Does anyone know the way to Blockbuster? - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Does anyone know the way to Blockbuster?

Tom Pheby looks at the ever increasing number of big budget blockbuster movies that grace our multiplex.

It used to be something reserved for the Summer months of every year, the inevitable series of big-budget effects-laden 'Blockbuster Movies', but now we seem to get one every few weeks. Another huge spectacle of a film which is aimed at the paying public with the subtly of a builder facing a wall clutching a sledgehammer. BAM! It's in your face! A plethora of men in pants and capes, gadding about trying to stop some type of menace, or alternatively some sort of disaster that threatens to end everything we hold dear. They infiltrate the cinemas on mass with the promise, if not a guarantee, of being something original and spectacular, but this has become rather a hit and miss affair of late. It's as predictable as Christmas but sometimes not as gratifying.

On occasion scripts have seemed rather less important, overshadowed by an idea, a stellar cast or wall to wall special effects, sadly leaving the minor players or smaller companies to deliver the more meaningful, quality films we crave. It's a case of wading through the sea of releases and applying a degree of common sense and preference, but that can become a bit of a lucky dip.

The special effects industry has developed so much over the last twenty years, at times it has been difficult to differentiate between scenes which involve 'real actors' and those which are 100% CGI, unless its blindingly obvious like a man dressed in a latex spider costume dangling from the thinnest of threads high over a busy street. For a scriptwriter I suppose it has changed the scale of possibilities, a simple line or two that states 'a series of cars are consumed by a sea of molten lava and buildings crash to the ground' can now actually be realised without breaking sweat or causing the set designer to suffer a nervous breakdown.

Realistically its just a case of finding a balance between extravagant, draw dropping effects, inventive scripts and great acting. The effects should not be 'the be all and end all' that makes or breaks the film, and some films, not all, tend to ignore this fact. I like the wow factor as much as anyone, there's nothing like choking on you're toast incredulously as you watch the Whitehouse reduced to a pile of salt from invading aliens. Or looking on in awe as Superman picks up a bus full of school kids and smothers the blast of a nuclear warhead in his tights, but lets not lose the essence of everything that makes a movie memorable.

My last serious outing to the movies was to see Hugh (Wolverine) Jackman and Jake (Brokeback Mountain) Gyllenhaal in the tense and supremely dark thriller 'Prisoners'. This was the art of cinema at its absolute best with a brilliantly written script and excellent performances. Not once did we see a bridge fall into the sea or an elephant riding a Harley Davidson dressed in a tracksuit! No, this was a different kettle of fish. In fact my unadulterated pleasure during its 153 minute run was only interrupted when I noticed various bits of my anatomy were on the verge of falling off in a cramped seat not fit for a six month old child.

Not everyone in Tinseltown is ecstatic about the use of effects, including actor Steve Buscemi who lightheartedly said "What was frustrating about Armageddon was the time I spent not doing anything. It was a big special effects film, and I wasn't crazy about pretending I was in outer space. It feels ridiculous." Film Director George A Romero was a little more caustic when he said "I thought Godzilla (1998) was a mess, the monster had no character and the humans didn't either. They forgot to make the movie that went along with all these wonderful effects."

There are also concerns that the studios that commit to these big budget bonanza's could see the wheels come off the gravy train and face ruin if they are not a roaring success, or that the more cultural offerings end up on television. Steven Spielberg voiced such concerns last year saying "There's going to be an implosion where three or four, or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm."

This is not to say that Cinema has no room for the 'Blockbuster' as a spectacle or piece of entertainment, it's easy to get 'hung up and precious' about films, but movies need to be presented as a package, something that excites, stimulates and makes you think, enough to drag us from a warm house, to pay the admission fee and fill our cheeks with popcorn. It's also interesting to hear the view of George Lucas, who is no stranger to lavish special effects or the Blockbuster genre, when he concludes "A special effect is a tool, a means of telling a story. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing." Absolutely right, Hollywood take note.

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