tight plot. Sure, action movies generally never put too much emphasis on the plot (although there may be exceptions). Movies like Commando, Rambo, Hard Target and such, were always quite straight-forward action films. However, I feel that nowadays we are fed super-fast and extravagant action sequence with CGI stunts, one after another, without real taste, without building any tension in-between the sequences. I feel that modern action movie directors are downplaying us as viewers, like we couldn't handle any slower sequences in between the action at all nowadays. Like we, the first "energy-drink generation", weren't smart enough to handle little bit of a plot, or that we weren't patient enough to wait a few minutes for a tension to build up before the actual action.

Not only that, but I feel that many modern action movies, starting from older movie series such as Die Hard, now rated as PG-13, to newer movies such as Iron Man and several other "super-hero" films (totally over-produced "genre" in last years), have lost their touch of any realism in the action sequences. Although, as a short note, I must admit I liked newer Batman movies a little, as an exception. With CGI and hyper-fast computer-generated stunts, the modern action movies lack the feel of characters being flesh and blood. The stunts are way over-the-top, way too fast-paced, and look ridiculous. In the eighties, most of the "bad" or low budget action films, that still had some ballsy action, were actually enjoyable to watch, at least once. Such films would include: Blastfighter (1984) with Michael Sopkiw, Steel Dawn (1987) with Patrick Swayze, and  The Exterminator (1980) with Robert Ginty. Nowadays "bad" action films are just plain bad, and not even funny anymore. Take Catwoman (2004) with Halle Berry or Ultraviolet (2006) with Milla Jovovich, not to mention DOA: Dead Or Alive (2006), a fighting film with PG-13 rating, to give a few most horrible examples. Fast-paced action is usually good thing, but the more than that isn't always the better. I got one word for directors, "gravity". Of course, gravity can and should be exceeded to a certain point depending of the movie, but enough is enough (even in super-hero movies)...

(The Avengers (2012), involving a terrific cast. Sadly, superhero-movies are totally over-produced "genre" these days, and in my opinion over-rated, too.)

When every new action movie character from Batman to Alex Murphy and John McClane moves like a Spider-Man, I really start missing movie directors such as James Cameron an Ridley Scott, and  it's time to search through one's movie library for something older (or The Expendables!) - preferably more than a decade. | Tane Norther