Perhaps the most obvious example of a film reaching stratospheric levels of praise while a few defectors hopped around in the background with their hands up was Avatar. It was given volumes of sterling reviews – mainly on the basis of its ambitious direction and blindingly absorbing attention to detail for which it certainly deserved them – but criticised soundly, again by many, for not actually achieving all that it intended or indeed claimed to have done in terms of narrative and depth. Even the most glowing reviews subtly admitted that it was really only to be called a masterpiece on the basis of its technical success.
Of course, a lot of what we’re talking about here is just the issue of divided opinion, and varying opinion is always valuable simply for its own sake. But – before I am hung, drawn and quartered on the internet village green at dawn – the problem is not that these films are not good. In fact, it is almost the opposite. They have been chosen for the fact that they perfectly demonstrate the point being made here, which is that hype actually has an effect all of its own and that this effect quite often causes the reception of films some serious problems. That is, all of these films are very good and are very good for the very reasons for which they are meant to be very good. But – they are not that good. Impressive visuals alone hardly seem the most solid ground on which to base more films of its type. And yet, off the back of the storm that was Avatar’s advent into the public sphere, Avatar 2 is on its way. As is Avatar 3. And 4. That’ll be one nil to the hype then. Or four nil, in this case. The hashtag, it seems, has a lot to answer for.
Hype will serve some films brilliantly by taking something good and making it – to borrow the hyperbole for a moment –awesome, and it is true that the film industry would not be where it is today if it were not for the sort of spreading of the word for which hype is mainly responsible. But it is as damaging as it is essential when it raises expectations of a film to the point at which the film simply cannot live up to them. All that happens in these cases is that audiences are being primed for disappointment.