Not too long ago I read this piece by David Foster Wallace about the movie Terminator 2 (link courtesy this interview at The House Next Door with Glenn Kenny, about his editing relationship with DFW). Wallace calls the movie "an appalling betrayal" of the original Terminator, and blames it for effectively inaugurating the era of what he calls "Special Effects Porn"; that is, movies featuring "half a dozen or so isolated, spectacular scenes -- scenes comprising maybe twenty or thirty minutes of riveting, sensuous payoff -- strung together via another sixty to ninety minutes of flat, dead, and often hilariously insipid narrative". One can date this period differently, but it seems to me that he's right to lament it.
And it's hard to argue with his specific criticisms of Terminator 2 itself, even as I recall that my own considered evalution of the movie, back when it was first released, amounted to variations of "that was awesome", no doubt all the while convincing myself of its wit and intelligence. In recent years, though I don't wish to disavow my earlier enjoyment of such entertainment, I've grown increasingly weary of movies that can only be said to be awesome or to suck. I eagerly await the day when this weariness means that I actually avoid said movies altogether, rather than merely being bored or alienated by them. This personal trend began with, I think, the insipid Gladiator and its battle scenes, which I hated but overlooked in the interest of being generally entertained. Then there were the three Lord of the Rings bloatfests; by the third installment (Best Picture, naturally), I had completely lost interest, and yet there I was, watching it with everybody else. Last year's example, The Dark Knight, was a mess, and in many ways a betrayal of the character, to the extent that I am still able to fret about how characters like Batman can be betrayed (like, isn't Batman supposed to be brilliant? In The Dark Knight he is stupid to the point of distraction), and I remember feeling oppressed by the movie, its lighting and frenetic pace and general incoherence. And yet it was kind of awesome, I had to admit. Which isn't anything like the same thing as "great" or "smart" or "complex" or whatever other kind of praise it received. I'm tired of "kind of awesome". I'm even tired of "completely awesome". Call it awesome fatigue.
Meanwhile, we recently watched the cult classic Withnail & I, and though I didn't think it was quite as great as its devoted fans seem to think it is, I nevertheless did think it was quite funny and took pleasure in watching real people move in real space. More of this please.