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[ninety] minus one-three-seven: the spectacle of moviemaking

centaur 0

One of the striking things about this depressing, all-streaming, post-Covid apocalypse that many of us (including myself) seem to think we’re sliding into is the resurgence of Movies, Real Movies. In another sense, neither the depression nor the resurgence were all that surprising. Many movements and media have gone away: disco died, 8 tracks went out, and the goth-industrial club scene of the 90’s is mostly dead.

But vinyl, which many people thought would go the way of the 8 track given that CDs are more durable and accurate, is having a resurgence because records are larger, more beautiful, sound more pleasant, and are useful in DJ’ing. In the early 2000’s, with the rise of ebooks, a friend told me that he would be so worried if he was a physical publisher or a bookstore owner – but, speaking as a publisher, physical books are now being produced at a higher quality than they have been since the book of fucking Kells, and speaking as a bookstore lover, there is a fricking renaissance of bookstores, which in the 2010s felt like a dying breed.

So maybe it isn’t surprising that, with the rise of streaming, 85-inch screens for the home, and the whole zombie apocalypse, that there would be some pessimism about the future of movie theaters. But, speaking as somebody who really loves streaming, I’ve always preferred media that I can physically own, and I’ve always preferred seeing movies on the big screen to the small.

Now, some things seem just made for streaming. Marvel movies, for example. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, for another. And Doctor Who. Yet my greatest memories of Doctor Who were seeing “The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang” at Comic-Con, and “Day of the Doctor” in the theater. My greatest memories of Star Trek were watching the re-release of Wrath of Khan for something like its 35th or 40th anniversary. And I must have seen Avengers: Endgame in the theaters like six or seven times (admittedly, one extra time because I got food poisoning in the middle of a showing and had to go back to see it again, and another extra time when they did a special showing to push it past Avatar).

But for the real revival of filmmaking, I credit Christopher Nolan and Tom Cruise. They consistently make movies which are, well, real movies. Movies that look best on the big screen. Movies that show us things we haven’t seen before. Movies that push the personal and technology envelope to create experiences that no-one has ever created before.

I really enjoyed Tenet – it’s my favorite Christopher Nolan movie – but Oppenheimer takes the spectacle of moviemaking to the next level with an unending, almost seamless wall of sound and imagery, broken only when Nolan chooses to go dark or quiet for effect. Top Gun: Maverick may be a popcorn movie, but, at the same time, I think it is very literally one of the best movies ever made, and if you understand the behind the scenes stories, the effort that Cruise put into making it shows in every frame. And the Mission Impossible series, similarly, continues to excel at showing us stunts which are, well, impossible.

Even beyond Nolan and Cruise, other moviemakers are doing the same. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness or Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania may … not be the best movies ever made, but they are some of the most visually imaginative. No Time To Die may suffer a bit from the just-so storytelling that afflicts many modern movies and TV shows, but it’s truly a spectacular Bond outing. And the quality of acting, directing, and even writing in recent years means we get truly spectacular achievements like Knives Out, which uses little to no obvious special effects to achieve a truly spectacular result just by clever writing, deft directing, and amazing performances orchestrated to a crescendo.

So, hey, go catch a movie in the theater. It’s better than it’s been since the late seventies / early eighties.

-the Centaur

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